Friday December 4th, 2020 11:35AM

Trebek remembered for grace that elevated him above TV host

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Alex Trebek never pretended to have all the answers, but the “Jeopardy!" host became an inspiration and solace to Americans who otherwise are at odds with each other.

He looked and sounded the part of a senior statesman, impeccably suited and groomed and with an authoritative voice any politician would covet. He commanded his turf — the quiz show's stage — but refused to overshadow its brainy contestants.

And when he faced the challenge of pancreatic cancer, which claimed his life Sunday at age 80, he was honest, optimistic and graceful. Trebek died at his Los Angeles home, surrounded by family and friends, “Jeopardy!” studio Sony said.

The Canadian-born host made a point of informing fans about his health directly, in a series of brief online videos. He faced the camera and spoke in a calm, even tone as he revealed his illness and hope for a cure in the first message, posted in March 2019.

“Now normally, the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I’m going to fight this and I’m going to keep working,” Trebek said, even managing a wisecrack: He had to beat the disease because his “Jeopardy!” contract had three more years to run.

Trebek’s death came less than four months after that of civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, also of advanced pancreatic cancer and at age 80. Trebek had offered him words of encouragement last January.

In a memoir published this year, “The Answer Is ... Reflections on My Life,” Trebek suggested that he’s known but not celebrated, and compared himself to a visiting relative who TV viewers find “comforting and reassuring as opposed to being impressed by me.”

That was contradicted Sunday by the messages of grief and respect from former contestants, celebrities and the wider public that quickly followed news of his loss.

“Alex wasn’t just the best ever at what he did. He was also a lovely and deeply decent man, and I’m grateful for every minute I got to spend with him,” tweeted “Jeopardy!” champion Ken Jennings. “Thinking today about his family and his Jeopardy! family — which, in a way, included millions of us.”

“It was one of the great privileges of my life to spend time with this courageous man while he fought the battle of his life. You will never be replaced in our hearts, Alex,” James Holzhauer, another “Jeopardy!” star, posted on Twitter.

Recent winner Burt Thakur tweeted that he was “overwhelmed with emotion." When he appeared on Friday's show, Thakur recounted learning English diction as a child from watching Trebek on “Jeopardy!” with his grandfather.

The program tapes weeks of shows in advance, and the remaining episodes with Trebek will air through Dec. 25, a Sony spokeswoman said.

“Jeopardy!” bills itself as “America’s favorite quiz show” and captivated the public with a unique format in which contestants were told the answers and had to provide the questions on a variety of subjects, including movies, politics, history and popular culture.

They would answer by saying “What is ... ?” or “Who is .... ?”

Trebek, who became its host in 1984, was a master of the format, engaging in friendly banter with contestants, appearing genuinely pleased when they answered correctly and, at the same time, moving the game along in a brisk no-nonsense fashion whenever people struggled for answers.

“I try not to take myself too seriously,” he told an interviewer in 2004. “I don’t want to come off as a pompous ass and indicate that I know everything when I don’t.”

The show was the brainstorm of Julann Griffin, wife of the late talk show host-entrepreneur Merv Griffin, who said she suggested to him one day that he create a game show where people were given the answers.

“Jeopardy!” debuted on NBC in 1964 with Art Fleming as emcee and was an immediate hit. It lasted until 1975, then was revived in syndication with Trebek.

Long identified by a full head of hair and trim mustache (though in 2001 he startled viewers by shaving his mustache, “completely on a whim”), Trebek was more than qualified for the job, having started his game show career on “Reach for the Top” in his native country.

Moving to the U.S. in 1973, he appeared on “The Wizard of Odds,” “High Rollers,” “The $128,000 Question” and “Double Dare.” Even during his run on “Jeopardy!”, Trebek worked on other shows. In the early 1990s, he was the host of three — “Jeopardy!”, “To Tell the Truth” and “Classic Concentration.”

“Jeopardy!” made him famous. He won five Emmys as its host, including one last June, and received stars on both the Hollywood and Canadian walks of fame. In 2012, the show won a prestigious Peabody Award.

He taped his daily “Jeopardy!” shows at a frenetic pace, recording as many as 10 episodes (two weeks’ worth) in just two days. After what was described as a mild heart attack in 2007, he was back at work in just a month.

He posted a video in January 2018 announcing he’d undergone surgery for blood clots on the brain that followed a fall he’d taken. The show was on hiatus during his recovery.

It had yet to bring in a substitute host for Trebek — save once, when he and “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak swapped their TV jobs as an April’s Fool prank.

In 2012, Trebek acknowledged that he was considering retirement, but had been urged by friends to stay on so he could reach 30 years on the show. He still loved the job, he declared: “What’s not to love? You have the security of a familiar environment, a familiar format, but you have the excitement of new clues and new contestants on every program. You can’t beat that!”

Although many viewers considered him one of the key reasons for the show’s success, Trebek himself insisted he was only there to keep things moving.

“My job is to provide the atmosphere and assistance to the contestants to get them to perform at their very best,” he said in a 2012 interview. “And if I’m successful doing that, I will be perceived as a nice guy and the audience will think of me as being a bit of a star. But not if I try to steal the limelight!"

In a January 2019 interview with The Associated Press, Trebek discussed his decision to keep going with “Jeopardy!”

“It’s not as if I’m overworked — we tape 46 days a year,” he said. But he acknowledged he would retire someday, if he lost his edge or the job was no longer fun, adding: “And it’s still fun.”

Born July 22, 1940, in Sudbury, Ontario, Trebek was sent off to boarding school by his Ukrainian father and French-Canadian mother when he was barely in his teens.

After graduating high school, he spent a summer in Cincinnati to be close to a girlfriend, then returned to Canada to attend college. After earning a philosophy degree from the University of Ottawa, he went to work for the Canadian Broadcasting Co., starting as a staff announcer and eventually becoming a radio and TV reporter.

He became a U.S. citizen in 1997. Trebek’s first marriage, to Elaine Callei, ended in divorce. In 1990, he married Jean Currivan, and they had two children, Emily and Matthew.

Trebek is survived by his wife, their two children and his stepdaughter, Nicky.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Entertainment, AP Online TV News, APOnline Celebrity News
© Copyright 2020
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Ravens set NFL record for 20-point games with win in Indy
Lamar Jackson cranked up the tempo in the second half and the Baltimore Ravens took advantage by scoring two touchdowns in a 24-10 victory and broke the NFL record for consecutive games with 20 or more points
4:41PM ( 5 minutes ago )
Trebek remembered for grace that elevated him above TV host
Alex Trebek never pretended to have all the answers, but the “Jeopardy!”
4:40PM ( 6 minutes ago )
UK's Johnson, praised by Trump, seeks new UK bond with Biden
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has denied that his close ties to President Donald Trump will hurt U.K.-U
4:37PM ( 10 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Astronauts arrive at launch site for 2nd SpaceX crew flight
Four astronauts have arrived at Florida's Kennedy Space Center for SpaceX's second crew launch next weekend
3:33PM ( 1 hour ago )
Nursing home COVID-19 cases rise four-fold in surge states
The Trump administration has tried to erect a protective shield around nursing homes, but coronavirus cases are surging within facilities in states hard hit by the latest wave of COVID-19
3:20PM ( 1 hour ago )
Trump, who never admits defeat, mulls how to keep up fight
President Donald Trump never admits defeat
3:19PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Biden shores up fragile 'blue wall' in industrial north
Joe Biden shored up the Democrats’ “blue wall” to rebuild the party’s path back to the White House
11:57AM ( 4 hours ago )
The Latest: New record high for US coronavirus cases
The U.S. has set another record for daily number of coronavirus cases
11:50AM ( 4 hours ago )
What's next? Saturday's election verdict isn't last step
Saturday's election verdict isn't the last step in selecting an American president
11:35AM ( 5 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Kamala Harris books surge in popularity after election
Books by and about Kamala Harris are proving to be a popular purchase following the election
10:58AM ( 5 hours ago )
Queen Elizabeth II wears mask at tribute to Unknown Warrior
Queen Elizabeth II donned a face mask in public for the first time during the coronavirus pandemic when attending a brief ceremony at Westminster Abbey last week to mark the centenary of the burial of the Unknown Warrior
10:36AM ( 6 hours ago )
Eco-fashion offers a renaissance for new Tunisian brands
In a globalized world dominated by fast fashion brands, Tunisian designers are increasingly going back to their roots and embrace local artisans and environmentally conscious materials
2:55AM ( 13 hours ago )
AP Entertainment
Al Roker to take time off work to battle prostate cancer
Weatherman and morning TV co-host Al Roker has revealed that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and will be undergoing surgery to have his prostate removed
9:18AM ( 2 days ago )
Networks preach patience as election stretches past midnight
For weeks, media outlets warned a frazzled nation that it would have to be patient waiting for a decision in the bitter campaign between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden
2:16AM ( 4 days ago )
Big prime-time ratings for Fox News week before election
Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham — two of Fox News Channel's three prime-time opinion hosts — had their most-watched weeks ever for the week leading into Election Day
6:01PM ( 4 days ago )
AP Online TV News
Megachurch Pastor Carl Lentz fired, admits cheating on wife
Carl Lentz, a pastor from global megachurch Hillsong known for his ministry to athletes and celebrities, has been fired
7:12PM ( 2 days ago )
How two blind brothers became Two Blind Brothers for a cause
Would you buy something you can’t see
11:20AM ( 3 days ago )
Uganda police arrest Bobi Wine after presidential nomination
Ugandan police have again arrested Bobi Wine, a popular singer and opposition presidential hopeful, just after he was successfully certified as a candidate in next year’s election
9:44AM ( 5 days ago )
APOnline Celebrity News
Ravens set NFL record for 20-point games with win in Indy
Lamar Jackson cranked up the tempo in the second half and the Baltimore Ravens took advantage by scoring two touchdowns in a 24-10 victory and broke the NFL record for consecutive games with 20 or more points
4:41PM ( 6 minutes ago )
UK's Johnson, praised by Trump, seeks new UK bond with Biden
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has denied that his close ties to President Donald Trump will hurt U.K.-U
4:37PM ( 10 minutes ago )
Ryan throws 3 TDs as Falcons stop comeback, beat Broncos
Matt Ryan took advantage of Denver’s thin secondary to throw three touchdown passes and the Atlanta Falcons turned back Denver’s bid for a second consecutive comeback to beat the Broncos 34-27
4:35PM ( 12 minutes ago )
Eta expected to be hurricane and strike Florida Keys
A strengthening Tropical Storm Eta cut across Cuba on Sunday, and forecasters say it's likely to be a hurricane before hitting the Florida Keys Sunday night or Monday
4:32PM ( 15 minutes ago )