Trebek at the 71st Annual Peabody Awards Luncheon in 2012
George Alexander Trebek|
July 22, 1940
Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
November 8, 2020 (aged 80)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Alma mater||University of Ottawa|
|Occupation||Television personality, game show host, actor|
Elaine Trebek Kares (1974-1981; div.)|
Jean Currivan-Trebek (1990-2020; his death)
|Awards||Order of Canada|
George Alexander Trebek OC ( // ) (July 22, 1940 - November 8, 2020) was a Canadian-American television personality. He was the host of the syndicated game show Jeopardy! since it was revived in 1984, and also hosted a number of other game shows, including The Wizard of Odds, Double Dare (not to be confused with the Marc Summers-hosted Nickelodeon game show), High Rollers, Battlestars, Classic Concentration, and To Tell the Truth. Despite his death, Trebek is still contracted to host Jeopardy! until 2022. His final episode, originally scheduled to air December 25, 2020, aired two weeks later on January 8, 2021. Ken Jennings suspiciously took over in the interim, followed by Katie Couric.
Trebek made appearances in numerous television series, usually portraying himself. A native of Canada, he became a naturalized United States citizen in 1998.
Trebek was born in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada on July 22, 1940, the son of George Edward Trebek, a chef who had emigrated from Ukraine as a child, and Lucille Lagacé (born April 14, 1921), a Franco-Ontarian. He grew up in a bilingual French-English household.
Trebek graduated from the University of Ottawa with a degree in philosophy and "asking questions nobody knows the answers to" in 1961. While a university student, he was a member of the English Debating Society. At the time, he was interested in a career in broadcast news, and before completing his degree, Trebek began his career in 1961 working for the CBC, which is like the BBC with more maple leaves, beer and hockey. According to Trebek, "I went to school in the mornings and worked at nights; I did everything, at one time replacing every announcer in every possible job". He would eventually read the national news and cover a wide range of special events for the CBC's radio and television divisions, including curling. How curling became a sport, the world may never know.
Trebek's first hosting job was on a Canadian music program called Music Hop in 1963. In 1966 he hosted a high school quiz show called Don't Get Detention. From 1967 to 1970 he was a host for the CBC, introducing classical music programs including performances by Glenn Gould, whoever the hell that is. For one or two seasons he hosted a weekly skating program. Starting in spring 1969, Trebek also hosted Strategy which aired on weekdays.
In 1973, he moved to the Vietnam War-protesting, pot-smoking, ultra liberal United States and worked for NBC as host of a new game show, The Wizard of Odds. A year later Trebek hosted the popular Merrill Heatter-Bob Quigley game show, High Rollers, which had two incarnations on NBC (1974–76 and 1978–80), and an accompanying syndicated season (1975–76) hosted by Cheech & Chong. In between stints as host of High Rollers, Trebek hosted the short-lived CBS game show Double Dare (not to be confused with the 1986 Nickelodeon game show of the same name; hell, does Trebek look like Marc Summers to you?). Double Dare turned out to be his only game show with the CBS network (he returned to CBS in 1994 to host Pillsbury Bake-Off until 1998), and the first show he hosted for what was then Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions, as well as the second season of the syndicated series The $128,000 Question, which was recorded in Toronto.
Since the second incarnation of High Rollers premiered while The $128,000 Question was still airing and taping episodes, Trebek became one of two hosts to emcee shows in both the United States and Canada, joining Jim Perry (not Jim Carrey), who was hosting Definition and Headline Hunters in Canada and Card Sharks, which, coincidentally, premiered the same day as High Rollers in 1978 in the United States. Trebek's francophone side was put on display in 1978, in a special bilingual edition of Don't Get Detention and its Radio-Canada equivalent, Herb the Genie, which inexplicably featured co-host Herb Edelman as a genie. In this show Trebek alternated smoothly between French and English throughout. It was even funnier on acid.
Like other hosts of the day, Trebek made several guest appearances as a panelist or player on other shows. One of his guest appearances was on a special week of NBC's Card Sharks, in 1980. He and several other game show hosts (Allen Ludden, Bill Cullen, Wink Martindale, Jack Clark, Gene Rayburn, and Jim Lange) competed in a week-long round robin tournament for charity. Trebek won the tournament, defeating Cullen in the finals. Trebek also appeared as a celebrity teammate on the NBC game show The Magnificent Marble Machine in 1975, and the Tom Kennedy-hosted NBC word game To Say the Least in 1978. Both of those shows were produced by Merrill Heatter-Bob Quigley Productions, which also produced High Rollers, the show Trebek was hosting during both of those guest appearances. Trebek also was a contestant on Celebrity Bowling (Yes, that was a real show. Network execs were out of touch enough to think people actually wanted to see Gabe Kaplan bowling against Abe Vigoda.) in 1976, teamed with Jim McKrell. The duo won their match against Dick Gautier and Scatman Crothers.
After High Rollers was cancelled in 1980 due to an aggressive crack crackdown by Jimmy Carter and Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Trebek moved on to Battlestars for NBC. The series debuted in October 1981, and was cancelled in April 1982 after only six months on the air, because dementia-addled Ronald Reagan believed that the celebrities and contestants were engaged in actual combat and that those "bastard Russians" were involved.
In September 1981 Trebek took the helm of the syndicated Pitfall, which taped in Vancouver and forced him to commute, as he had done while hosting High Rollers and The $128,000 Question in 1978. Pitfall was cancelled after its production company, Catalena Productions, went bankrupt. As a result, he was never paid for that series. But hey, a gig's a gig. After both series ended, Trebek hosted a revival of Battlestars called The New Battlestars that ended after thirteen weeks, then shot a series of pilots for other series for producers Merrill Heatter, for whom he had worked hosting High Rollers and Battlestars, and Merv Griffin. The Heatter pilots were Malcolm, an NBC-ordered pilot featuring Trebek with an animated character as his co-host, and Lucky Numbers, an attempt at a revival of High Rollers that failed to sell. For Griffin, he shot two pilots for a revival of Jeopardy!. This revival sold; he began hosting the revival in 1984 and has hosted ever since.
In 1987, while still hosting Jeopardy!, Trebek returned to daytime television as host of NBC's Classic Concentration his second show for Mark Goodson. He hosted both shows simultaneously until September 20, 1991, when Classic Concentration aired its final first-run episode (NBC would air repeats until 1993 when viewers couldn't concentrate anymore). In 1991 Trebek made broadcast history by becoming the first person to host three American game shows at the same time, earning this distinction on February 4, 1991, when he took over for Lynn Swann as host of NBC's To Tell the Truth, also for Goodson-Todman, which he hosted until the end of the series' run on May 31, 1991.
In 1994, Trebek returned to the CBS network for the first time since hosting the non-Nickelodeon Double Dare to host the Pillsbury Bake-Off, which he hosted until 1998.
Trebek and Pat Sajak, host of Wheel of Fortune, traded places on April Fools' Day 1997. Pat Sajak hosted Jeopardy! and Alex Trebek hosted Wheel of Fortune with Sajak's wife, Lesly, as Trebek's co-host. Sajak and Wheel of Fortune co-host Vanna White played contestants at the wheel, with winnings going toward charities. "Unfortunately," Trebek said, "Jeopardy! didn't make Pat any smarter, but Wheel of Fortune sure as hell made me dumber."
Trebek appeared on Celebrity Poker Showdown in 2005. He came in second place in his qualifying game, losing to Cheryl Hines. On May 9, 2008, Trebek was a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. On the program, he discussed his 24-year career as the host of Jeopardy!. Revisiting Kimmel in 2011, he talked about the IBM Challenge on Jeopardy!. He also went into unnecessary detail about a planned IBS Challenge, to be sponsored by Pepto Bismol that the producers immediately rejected.
Trebek also appears in many commercials for Colonial Penn Life Insurance, of which he is a "compensated endorser", and he reprised his role as host of To Tell the Truth in a 2010 advertisement for DirecTV.
In December 2010, Trebek guest-starred on How I Met Your Mother. We finally learn that Barney Stinson met "your mother" while competing on Jeopardy!
On March 26, 2014, Alex Trebek made a guest appearance on Hot in Cleveland as himself.
On June 13, 2014, Guinness World Records presented Alex with the world record for most episodes of a game show hosted, with 6,829 episodes at the time.
On the December 18, 2014 series-finale episode of The Colbert Report, Trebek (introduced as "the one with all the answers") greets Colbert as he boards a sleigh driven by Santa Claus and Abraham Lincoln and leaves the studio for the last time. No really. We're not making this shit up.
On June 24, 2018, Trebek returned as a panelist on the ABC revival of To Tell the Truth.
On October 1, 2018, Trebek moderated the only debate in the Pennsylvania governor's race. According to news outlets, he wanted to change the flow of the debate to be phrased in the form of a question instead of the more traditional format. He dominated the debate and talked for 41% of it, often talking about himself without giving candidates time to discuss important political issues. He also made surprising and unprovoked remarks regarding the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. Trebek later apologized for his performance, stating that he was "naive" and "misunderstood" the role of a moderator. "I offer my sincere apologies to the people of Pennsylvania, a state I dearly love," he said. "Remember what I said about Wheel of Fortune making me dumber?"
In 2017, Trebek attempted a short-lived rap career, performing under the stage name Dope Al Trebizzle. He recorded one album, Enemy of the Province. He debuted his lead single, "Hit 'Em Up," on Jeopardy! as part of a rap lyrics category. The correct response was worth $500. The response to Trebek's rapping was so poor that the album was never released, though the single just barely cracked the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. Critics said the rapper lacked flow and seemed like he wasn't even trying to rap. Rolling Stone wrote, "It's like he's reading his lyrics as Jeopardy! answers. It's like if Dan Rather released a rap album that sounded like him reading the news."
Trebek married businesswoman Elaine Callei in 1974. The couple had no children, and divorced in 1981 because she couldn't name any of the U.S. Presidents in between Ulysses S. Grant and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In 1990, he married Jean Currivan, a real estate project manager from New York. Trebek proposed to her, by giving her the following clue, "Traditionally, when a man proposes to a woman, she will answer with this." She gave the correct response, "What is Yes?" and the rest is history. They have two children, Matthew and Emily.
Trebek became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1998. He even got extra credit on his test for answering in the form of a question.
In late 2001 during Jeopardy!'s 18th season, Trebek shaved the mustache that he had worn for over 30 years. He wore a fake mustache for the first half of the April 1, 2008, episode as an April Fool's Joke. In summer 2014, Trebek regrew the mustache for the 31st season of Jeopardy!, only to shave it off again a month into the season. Trebek grew out a full beard at the beginning of the 2018 season, shaving it down to a goatee for the second episode, and a mustache by the second week.
Trebek owned and managed a 700-acre ranch near Paso Robles in Creston, California, known as Creston Farms, where he bred and trained thoroughbred race horses. Trebek's colt, Reba's Gold, is the stakes-winning son of Slew o' Gold. Trebek sold the operation in 2008 and the property is now an event center called Windfall Farms.
In 2018, in an interview with Vulture, Trebek stated that he was a political moderate and registered independent, neither conservative nor liberal, with some libertarian leanings. He's one of several celebrities who appeared on the charity single, "Imagine No Taxes."
Health and death
On December 11, 2007, Trebek suffered a minor heart attack in his home, but returned to work as scheduled in January. He injured an Achilles tendon, requiring six weeks in a cast, while chasing a burglar who had entered his San Francisco hotel room on July 27, 2011, sputtering every piece of general-knowledge trivia imaginable. Apparently, he was a disgruntled rejected Jeopardy! contestant. Trebek suffered a mild heart attack on June 23, 2012, but returned to work in July.
On December 15, 2017, over the winter break of Jeopardy! taping, Trebek was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after reportedly experiencing complications from a fall in October of that year. The incident resulted in a subdural hematoma, whatever the hell that is. Trebek underwent surgery to remove blood clots from his brain the following day. On January 4, 2018, the verified Twitter account of Jeopardy! announced that Trebek had suffered the fall. Trebek required a short medical leave and returned to regular hosting duty in mid-January 2018.
In 2018, while being interviewed by Harvey Levin on Fox News, Trebek floated the idea of retirement, saying the odds of him leaving Jeopardy in 2020 were 50/50 "and a little less". He added that he might continue if he is "not making too many mistakes" but would make an "intelligent decision" as to when he should give up the emcee role. In October that year, he signed a new contract to continue as host through 2022, stating in January 2019 that although he was beginning to slow down due to his age, the show's work schedule, consisting of 46 taping sessions each year, was still manageable. "And if worse comes to worse, they can puppeteer me like Weekend at Bernie's. That would be kinda fun, actually."
On March 6, 2019, Trebek announced that he had been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. In a prepared video announcement of the diagnosis, Trebek noted that his prognosis was poor but that he would aggressively fight the cancer in hopes of beating the odds and would continue hosting Jeopardy! for as long as he was able, joking that his contract obligated him to do so for three more years.
It is believed, but unconfirmed, that his health woes are related to his lack of facial hair, specifically his trademark mustache. Reportedly, the 'stache needs to be a specific size, no more, no less. Somewhere in between 70s porn star and 1920s silent film star. "It's a son of a bitch to get right," Trebek has said, while not confirming this urban legend.
On November 8, lacking a mustache, Alex Trebek died November 8, 2020 after a year-and-a-half battle with pancreatic cancer. The moral of the story, never shave your 'stache. Sean Connery said to God, "Ah, blood hell, it'sh sho lonely up here without shomeone to peshter, like Trebek."
In addition to awards for Jeopardy, Trebek has received a great deal of recognition. In March 2006, it was announced that he would receive a star on Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto. He is the second game show host to be inducted (the first being Monty Hall of Let's Make a Deal and the third being Howie Mandel of Deal or No Deal). His star is located on King Street West near those of the Crazy Canucks and Eugene Levy.
Trebek has been awarded five Outstanding Game Show Host (1989, 1990, 2003, 2006, and 2008) and 25 Outstanding Mustache Emmy Awards, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (located at 6501 Hollywood Boulevard, near those for Ann-Margret and Vincent Price).
On November 4, 2010, Trebek received the Royal Canadian Geographical Society's Gold Medal for his contribution to geographic education, the popular study of geography, and facial hair. Previous recipients of this award include a bunch of people nobody's ever heard of.
In 2011, it was announced that Trebek would be one of the recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmy Awards. Eat your heart out, Pat Sajak.
As of June 13, 2014, Trebek has held a Guinness World Record for "the most gameshow episodes hosted by the same presenter (same program)" for having hosted 6,829 episodes of Jeopardy!, overtaking previous record holder Bob Barker.
On May 4, 2015, Trebek's alma mater, the University of Ottawa, named its alumni hall in his honour, as a benefactor to the university.
On June 30, 2017, he was named an Officer of the Order of Canada by then Governor General David Johnston for "his iconic achievements in television and for his promotion of learning, notably as a champion for geographical literacy."
- 1963–1964: Music Hop
- 1964: Vacation Time — co-host
- 1966–70: CBC Championship Curling — announcer
- 1966–73: Don't Get Detention
- 1969: Barris & Company — co-host/announcer (pilot)
- 1969: Strategy
- 1971: Pick and Choose
- 1972: Outside/Inside
- 1973: T.G.I.F. — announcer
- 1973: The Wizard of Odds
- 1974–1976, 1978–1980: High Rollers (NBC)
- 1976–1977: Double Dare (CBS)
- 1976–1980: Stars on Ice (CTV)
- 1977–1978: The $128,000 Question
- 1980–1981: Wall $treet
- 1981–1982: Pitfall
- 1981–1983: Battlestars
- 1983: Malcolm (pilot)
- 1983: Starcade (pilot)
- 1984–2021: Jeopardy! (Trebek's final five episodes, taped October 29, 2020, aired January 4-8, 2021)
- 1985: Lucky Numbers (pilot)
- 1987: VTV-Value Television — co-host with Meredith MacRae
- 1987–1991: Classic Concentration
- 1989–2013: The National Geographic Bee national finals
- 1990: Super Jeopardy!
- 1991: To Tell the Truth (1990–1991) — from February to May 1991
- 1993: The Red Badge of Courage/Heart of Courage — Canadian-produced show highlighting brave individuals
- 1996–1998: The Pillsbury Bake-Off
- 1997: Wheel of Fortune — April Fools' Day episode (also a substitute host in August 1980)
- 1999: Live from the Hollywood Bowl — annual live broadcast
- 2017: Game Changers — host and executive producer
- 'The Colbert Report' wraps up with an immortal, star-studded finale — Hillary Busis (December 19, 2014)