TORONTO — Alex Trebek, the Canadian broadcaster who found fame in the United States as a game show host, has died at the age of 80.
He grew up in Sudbury, Ont. as the son of a Ukrainian immigrant father and a French-Canadian mother. He went on to become an Emmy Award-winner, a Guinness World Record-holder and an officer of the Order of Canada.
“Jeopardy! is saddened to share that Alex Trebek passed away peacefully at home early this morning, surrounded by family and friends. Thank you, Alex,” read a message from the official “Jeopardy!” Twitter account Sunday afternoon.
A cause of death was not immediately made public. Trebek revealed in March 2019 that he had been battling Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
“We will think of him for his years as a host on Jeopardy. I think we will think of his as a philanthropist who gave away a lot of money,” film critic and host of CTV’s “Pop Life” Richard Crouse said Sunday on CTV News Channel.
“We’ll also think of him as someone who battled bravely and publicly with cancer, and really helped a lot of people by being so honest about the stages of grief that he went through.”
In an interview with CTV News last December, Trebek said he had found it difficult to go public with his diagnosis. In addition to the physical toll wrought by chemotherapy, he said, it was hard for him to stay strong and optimistic for the many fans who came to him looking for support.
‘PEOPLE LOVED HIM’
Crouse said he was not surprised that Trebek did not expect the huge outpouring of well-wishes he received following his announcement, as he was never someone who courted the spotlight beyond his job.
“He never appeared in the gossip columns. We didn’t really hear anything much about his private life,” he said.
“I think people loved him. I think when he came out with this diagnosis, it really, really got peoples’ attention.”
Trebek said many times that he was able to draw on strength from his wife and children to persevere, continue his fight and make more than a few generous gestures during this final year.
Those included touching videos in which he updated his many fans on his condition, donations to the University of Ottawa and a surprise cameo appearance at the NHL Entry Draft, where he helped the Ottawa Senators make their first selection. Trebek graduated from the University of Ottawa in 1961 with a degree in philosophy, and was based in that city for much of his early career.
Working for the CBC, Trebek was a commentator for curling and other sports, and foreshadowed his future by hosting the quiz show “Reach for the Top” for several years. He was even considered for a hosting spot on “Hockey Night in Canada” before he moved to the U.S.
It was that move that set him up for a greater sort of stardom. After runs on short-lived network game shows such as “High Rollers” and “The $128,000 Question,” Trebek found his defining role on “Jeopardy!” in 1984. He would go on to win five Emmy Awards as Outstanding Game Show Host for his work on the show, as well as become a Guinness World Record holder for longest tenure as a game show host.
Veteran TV critic Bill Brioux said Sunday on CTV News Channel that Trebek served for other broadcasters of an example of “how to do it right … how to be one of those guys, those golden voices, that makes you watch a show all those years.”
HIS CANADIAN ROOTS
The Trebek-helmed “Jeopardy!” was a revival of a defunct game show from the 1960s and 1970s that found much greater success this time around. Syndicated across the U.S. and around the world at a time when broadcast television was still king, Trebek’s show attracted tens of millions of viewers a night, airing in many markets during the 7 p.m. hour, after families had finished dinner but before children had gone to bed.
Many factors have been cited for the show’s success, including its family-friendliness and the uniqueness of its answer-question format, but there is no doubting that Trebek was a key ingredient. He displayed evident warmth during the daily segment in which each contestant was asked to share a story about their life, as well as a sort of professorial detachment that made its presence known through his dry wit and attempts to perfect foreign accents.
These traits, along with his low-key-but-clearly-in-charge personality and the moustache he famously wore until 2001, were frequently the subject of pop culture parody, including by comedian Will Ferrell in memorable “Celebrity Jeopardy” sketches on “Saturday Night Live.”
Through all of it, Trebek never lost his composure, his sense of humour or his desire to embrace his Canadian roots.
“Every American knew where Alex Trebek was from. He was very proud of his association with Canada,” Brioux said.
“I just think we were so damn proud of the guy – the idea that he was from Sudbury, Ontario, and he was just so impressive on the longest-running game show that there is.”
Trebek had two children, Matthew and Emily, with second wife Jean Currivan. His memoir, “The Answer Is…Reflections on My Life,” was released in July.
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