“Everybody Loves Alex Trebek”: A Eulogy of an Icon
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If there’s one thing many Americans can collectively recall, it’s evenings spent settled on the couch watching “Jeopardy!.” Whether watched alone or competition-style with family, “Jeopardy!” has been a staple of popular culture since 1984, making the death of Alex Trebek heartbreaking news for viewers of the past and present.
Trebek announced his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer last year and passed away on Sunday, November 8. He is remembered by his wife, Jean, and his three children, along with friends, contestants, and viewers who have spent decades watching or participating in the show.
Over his career, Trebek, “the man with all the answers,” hosted over 8,200 episodes of “Jeopardy!,” which, in 2014, made him a Guinness world record holder. Early on in his career, Trebek was a reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and hosted a number of game shows throughout the ‘70s and early ‘80s. The producer for a revival of the original “Jeopardy!,” which was on-air from 1964 to 1975 and hosted by Art Fleming, chose Trebek in 1984 to lead the show, a good decision on his part.
Just days before the news of his passing was made public, an episode of “Jeopardy!” aired, in which contestant Burt Thakur shared a heartwarming story, recalling how he would sit on his grandfather’s lap and watch “Jeopardy!” every night and how Trebek had helped him learn English. Thakur’s story is relatable for many people who grew up watching “Jeopardy!” with their parents or grandparents and who continued that tradition as they grew up and had children of their own. That’s part of why Trebek is special to so many. He’s been a consistent source of joy and education for millions of people and a reminder of their youth and family.
What made Trebek such a success was not only his kindness and humor, but also his eagerness to provide so many with knowledge. The executive producer of “Jeopardy!,” Mike Richards, said that Trebek “loved that ‘Jeopardy!’ popularized intelligence” and “reveled in these intelligent people, in the contestants, [and] in the writers.”
Ken Jennings, the person with the most “Jeopardy!” wins ever, wrote in response to Trebek’s passing: “[Trebek] 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.”
There have been many variations of “Jeopardy!” over the decades, including “College Jeopardy!” and “Teacher’s Tournament,” which, in 2011, featured Stuyvesant social studies teacher and lifelong trivia fan Matthew Polazzo. Polazzo said Trebek was, “warm, kind, and supportive” and “really rooting for all the competitors to succeed.” The last thing that Polazzo had to say about Trebek, in memory, was that it “gave [him] great comfort to know that Trebek was still in the world, and [he’ll] miss him very much.”
Though Trebek had been suggesting he might retire a few years ago, he agreed, in 2018, to sign a final contract that would last until 2022. It’s unclear now how “Jeopardy!” will continue without Trebek, as many viewers closely associate the program with him. Having never missed an episode (except for April Fools’ Day, when he was replaced by Pat Sajak), Trebek is the only host “Jeopardy!” has ever known. Just a few months ago, Trebek was asked how he would say goodbye, and his response was simple: “And until we meet again, God bless you, and goodbye.” Now, of course, those words won’t air, but the sentimentality of his plans for a final goodbye is so meaningful, especially now.
The death of Alex Trebek is deeply saddening. During his time on-air, he touched many people’s hearts and lives and surely won’t be forgotten in decades to come. Though nobody is sure about the future of “Jeopardy!,” it is certain that Trebek will be remembered by many as the greatest part of the show.