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PEOPLE Alex Trebek

PEOPLE Alex Trebek

PEOPLE Alex Trebek
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In a new commemorative edition, People celebrates the life and career of beloved Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek, who passed away in 2020 at the age of 80. The photo-filled issue chronicles his rise from modest beginnings in Sudbury, Ontario, to the loving home he built with wife Jean, to his brave and public battle with pancreatic cancer. We look back at the many other game shows he graced—you would have to be a real trivia fanatic to know them all—and offer a revealing look behind the scenes at Jeopardy! in an exclusive book excerpt. Plus: A remembrance written by Jeopardy! champ and guest host, Ken Jennings.

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United States
Meredith Corporation

in this issue

2 min.
alex trebek: jeopardy!’s beloved host

1940-2020 Alex Trebek IT’S A FACT: NEVER HAS A GAME SHOW STAR SHINED AS BRIGHTLY AS JEOPARDY!’S DID He said, “I am constant as the Northern Star, of whose true fixed and resting quality there is no fellow in the firmament.” (Answer: Who is Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar?) Alex Trebek might have appreciated the reference; in his 37 years hosting Jeopardy! he read countless Shakespeare clues. But he’d have been too modest to see how the words might apply to him—an established luminary of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation brought south to impart his calming erudition to American viewers. (In fact he didn’t care for the word “star” and preferred “host.”) Along the way he became a cultural icon, as did his show, which earned 39 Emmys. Trebek, who just this fall was tap-dancing during…

5 min.
the alex trebek that i knew

For the most part I got to know Alex Trebek the same way you did: on television. When I was 7 years old, my family moved to South Korea. The Armed Forces Radio and Television Service broadcast one channel of American TV to military service members stationed there. That was how my friends and I became a captive audience for Jeopardy!, which aired every day after school. We were fascinated by the tricky clues and brainy contestants of course, but it was clear that the show’s center of gravity was its unflappable and omniscient Canadian host. (When Jeopardy! was on hiatus, the Pentagon sent us new episodes of Classic Concentration instead. In the 1980s our fighting men and women overseas never lacked for Alex Trebek!) So I almost can’t remember a…

4 min.
in the beginning

IN THE SMALL NICKEL-MINING TOWN of Sudbury, Ont., 200 miles north of Toronto, life was pleasant but hardly all fun and games. “I never thought about whether we were poor,” recalled Alex Trebek in his 2020 memoir, The Answer Is … Reflections on My Life. “We existed, same as everybody else. My friends and I were all just lower-middle-class kids from lower-middle-class families. We played every sport,” he wrote. “Some parents owned their homes. Some parents rented. We were all part of the same community.” His father, George, had changed his name from Terebeychuk to Trebek when he arrived in Canada from Ukraine in the late-’20s. Soon he was working his way up as a pastry chef at hotels in the region and married French Canadian Lucille Lagacé in 1939. Their…

3 min.
game for anything

ALEX TREBEK ARRIVED in Los Angeles from Toronto in 1973 at the behest of fellow Canadian TV host Alan Thicke (later the star of Growing Pains), who suggested Trebek audition for a show he was writing the theme song for, NBC’s The Wizard of Odds. Trebek, who had hosted the Canadian game show Strategy in 1969, got the job. When the cameras were off, he often beat executive producer Burt Sugarman at backgammon. So when Wizard of Odds was canceled a year later on a Friday, Trebek was back as host of its replacement, High Rollers, on Monday. At the same time he was commuting to Toronto to tape The $128,000 Question. Stateside High Rollers led to Battlestars (“the son of Hollywood Squares,” Trebek called it), which could afford only…

2 min.
jeopardy! round one

THE NOTION OF GIVING ANSWERS and have players supply correct questions began with Merv Griffin’s wife, Julann. “I loved the idea, went straight to NBC,” said the singer turned TV star to the Associated Press. “They bought it without even looking at a pilot show.” That was in 1964, less than a decade after the Twenty-One fixed-game scandal had cooled networks on quiz shows. Turns out audiences missed them, and Jeopardy!, hosted by Art Fleming, became a daytime hit that ran for more than 2,700 episodes from 1964 to 1975. It was a low-tech version with a game board of sliding cards instead of video screens but featured the still-familiar tick-tocking music, written by Griffin himself. Two short-lived attempts at bringing Jeopardy! back in syndication (both with Fleming) followed. It…

5 min.
in a category all his own

THREE YEARS INTO TREBEK’S RUN ON Jeopardy!, People readers got this revealing portrait of the star at home in Los Angeles, still settling into life as an in-demand celebrity. It was the first of several features on Trebek, who had recently joined another show, Classic Concentration. Hey, Pat Sajak, tell Vanna White the news: The buzz these days on the game show circuit is all about the quick-witted majordomo of Jeopardy! Without benefit of a lissome letter turner or contestants getting hysterical over dinette sets, Trebek, 47, has ushered Jeopardy! into the No. 2 spot, just behind Wheel of Fortune. Now as the emcee of the new Classic Concentration, Trebek has added more viewers to his daily fold, making him a worthy rival to Pat and Vanna. But forget the numbers.…