The Untold Truth Of Alex Trebek

If you're a fan of game shows, then you definitely know of Alex Trebek — it would be impossible not to.

He's been a constant presence in American culture for years, thanks to the classic quiz show Jeopardy!, on which Trebek has starred since 1984. The show — which tests the knowledge of buzzer-pushing contestants and at-home wannabes on a range of subjects from books to ballet — has been named one of the best shows of all time and it has endless awards to prove it. For his part, Trebek has earned six Daytime Emmy Awards and the esteemed Peabody Award (per CNN), which is no small feat.

Sadly, on November 8, 2020, Alex Trebek passed away after a tough battle with cancer. Having been in the public eye for more than three decades, Trebek's life and career is legendary, and there's so much you might not know about him. Let's remember and honor this showbiz icon and take a closer look at the untold truth of Alex Trebek.

Jeopardy! wasn't Alex Trebek's first gig

Following his graduation from the University of Ottawa, where he received his degree in Philosophy, Alex Trebek kicked off his career in 1961 working as a newscaster for the Canadian Broadcasting Company, according to Biography. But it wasn't long before he dropped that dream. Just five years later, he transitioned to game show host, working on a show titled Reach for the Top until 1973. While he found a sweet and lucrative regular gig with Jeopardy! in 1984, Trebek actually got his start by starring on many short-lived game shows.

The first was The Wizard of Odds from 1973 to 1974, which involved contestants answering esoteric questions about averages. He also led Double Dare from 1976 to 1977. Differing from the later Nickelodeon yuckfest of the same name, the Trebek-led Double Dare locked contestants in soundproof booths and made them guess the names of famous people and locations. From 1981 to 1982, Trebek helped players on Pitfall determine the most popular answers to certain questions (it was a variation of Family Feud). Battlestars, from 1981 to 1982 also felt familiar, in that, like Hollywood Squares, contestants had to pick one of two answers to questions provided by B-list celebrities. In 1983, Trebek hosted the one and only episode of Malcolm, truly one of the weirdest game shows ever conceived. It forced Trebek to enthusiastically interact with his "friend" Malcolm, a cartoon character who helped contestants answer trivia questions.

Alex Trebek used to feel like he didn't belong

With his larger-than-life personality and comedic charm, it's hard to imagine that Alex Trebek ever had trouble fitting in. However, he apparently did go through a weird phase while transitioning from Canadian to American life after his move in the '70s. "I was a shy, small-town Canadian kid," he told Vulture. "I never felt like I belonged."

Trebek continued on to say that he only started to feel like he fit in with the help of a Hollywood publicist who would invite him out to dinner parties at an LA hotspot. "His being there to introduce me to people made me comfortable," Trebek continued. He also joined a backgammon-playing community, which helped him make more connections. "I met people that way; I didn't have to go out on my own. And once I'd achieved a certain degree of popularity, I would play in celebrity golf tournaments and meet stars," Trebek added. Before long, he was rubbing elbows with "major stars" like Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Stewart. We'll take "How cool is that?" for $400, please. 

Alex Trebek will definitely judge you if you mess up on Jeopardy!

If you've ever watched Jeopardy!, you know that Alex Trebek can come off kind of stern to those who struggle to come up with answers. While some people might suspect that this is a natural reaction and totally unintentional, Trebek seemed to reveal otherwise in an interview with Vulture. "Yes, it's conscious," he said of his tone. "Not that it's preplanned — it's a reaction — but I know that 'You've disappointed daddy' is a tone I'm striking. It's also, 'How can you not get this? This is not rocket science,'" the TV guru continued.

Though Trebek admitted that he doesn't "have filters anymore," he told The New York Post that he still tries to limit things he says on the show that could be harmful to others. "What I won't do is read clues that are put-downs of people. I don't like taking cheap shots," he explained to the publication. So that's at least something.

Alex Trebek has been all over the small screen

While Alex Trebek clearly loved hosting real-life episodes of Jeopardy!, he also seemed to enjoy lampooning his famous gig. Trebek played himself on a 1990 episode of Cheers, in which know-it-all Cliff Clavin somehow blew an insurmountable lead on Jeopardy!, and in 1997 he made a cameo appearance on The Simpsons, voicing himself when Marge appeared on his game show. (When she finishes with negative $5,200, he tries to shake her down for the money and sends hired muscle after her.)

Trebek may also have been part of a secret alien conspiracy, if a 1996 episode of The X-Files is to believed. He played a mysterious "Man in Black" (above) whom FBI investigator Fox Mulder meets, who isn't necessarily Trebek, but is at least "someone that looked incredibly like him." Back in 2006, Mayor Adam West appeared on Jeopardy! in a Family Guy episode, and in forcing Trebek to say his own name backward ("Kebert Xela"), returns him to the Fifth Dimension, where he belongs."

Probably Trebek's most famous entry into pop culture outside of Jeopardy! are those "Celebrity Jeopardy" sketches on Saturday Night Live, in which Will Ferrell portrayed Trebek as exasperated over the celebrities' stupid answers and contestant Sean Connery's many threats. Trebek cameoed in one such sketch in 2002, proof that he digs Ferrell's portrayal. In fact, Trebek told The Hollywood Reporter, "I love it. I wish he was back on the show so he would do more."

Alex Trebek was a Guinness World Record holder

In 2014, Alex Trebek was given the Guinness World Record for "most game show episodes hosted by the same presenter," according to Variety. At the time, the TV host had covered 6,829 episodes since joining the show in the '80s following the departure of the original host Art Fleming, who ran the series from 1964 to 1979. "The good news is as long as I keep hosting the program, I stay ahead of whoever's in second place, and that makes me feel good," Trebek said in a video after receiving the honor.

Considering that Jeopardy! has aired well over 7,000 episodes, per Insider, breaking the record seemingly won't be an easy feat. Trebek also renewed his contract in 2018, and worked through 2020 before his death in November of that year, so considering the fact that roughly 230 episodes are taped each year, it seems like whoever is in second place will have quite a lot of work to do.

It doesn't seem like Alex Trebek is on the Trump Train

When asked by Vulture how he thinks President Donald Trump would perform on Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek threw quite a zinger. "He might not agree that any of the correct responses are correct," said Trebek, taking a shot at Trump's frequent dismissal of facts.

Trebek also opened up about his opinion of Trump in several interviews, and what he's had to say hasn't always been so stellar. While speaking to The Hill in 2016, for example, Trebek, who identified as an independent at the time, said the race between then-candidate Trump and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton was "very disappointing on both sides." And when rating the comedy skills of recent presidents including George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama, Trebek appeared to put Trump at the bottom of his list. "I wouldn't say that he [President Trump] makes jokes. He picks on people," he told Vulture

Perhaps it's fitting, then, that Trebek lived just long enough to see Donald Trump lose his reelection effort to former Vice President Joe Biden, the latter of whom was finally named the winner of the 2020 presidential campaign just one day before the game show host's death on November 8. 

Alex Trebek bleeds purple and gold

We'll take "Basketball Facts" for $200, Alex! In a special Jeopardy! segment, Alex Trebek revealed that he played for his high basketball school team in his native Canada (where most kids are practically born with a hockey stick in their hands). "We didn't have much basketball so, although I had never played basketball in my life, I tried out," he told the interviewers. Though he didn't expect to make the cut, "after three or four weeks of practices, when they selected the team, [he] was on it as point guard."

After relocating to the United States in 1973, he said, he became a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers and he seemed to be a diehard fan till the end. He told interviewers that if he could build his own Mount Rushmore, it would feature Lakers superstars such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, and Magic Johnson. Fortunately, Trebek lived long enough to see LeBron James lead the Lakers to another championship win in 2020.

Alex Trebek gives away money in his free time, too

Education was obviously important to Alex Trebek, at least as far his charitable contributions were concerned. During the midst of his battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, Alex Trebek trekked up to the University of Ottawa, of which he is an alumnus, to speak at a university event. According to CTV, Trebek marked the occasion with a $2.1 million donation to the Alex Trebek Forum for Dialogue, a think tank that seeks to foster the exchange of ideas and "enrich and broaden public debate in Canada." In total, Trebek had contributed $9.5 million, including the initial $5 million endowment for its start-up, to the organization that bears his name. One critical issue Trebek saw the forum addressing? "Democracy is at risk in many other countries of the world. Nationalism has come to the forefront," Trebek told CTV, adding, "Democracy always seems to triumph."

Trebek, who had dual Canadian-American citizenship, gave money to stateside institutions, too. In 2015, he donated $1 million to Fordham University, which was used as a scholarship fund specifically for students who live in North Harlem. That same year, the Alex and Jean Trebek Family Foundation (his umbrella charity he founded with his wife) decided to endow a professorship at Stephens College in the institution's Master of Fine Arts in TV and Screenwriting.

Alex Trebek's health was in jeopardy

Alex Trebek suffered two heart attacks, one in 2007 (via CNN) and the other in 2012 (via The Hollywood Reporter). Just three years after the last attack, he was hospitalized for a head injury that occurred during a fall and was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma, which WebMD describes as a potentially life-threatening "collection of blood outside the brain." He reportedly underwent surgery to remove the hematoma and was released just days later, per Deadline.

Unfortunately that wasn't the end of Trebek's health troubles. He announced in March of 2019 that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Despite the grave diagnosis, the TV host pledged to fight against the disease. "Now normally the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I'm going to fight this and I'm going to keep working," he said in a video announcing his diagnosis. While he ultimately lost his battle with cancer nearly two years after the announcement of his diagnosis, he fought bravely until the end.

Alex Trebek refused to quit Jeopardy! despite his diagnosis

Despite a potentially grim pancreatic cancer diagnosis, Alex Trebek was back on the job just a few months later to start taping the first episodes of the 36th season of Jeopardy! "I've gone through a lot of chemotherapy, and thankfully that is now over," Trebek said in a video posted on the show's Twitter account in August 2019. "I'm on the mend and that's all I can hope for right now."

However, a few weeks later, Trebek told Good Morning America that after some positive momentum, the cancer surged. "I lost about 12 pounds in a week, and my numbers went sky high, much higher than they were when I was first diagnosed," the legendary game show host revealed. Trebek restarted chemotherapy treatments. He seemed to take it with a remarkably measured outlook, even as he faced death. "When I do pass on, one thing they will not say at my funeral is 'Oh, he was taken from us too soon.' Hey guys, I'm 79 years old. I had one hell of a good life, and I've enjoyed it. And the thought of passing on doesn't frighten me, it doesn't."

Alex Trebek's one wish

You might want to grab a tissue (or three) for this one. Though Alex Trebek said he was pretty happy with the way his life has panned out, he told People in 2019 that there's one thing he would change: not meeting his wife, Jean Currivan (above), with whom he shares two children, sooner.

"I'm pretty satisfied with my life," the game show guru explained to the publication. "But my wife Jean and I have been together almost 29 years, and I was thinking about President Bush when he died, and all the comments about his life about what a nice guy he is, and how he and his wife had been together 73 years.  I thought, 'Oh my gosh.' If I'd just met Jean in my 20s we could have had a longer life together," he continued. BRB, crying.

He then followed up with a joke that might help lighten the mood, saying, "I guess if I'd met her when I was in my 20s she wouldn't have been born yet. But hey, 29 years is pretty good!"