Jeopardy! Champ Brayden Smith's Cause Of Death Revealed

Only months after losing host Alex Trebek — the face of the show — Jeopardy! also lost one of their young rising stars when Brayden Smith died on Feb. 5, 2021. The Nevada native won five games in a row, banking over $115,000 in winnings during his appearances, and was preparing for his return to the show for the upcoming Tournament of Champions, as per the New York Post

Smith's mother posted a tweet on Feb. 12, 2021, confirming her son's death and also celebrating his appearance on the long-running quiz show. "We are so grateful that Brayden was able to live out his dream on @jeopardy," she wrote. The 24-year-old's run on Jeopardy! coincided with the last days of Trebek as the host. Trebek's final day in studio was Oct. 29, 2020, and he died of pancreatic cancer only 10 days later, as per WFTV.

One of Smith's most cherished memories was sharing a stage with the TV icon. "To finally be on stage with somebody that I've seen five nights a week every week for over a decade was really a dream come true," he told the show's correspondent Sarah Whitcomb Foss (via People). The young contestant had an impact on Trebek's final days on the show. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in December 2020, Jeopardy! producer Mike Richards said, "[Trebek] did, I believe, really like Brayden, because he was young and kind of interesting, and funny in his own way." 

But what caused the trivia star to die so young?

Brayden Smith's family reveals the cause of his death

According to the New York Post, Brayden Smith had been in the hospital for days prior to his death on Feb. 5, 2021. His family confirmed with 8 News Now that he "died following complications after surgery." Smith's family also thanked all those who had sent condolences online after the official Jeopardy! Twitter account quote-tweeted his mother while tweeting out: "The JEOPARDY! family is heartbroken by the tragic loss of Brayden Smith. He was kind, funny and absolutely brilliant."

In the obituary for the young Jeopardy! contestant, he was described as "a voracious reader and autodidact, a lover of knowledge and an advocate for justice." He had graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas a year before appearing on the game show. To honor his legacy and his thirst for knowledge, his family set up the Brayden Smith Memorial Fund, which will raise money for students in Nevada. According to the fund's website: "Distributions will include funds for scholarship awards, conference fees, seminar tuitions, research grants, school supplies, field trips, and more."

Fellow Jeopardy! champion James Holzhauer was saddened by Smith's passing and offered to match initial contributions to the fund. "Absolutely devastated by the tragic loss of one of Jeopardy's finest players and Las Vegas's finest humans. Please consider a donation to Brayden's memorial fund for Southern Nevada students. I will match the first $10,000," Holzhauer tweeted.

Brayden Smith was adored by Alex Trebek and Jeopardy! fans

Before his tragic death, Smith realized his lifelong dream of competing on Jeopardy! His obituary noted that he showed his knack for knowledge in his teens when he competed on his high school's Quiz Bowl team. As a result, Smith's quest for knowledge impressed host Alex Trebek, who gave him the nickname "Billy Buzzsaw" because of his ability to win consistently, USA Today reported. "He took no prisoners. He came ready to defeat," Trebek said of Smith in the pre-taped shows, which aired in December 2020. Fans were also impressed with Smith and thanked him for making Trebek happy during his final days of hosting the show.

"I'd like to think that Brayden was a final gift to Alex Trebek. He loved a great champion," one person tweeted. Another person wrote that they were "really happy that Alex Trebek got a contestant like Brayden on some of his last shows," because he was "smart as a whip" and "plays the board like no other." They added that Smith won the Daily Doubles on his talents rather than his luck. Smith was so popular among audiences that he was known as "Alex's Last Great Champion" on social media, according to TVLine.

Fans likened Brayden Smith to Jeopardy! legends

Due to Brayden Smith's vast knowledge and ability to run the board during his time on Jeopardy!, fans compared him to fellow champion James Holzhauer, who offered his condolences on Smith's passing. However, Smith's knowledge also intimidated his fellow contestants when he was on the popular game show.

Teja Chemudupati, who competed against Smith, told The Orange County Register that he was humbled in defeat. "I've chatted briefly online with him and I'm rooting for him to go as far as he can go," Chemudupati said in January 2020. "Alex valued champions who could make deep runs. He would have liked to see someone like Brayden do well. If I had to lose to anyone, it might as well have been the guy Alex called 'Billy Buzzsaw.'" Chemudupati also added that Smith was a "monster" on the show because of his trivia knowledge and confidence on the buzzer. 

Despite the heartbreaking circumstances surrounding Smith's death, it was clear that he made a lasting impression on Jeopardy! viewers and the people who worked on the show.