Born in Sudbury, Ontario, Alex Trebek — the son of George Edward Trebek and Lucille Lagacé — began his career in television at the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) in the 1960s, after graduating from the University of Ottawa with a degree in philosophy.
“I went to school in the mornings and worked at nights,” Trebek once said, according to CBC-TV archives. “I did everything, at one time replacing every announcer in every possible job.”
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Early Career at CBC
While at CBC, Trebek read for the company’s national radio news and covered a wide range of special events for CBC Radio and CBC Television, including some sports coverage.
He went on to host a series of quiz and game shows for CBC like To Tell the Truth, Reach for the Top, a high school quiz show, and Strategy, a weekday afternoon game show.
Trebek eventually moved to the United States in 1973, where he landed a job at NBC hosting a new game show, The Wizard of Odds. One year later, he married his first wife, broadcaster Elaine Callei in 1974. They later divorced in 1981.
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Not long after his divorce, Trebek landed the role of Jeopardy! host in 1984, becoming a household name over the nearly 40 years that he fronted the series.
It was during his early years on the show that Trebek was introduced to the love of his life and wife, Jean Currivan Trebek. At the time, Alex had been hosting Jeopardy! for just four years, and Jean, then 23, was doing part-time bookkeeping for one of Alex’s friends.
“With Jean it just happened,” Alex wrote in his memoir, The Answer Is…Reflections On My Life. “Sometimes you look at something, you look at someone, and you know. I mean, you’ve heard stories of people who meet and decide within half an hour; I knew this was going to be the person I’d end up with. With Jeanie that’s how it was. I wasn’t looking for love. But I recognized at a gut level that here was someone who was going to complete me as a human being.”
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Multiple Health Battles
Jeopardy‘s popularity with Trebek earned the show its own parody sketch series on Saturday Night Live from 1996 through 2015, with Will Ferrell portraying the popular host.
Throughout his time on Jeopardy!, Trebek also battled numerous health issues, including two heart attacks, a full knee replacement, surgery to remove blood clots on his brain and a torn Achilles tendon.
Speaking with PEOPLE in January 2019, the beloved host admitted that he knew he should be more active to improve his health, but that he was resistant. “If I really wanted to do it, I would do it. I’ve got a little room over there with an exercise treadmill, and if I wanted to exercise and I thought it was really important, I would do it. But I don’t do it. I’m not a person who exercises for the sake of exercise, but I should start,” he said. “I’m becoming more sedentary, and that’s not a good thing.”
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Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis
In March 2019, Trebek first revealed to fans that he had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer.
In a somber video message, the ABC game show host vowed to “fight” the disease and also continue working hosting Jeopardy! while being treated for 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.
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Undergoing Chemotherapy Treatment
Just half a year later, Trebek — who helped Jeopardy! earn 39 Emmy Awards — had completed his chemotherapy treatments, and announced in a video to fans that he was “on the mend.”
“I’ve gone through a lot of chemotherapy, and thankfully that is now over,” he said at the time. “I’m on the mend and that’s all I can hope for right now.”
The following month, he returned to Jeopardy! for the show’s 36th season. “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to our show,” he said in the episode.
“I truly hope you folks have enjoyed revisiting some of our special tournaments throughout this past summer. But today, Jeopardy! begins its 36th season on the air and I’m happy to report, I’m still here,” said Trebek.
He then announced in September 2019 that he had to undergo chemotherapy again.
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His Final Days
Earlier this year, Trebek and Jean celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary. The host told PEOPLE in July that he felt Jean kept him going amid his cancer diagnosis.
“She’s kept me alive,” he told PEOPLE.
On Nov. 8, 2020, Jeopardy! announced on Twitter that Trebek had died at the age of 80. “Jeopardy is saddened to share that Alex Trebek passed away peacefully at home early this morning, surrounded by family and friends. Thank you, Alex,” the show tweeted.
Trebek is survived by wife Jean and their two children: son Matthew, 29, and daughter Emily, 27. He also has an older daughter Nicky, 53, whom he adopted when he was married to his first wife.
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