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Iconic Facts About Alex Trebek, TV’s Greatest Game Show Host

Kyle Climans

For almost 40 years, Alex Trebek hosting Jeopardy! every night was one of the few things we could count on. It’s hard to imagine a world where we don’t get to turn on our TVs and hear Alex’s voice. We lost a legend, but now’s the perfect time to find out what made Alex Trebek so great. The hardest working man in show business, most people don’t realize how much Trebek had to hustle to make it to the top. Let’s remember a legend today with these iconic facts about the one, the only, Alex Trebek.


Alex Trebek Facts

1. He Was From The Great White North

Despite being an American icon, Alex Trebek was actually born in a small city in Northern Ontario, Canada. A native of Sudbury, Trebek’s parents were George, a chef and Ukrainian immigrant, and Lucille, a Franco-Ontarian. Though he spent most of his life in the United States and became an American citizen in 1998, Trebek was a proud Canuck. He even possessed the most Canadian skill there is…

2. He Spoke French

Thanks to his French-speaking mother, Trebek was completely bilingual, speaking both English and French with ease. For his entire youth, the Trebek family spoke both languages interchangeably at home. But bilingual or no, Trebek’s childhood wasn’t easy…

3. His Childhood Was Tough

Trebek’s youth was defined by poverty and illness. The Trebeks often struggled to make ends meet, and things only got worse after young Alex endured a terrible accident. At just seven years old, Trebek fell through a frozen lake in the middle of a frigid Canadian winter. He survived, but suffered from agonizing rheumatism that plagued him for the rest of his childhood.

4. His First Job Wasn’t Glamourous

Though it seems like he was born to be on camera, believe it or not, TV host was not Trebek’s first job. That honor goes to a small hotel in his hometown. His father was the chef there, and he managed to land his son a gig as a bellhop. But don’t go thinking that Trebek was a clean-cut, responsible teenager. Turns out, the host of Jeopardy! had something of a rebellious streak.

5. He Was A Problem Child

Alex Trebek nearly managed to get himself expelled from the boarding school where his parents had sent him to straighten their boy out. Not long after, he ended up at military college, but he dropped out almost immediately when his superiors asked him to do something he absolutely refused to do: Cut his hair! Hey, if you’ve seen pictures of Trebek as a young man, you’ll understand why.

6. He Loved Ottawa

Because of his failed attempts at boarding school and military college, Trebek ended up getting a pretty standard education. He went to the local Sudbury high school, then to his nation’s capital to attend the University of Ottawa. The city made a strong impression on him, and he continued to show affection for it for the rest of his life.

In one of his final TV appearances, with only a few weeks left to live, Trebek made a surprise appearance at the 2020 NHL Draft to announce the Ottawa Senators’ third-overall pick.

7. He Started Broadcasting Early

Trebek took philosophy in school, but he always dreamed of going into broadcasting. He actually got his start before he’d even graduated, landing a job with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. But it didn’t take long before juggling school and work started to take its toll.

8. His Work Ethic Was Crazy

Alex Trebek is proof that hard work pays off. He went to school all day and worked almost every night, barely leaving time to sleep in between. Even overworked as he was, whenever the CBC needed a replacement radio announcer, he would jump to fill in. He’d do absolutely anything—which meant his early career resume is a little odd.

9. He’d Do Anything

Sometimes, Trebek would find himself reading the national news on the radio or covering special events. Other times, he’d end up announcing curling or horse racing—whatever the CBC needed, Trebek was their man. It was only a matter of time before someone asked him to step in front of a camera.

10. He Hosted A Music Show For Teens

In America, kids in the 1960s watched American Bandstand. In Canada, they watched Music Hop, the program that gave Trebek his big break. He got the nod to host the show in 1963, and he helped introduce Canada’s youth to the radial pop and rock music of the day. But it wouldn’t take long for Trebek to learn a hard lesson: Show business is a fickle mistress.

11. Jeopardy! Wasn’t His First Quiz Show

Though he eventually became the longest-tenured host in the history of game shows, Alex Trebek’s early career wasn’t quite so stable. He jumped around from show to show constantly. But of all the shows he hosted early on, one feels more important than the rest: In 1966, Trebek hosted Reach for the Top, a popular quiz show that pitted high school students against each other.

He might not have realized it at the time, but Reach for the Top was the start of something big.

12. He Reached For The Top

Reach for the Top is basically Jeopardy! for high school kids. Though no longer on television, it still exists today, and students all across Canada take part in local tournaments, eventually culminating in a national championship. Trebek spent the better part of a decade hosting Reach and other game shows for CBC, but it wasn’t enough.

13. He Made The Move To The US

Trebek eventually became the CBC’s go-to guy, covering sports and national events, all while hosting game shows and even his own radio program. Still, Trebek knew that if he wanted to take the next step, he’d have to move south of the border. The move paid off eventually, but it brought a whole new host of headaches with it as well.

14. He Juggled TV Shows

Alex Trebek moved to the US in 1973, over a decade before Jeopardy! started. He immediately got work with NBC, hosting two game shows, The Wizard of Odds and High Rollers. But the TV landscape was different back then, and Trebek soon learned that if he wanted to make it in the cutthroat world of American television, he’d have to do a lot more than he’d been doing back in Canada.

15. He Married A Playboy Bunny

Though Trebek’s early days in the US were hard, there was at least one bright spot: In 1974, he wed Elaine Callei, a former Playboy Bunny and TV host. Unlike the reserved Trebek, Callei was a firebrand, and she made a name for herself through her willingness to talk about any topic on her shows.

16. He Worked Insanely Hard

The 70s didn’t bring any more stability to Trebek’s career. Even though he’d been in show business for over a decade, he still had to juggle a dozen different gigs at once. He hosted multiple shows at the same time while also appearing as a guest, panelist, or even as a contestant on other people’s programs. But Trebek had been hustling since university, and he thrived—for a while.

Eventually, however, Trebek’s once-promising career hit a serious rough patch.

17. He Got Two Shows Cancelled In A Year

When the 80s hit, Trebek’s career started faltering. NBC canceled his longtime show High Rollers, and then canceled his follow up show, Battlestars, after just six months. Things were starting to look bleak for Trebek’s career—and the worst was yet to come.

18. He Commuted Across Borders

1981 was probably the low point of Alex Trebek’s entire career. First, NBC canceled Battlestars after just six months on the air. But that was nothing compared to what happened next. Trebek spent months working on a show called Pitfall. The only problem was, Pitfall taped in Vancouver, so Trebek had to commute all the way to British Columbia from his home in Los Angeles.

For his entire career, Trebek made himself stand out by working harder than anyone else—but this was one time his hard work didn’t pay off.

19. He Wasted Months

It’s not just that Pitfall wasn’t a success—it didn’t even make it to air! The production company that made the show went bankrupt before the first episode went live, and the entire thing was scrapped. That meant that, after months of commuting to and from Vancouver to shoot the show, Trebek didn’t even end up getting paid for his work.

And, to put salt in the wound, right as his career was in a tailspin, his marriage crashed and burned right along with it.

20. His Marriage Crumbled

Trebek and his wife Elaine officially called it quits in 1981 after seven years of marriage. So, to sum up, he’d lost two shows, wasted countless hours shooting a third, and got a divorce. No, the 1980s hadn’t been going well for Trebek—but all of that was about to change.

21. One Man Saved Him

Trebek followed up his three failed shows…with another total flop. The New Battlestars lasted a whopping 13 weeks before NBC pulled it off the air. The world of 1980s TV was not kind, and networks canceled shows at the drop of a hat. But, not long after that show ended, Trebek connected with a man who would change his life forever.

That man’s name was Merv Griffin.

22. Jeopardy Was Nothing New

Merv Griffin was a powerhouse in the entertainment world. He had his own popular talk show and he’d produced many other programs on top of it. Not all of them were successful, though, and one of his failed exploits was a trivia show quite similar to Reach for the Top. It was called Jeopardy!, and after running for nearly a decade between ’64 and ’75 with host Art Fleming, it had fizzled out for good.

Griffin met with Trebek and the pair of them soon realized they were perfect for each other.

23. He Finally Hit The Big Time

Trebek and Griffin teamed up to bring Jeopardy! back, and the show hit the airwaves in 1984. Finally, after a rocky few years, things were finally starting to look up for Alex Trebek—but I doubt either of them realized what they’d created quite yet.

24. He Didn’t Slow Down One Bit

After decades of jumping from show to show almost constantly, Trebek finally found his home on Jeopardy! But if you think that meant he was going to slow down, you haven’t been paying attention. Never one to take a breather, even for a second, it wasn’t long before Trebek was doing double-duty yet again, this time hosting NBC’s Classic Concentration on the side.

And still, even with two popular shows under his belt, it still wasn’t enough for Alex Trebek.

25. He Was The Busiest Man On TV

In 1991, Alex Trebek made television history by becoming the first person ever to host three American game shows at the same time. In February that year, he took over as host of To Tell the Truth. Neither it nor Classic Concentration lasted very long—To Tell the Truth only lasted a few months—but it’s a testament to his absolutely insane work ethic.

26. He Found True Love

Jeopardy! brought a sense of stability and security to Trebek’s life that he had quite literally never known. After his threadbare childhood to his hectic school days to his years of hustling on TV, Trebek had finally made it, for real. And, as if things couldn’t get any better, he remarried in 1991, to Jean Currivan. The couple went on to have two children and remained together for the rest of Trebek’s life.

27. He Did A Wife Swap—Kind Of

If you think that hosting the same show for nearly four decades would get boring, don’t worry, Trebek always found ways to keep life interesting. Take April Fools’ Day, 1997, when he and Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak traded places. Sajak took over Jeopardy! and while Trebek manned the Wheel. In a strange twist, instead of Vanna White, Trebek’s co-host that day was none-other than Sajak’s wife, Lesly.

Is that weird? It seems kinda weird.

28. He Shocked America

Unlike most game shows, Jeopardy! managed to survive most of its unprecedented run without too many scandals piling up. However, in 2001, during the show’s 18th season, Trebek appeared on camera and completely shocked all of America: After 30 iconic years, Trebek had shaved his mustache! The move shook the entire nation to its core, but this wasn’t just some sick prank. Though he briefly regrew the stache in 2014, he shaved it again not long after.

Pour one out for Trebek’s iconic mustache—we hardly knew ye.

29. He Pulled A Sick Prank

In 2008, Jeopardy! fans like myself rejoiced when Trebek appeared on camera once again sporting his iconic stache—but we soon got the sense that something wasn’t quite right. Anyone who looked at the calendar would have realized what was going on: It was April Fools’ Day, and the mustache was fake. Trebek pulled it off halfway through the show, and thousands of fans cried out in disappointment.

30. He Was Extra Fun If You Saw Him Live

The world loved the Alex Trebek who graced our TV screens every night, but the fans who actually got to attend tapings got to see a side of Alex that didn’t make it to air. He kept his audiences entertained with his dry humor—but he had even more of an edge when the cameras weren’t rolling. He once joked that he didn’t have many friends because he didn’t “like spending time with stupid people.”

Well, at least one thing’s for sure: He didn’t have to worry about that at work.

31. He Nearly Died

Trebek survived a harrowing accident in January 2004 when he fell asleep behind the wheel of his pickup truck near his home on Lake Nacimiento. By the time he came to, it was too late—the truck was already careening out of control.

32. He Walked Away

After demolishing a row of mailboxes, Trebek’s truck soared 45 feet over an embankment before finally crashing to a halt in a ditch. Miraculously, Trebek managed to walk away from the chilling crash mostly unharmed, and he went back to work taping Jeopardy! just four days later.

33. He Did Rich People Things

As you can imagine, hosting one of the world’s most popular game shows for over 30 years made Trebek a very, very wealthy man. And, what do the very, very wealthy do with all that money? They breed racehorses, duh! Trebek owned a 700-acre ranch in California where he bred and trained thoroughbreds for many years.

34. He Hosted A Debate

In 2018, Alex Trebek brought his hosting skills to the world of politics, but it didn’t exactly go great. Trebek was the moderator in the debate between the two candidates in the Pennsylvania governer’s race. Thousands tuned in to hear Democrat Tom Wolf and Republican Scott Wagner make their case—but that’s not quite what happened.

Instead, Pennsylvania got treated to the Alex Trebek show.

35. It Went Terribly

I don’t know a lot about political debates, but I can tell you one thing: If the moderator talks for half of it, they’re probably talking too much. Wolf and Wagner barely got the chance to discuss their stances. Instead, Trebek dominated the debate, often telling personal anecdotes and giving his own opinions. To put it lightly, neither candidate was impressed.

Trebek ended up having to apologize not long after the debate. Oh well, you can’t be good at everything.

36. He Wanted To Keep Going As Long As He Could

In recent years, rumors about Trebek’s retirement started floating around. After all, the man was nearly 80, such questions are to be expected. In a 2018 interview, Trebek admitted he thought about retirement, but felt he still had more to give. He said as long as he was able to do the job without screwing it up, he’d keep going. Well, that’s just what he did. Trebek remained as sharp as ever, and stayed on as host until the very end.

37. He Suffered A Scary Fall

Rain or shine, sickness or health, Trebek barely missed a day of work in decades, but by 2017, his age was starting to take its toll. In October of that year, Trebek suffered a painful fall that, while he tried to shake it off, turned out to be more serious than he’d initially thought. Doctors later uncovered that the fall caused internal bleeding in his brain, which required surgery.

Trebek was still in a lot of pain in January 2018 and it forced him to take a brief medical leave, but ever the hard worker, he managed to rally and come back before the month was out.

38. He Announced He Had Cancer

In 2019, Trebek revealed his heartbreaking news to the world: He had been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. He’d been experiencing painful stomach aches for months, but hadn’t realized what was actually happening until the disease had already progressed. In the announcement, Trebek didn’t sugarcoat it. He admitted that things didn’t look good, but he promised to fight as hard as he could to beat the odds.

He also assured audiences that he would stay on hosting Jeopardy! for as long as he could—jokingly quipping that his contract had him locked up for at least three more years.

39. He Wasn’t Scared Of The End

Trebek met the fight for his life bravely. In an interview with Canada’s CTV, Trebek told reporter Lisa LaFlamme that he was not afraid of dying. “I’ve lived a good life, a full life, and I’m nearing the end of that life…if it happens, why should I be afraid [of] that?”

40. The World Lost A Legend

Trebek did end up managing to beat the odds. Few doctors expected him to last a year, but he managed to keep soldiering on for 18 months, juggling his treatments with his hosting duties. However, on November 8, 2020, he finally passed in his Los Angeles home. He was 80 years old.

41. He Did It Better Than Anyone Else

Put some respect on his name: Alex Trebek broke the record for the most episodes of a game show hosted all the way back in 2014. He ended up hosting over 8,000 episodes in his 26-year run.

42. He Messed With His Contestants

The loss of Alex Trebek incited fans everywhere to share their favorite moments from his decades-long tenure on Jeopardy! Many of these showcased his trademark dry wit, such as when all three of his contestants clearly struggled with a “Football” category. When none of them could even come up with a guess, Trebek went off: “I can tell you guys are big football fans!” “Do you think we should cut to commercial?” “Let’s look at the $1,000 clue, just for the fun of it.”

But, as per usual, he saved the best for last: “If you guys ring in and get this one, I will die.” There really was no one else like Alex.

43. He Could Be Brutal

Anyone who kept up with Jeopardy! could tell you that Trebek definitely gained a certain…attitude as he got a little older. He was still the same great host, but he wasn’t afraid to absolutely roast a contestant when the chance came along. Take the time a guest told him about her love for “nerdcore hip-hop.” She earnestly expressed her affection for “people who identify as nerdy rapping about the things they love: Video games, science fiction, having a hard time meeting romantic partners, you know.”

Trebek’s response was legendary:Losers, in other words.”

44. His Poor Health Started Years Ago

Unfortunately, Trebek’s recent health troubles were nothing new. In 2007, he suffered a minor heart attack at his home. The incident was traumatic, but it didn’t stop him from going back to work less than a month later. He went through the same thing again in 2012, and once again managed to get back to work in no time. But while a sudden heart attack is scary, it’s nothing compared to waking up in the middle of the night to find a stranger in your room—and that’s just what happened to Trebek in 2011.

45. Someone Broke Into His Room

While staying in a Mariott Hotel in July 2011, Trebek awoke to the sound of someone rifling through his things. He let out a cry and the burglar panicked, fleeing the room. Even dazed as he was, Trebek leaped out of bed and made chase—though he would end up regretting that part.

46. He Suffered A Painful Injury

Trebek chased the burglar through the halls, but as you can imagine, it’s not easy for a 70-year-old man to sprint down the halls of a hotel when he was asleep seconds before. Trebek ruptured his Achilles tendon in the pursuit, but still managed to limp his way back to his room to call security. They managed to catch the thief before she escaped—but the damage was done.

47. He Lost The One Thing He Couldn’t Replace

Not only did Trebek suffer a painful injury that left him hobbled for months, but the authorities never managed to recover the one thing that he couldn’t replace: A bracelet that had been a gift from his mother.

48. He Had…Interesting Sleeping Habits

While recounting the dramatic ordeal, Trebek mentioned one small detail that many people glossed over, but we sure didn’t. After the sounds of the thief woke him up, Trebek says he jumped out of bed, put on underwear, and made chase. That’s right: Trebek slept in the buff.

49. His Contestants Loved Him

He could be a little cantankerous, sure, but Alex Trebek meant so much to so many people. That led to some amazing, heartwarming moments on Jeopardy! over the years. Just days before Trebek passed, Jeopardy! aired one of its most tearjerking segments ever. Burt Thakur, a contestant from India, ended up winning and became extremely emotional.

But Thakur wasn’t just happy that he’d won—he used his big moment to tell a story that broke hearts all over the world.

50. He Changed Lives

When he got the chance, Thakur told a story about how he learned English by watching Trebek on Jeopardy! He would sit on his grandfather’s lap and the two of them would watch the show every single night. After winning, while choking back tears, he managed to tell Alex, “It’s a pretty special moment for me, man.”

It was an amazing episode—made all the more special by how close it was to Trebek’s passing.

51. We Love You, Alex

Trebek’s cancer announcement preceded a massive outpouring of support from fans all over the world. One of the most memorable moments came live on Jeopardy! on an episode that taped not long after the news hit. When Final Jeopardy came around, one contestant found himself well out of the running. Rather than attempting an answer, the contestant simply wrote, “We love you, Alex!” as his answer.

He said what audiences everywhere were thinking, and Trebek’s response was priceless.

52. He Couldn’t Help But Cry

Alex Trebek was about as unflappable as anyone on TV, but reading that answer finally broke him. Visibly emotional, Trebek managed to reply, “That’s very kind, thank you,” while holding back tears. The iconic moment incited the #WeLoveYouAlex hashtag to begin trending on Twitter, as fans all over the world expressed their admiration for the iconic host.

53. We’ll Save The Date

In what will be an especially bittersweet end to a truly horrible year, Alex Trebek’s final episode of Jeopardy! will air on Christmas Day, 2020.

54. He Believed In Facts

So, why did the man himself think his show was so successful for so long? Trebek put it simply: “There’s a certain comfort that comes from knowing a fact. The sun is up in the sky. There’s nothing you can say that’s going to change that. You can’t say, ‘The sun’s not up there, there’s no sky.’ There is reality, and there’s nothing wrong with accepting reality. It’s when you try to distort reality, to maneuver it into accommodating your particular point of view, your particular bigotry, your particular whatever—that’s when you run into problems.”

We here at Factinate couldn’t agree more. We love you Alex, and we’ll miss you. Rest in peace.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6


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