The Canadian game show host became an American TV icon as the longtime host of "Jeopardy!"
Alex Trebek, the beloved host of "Jeopardy!" television's most popular game show, has died after a valiant fight against pancreatic cancer. He was 80.
Born in Ontario, Canada in 1940, Trebek graduated from college with a degree in philosophy. He went on to host a series of quiz and musical shows in his native country. After moving to New York in 1973, he hosted several game shows before taking the helm of TV's favorite question-and-answer fest for brainiacs.
In that role, Trebek was a gentleman and a scholar who could also act like a complete goofball.
For 35 years, he politely presided over "Jeopardy!" His gracious demeanor and unflappable presence made him an American institution, despite the fact he was Canadian. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1998.
At times, he let his stately presence slide. Like the time he walked onstage without pants.
His visage was so well-known to viewers that when he shaved his trademark mustache in 2001, letters poured in. A philanthropist and conservationist, Trebek toured military bases around the world to boost morale and find contestants for one of the United States' favorite quiz programs.
And it is that show, with its answers in the forms of questions, that will forever define Trebek's career. Without him, it's hard to imagine the syndicated program lasting as long as it has — the first episode aired on March 30, 1964. Trebek joined in 1984.
Throughout his reign as the program's answer-reading host, Trebek had his share of funny, awkward and witty moments. Here are some of them.
"What is a hoe?"
Contestant Ken Jennings, of Salt Lake City, became a household name and the show's record-holder for having the longest winning streak after winning more than $2 million and 74 games. Viewers loved him. Possibly his best answer, which turned out to be wrong, was in response to a lawn care question.
The 2004 category was "Tool Time." The query was, "This term for a long-handled gardening tool can also mean an immoral pleasure seeker." Jennings pushed his buzzer and replied, "What's a hoe?" "No," Trebek shot back. "Whoa. Whoa. They teach you that in school in Utah, huh?"
The correct reply: "What is a rake?"
Alex Trebek Loses His Pants
This clip was never shown on the show, but it lives on YouTube and a behind-the-scenes DVD from the program. It is the final game of the Ultimate Tournament of Champions in 2005, where Jennings was a contestant. To break up the high-level tension, Trebek walked onto the set in his suit jacket and dress shirt. And without his trousers.
The audience and the challengers erupted in laughter as a straight-faced Trebek said the three players were supposed to be pants-less, too. But after a camera panned across the contestants' backsides, revealing them all to be wearing trousers, Trebek silently turned his back and walked off-camera on his bare, spindly legs.
Alex Goes Gangsta
In 2015, a category titled "It's a Rap," left contestants and audience members in a fit of giggles. Featuring the lyrics of hip-hop classics by Grandmaster Flash, the Beastie Boys and Dr. Dre, the answers, as read by the erudite Trebek, took on a whole new level. "I'm nuthin' but G thang, never let me slip 'cause I slip, then I'm slippin," the host dead-panned. When a female player started to chuckle, Trebek said with a straight face, "I don't know why that's making you laugh so much."
Alex Does the Robot
A 2006 episode featured this answer: "Take a whirl on the dance floor under these lights whose name comes from the Greek for the 'act of whirling.''' When none of the contestants could think of an answer, the host did a series of herky-jerky movements as a visual clue, which momentarily left Trebek looking like he was having a seizure.
The answer: "What is a strobe light?"
Alex Pokes Fun of Clueless Contestants
Even the show's Twitter account made fun of three 2018 players who knew nothing about football. Not one could answer a single question in the gridiron category.
"I can tell you guys are big football fans," Trebek said when none of the challengers knew what an option play was. Nor did they know the name of the legendary team coached by the legendary Tom Landry. "Should we just go to a commercial break?" he said as the three stood there blank-faced.
Then came the final question, about the Minnesota Vikings' Purple People Eaters. "If you guys ring in and get this one, I will die," he told the players, who dissolved in laughter but did not push their buzzers.
"Alex, You're Being Insensitive!"
As the longtime host, Trebek heard plenty of stories about people's pets, including a hoop-jumping goldfish. But it was a pygmy goat — or rather the goat's death, that sent him into a fit of giggles.
A contestant named Laura was explaining about a pet pygmy goat she had in college. The goat, however, was prone to eating things that weren't food, she said, including a three-wick candle.
But the goat met its maker after he ate an entire bag of quick-setting concrete mix. That detail sent Trebek over the edge, and he broke down laughing. "Was it a 60-pound bag or 80-pound bag?" he chortled. "Alex, you're being insensitive," Laura scolded.
That just made him, and the audience, laugh harder. "You're right," he said. And with that, he passed over the last player, saying "I don't want to talk to you."
Trebek is survived by his wife, Jean Currivan-Trebek, and their two children, Matthew and Emily.