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Longtime Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek, who announced in March of 2019 that he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer, died on Sunday. He was 80.
The show confirmed the news in a statement to EW.
“This is an enormous loss for the Jeopardy! staff, crew, and all of Alex’s millions of fans," said Mike Richards, Jeopardy! Executive Producer. "He was a legend of the industry that we were all lucky to watch night after night for 37 years. Working beside him for the past year and a half as he heroically continued to host Jeopardy! was an incredible honor. His belief in the importance of the show and his willingness to push himself to perform at the highest level was the most inspiring demonstration of courage I have ever seen. His constant desire to learn, his kindness, and his professionalism will be with all of us forever.”
In a taped message for his fans at the time, Trebek said the prognosis was "never very encouraging but I'm gonna fight this." " I’m gonna keep working. And with the love and support of my family and friends, and with the help of your prayers also, I plan to beat the low survival-rate statistics for this disease. Truth be told, I have to. Under the terms of my contract, I have to host Jeopardy! for three more years. So help me! Keep the faith, and we’ll win! We’ll get it done. Thank you.”
A career emcee, Trebek began hosting game shows in his native country of Canada. He moved to the United States in the '70s to emcee The Wizard of Odds and High Rollers for NBC, as well as Double Dare and Pillsbury Bake-Off for CBS. He joined Jeopardy! in 1984, but continued holding the mic for shows like The National Geographic Bee from 1989-2013 and To Tell the Truth from 1990-91.
In 2011, Trebek earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Daytime Emmys. He's also won seven Emmys for Outstanding Game Show host. In 2014, Guinness World Records announced that Trebek had broken the record for the most game show episodes (6,829) hosted by the same person on the same program.
As a tribute to Trebek's cucumber-cool demeanor, Saturday Night Live in 1996 began airing a series of sketches featuring Will Farrell in Trebek's role. The skits featured celebrity impersonators like Darrell Hammond playing Sean Connery and Norm Macdonald as the late Burt Reynolds. Like in real life, Farrell's Trebek acted like the smartest guy in the room. The last Celebrity Jeopardy! aired in 2015 to help celebrate SNL's 40th anniversary.
When asked about the SNL sketches in 2005, Trebek told EW how much he enjoyed watching Ferrell portray him. "Love it," he said of being included in the popular NBC series. "Will Ferrell did a wonderful job. But when he came back to host, for some reason, he still wore the mustache. I shaved mine a year ago."
And even though it had gone out of vogue trying to stump Trebek on the street with trivia, he laughed he was at least still popular at Studio 8H.
"It used to be fashionable," he said about being quizzed by fans. "But since I’ve been around long enough, I guess there’s no joy in nailing Trebek anymore. Except on Saturday Night Live."
Shortly before his diagnosis, Trebek lamented to PEOPLE that he wished he had met his wife, Jean, a lot earlier. The two have been married for 29 years. "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," he told PEOPLE. "I thought, oh my gosh… if I’d just met Jean in my 20s we could have had a longer life together. 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!”
Trebek is survived by his wife of 30 years, Jean, and children Matthew, Emily, and Nicky. The family has announced no plans for a service, but gifts in Alex’s memory could go to World Vision.