Who is... Alex Trebek?

For the past 37 years, one thing has been certain.

Each night at primetime, the well-loved Jeopardy! jingle has ushered on one of television's most prolific and adored hosts: Alex Trebek. For a half hour of charmed gameplay, Trebek held the hearts and minds of Americans from every walk of life, with wit and charisma to spare. From its inception in 1984 until his death in 2020, the Emmy-award winning, broadcasting all-star helmed Jeopardy! as a host and producer, bringing with it a charm and intelligence by which he is survived. July 22 was Trebek's birthday – he would have been 81 this year – so let's take a moment to remember what made the late host so great.

Photo credit: Sony Pictures. 

Born in 1940, Trebek was raised in a bilingual French-English household in Sudbury, Ontario (Canada). From a young age, Trebek was driven by his curiosity and attended a number of preparatory schools before enrolling in the University of Ottawa. Just before receiving his degree in philosophy in 1961, Trebek signed onto work at the Canadian Broadcasting Association, a move which marked his first exploration into the world of broadcast journalism. Infatuated, Trebek began pursuing a career in journalism just after graduation. By 1963, his interests had found their niche in game show hosting, as he signed on to Music Hop as its host. After a slew of other short-lived host positions, Trebek relocated to Hollywood.

Photo credit: NBC. 

It wasn't until 1984 that things began to look more long-term. That year, Trebek was tapped by ABC to host a game show revival created by Merv Griffin, the creator of Wheel of Fortune. The show, as Trebek learned, would be the second incarnation of a unique answer-question game featuring a wide spectrum of knowledge and focusing on the players' ability to recall information quickly.  

It was a near immediate hit. As the years passed, the reliability of Trebek's nightly presence, his unflappable wit and constant pursuit of accuracy and knowledge created a space in the hearts of Americans that only grew in size. Jeopardy! is now one of the three longest running game shows in U.S. television history (The Price is Right and Wheel of Fortune are the other two). By the time of his death on November 8, 2020, Trebek had recorded an amazing 8,200 episodes of the show.

Jeopardy! has since become nearly synonymous with the late host. Spoofs on Saturday Night Live and sketches in Half Wits, Family Guy, The Simpsons, and even The X-Files have all playfully embraced the long-standing host and the game's popular format. The Jeopardy! theme song even plays at some sporting events during a time out or gameplay break (much, apparently, to Trebek's delight). What began as a unique game show format soon grew to an evergreen place in popular culture, and a 39-time Emmy award winning one at that.

As Trebek left us with the following well-wishes, we'll leave them here, too:

"Be kinder to each other. I see America in a crisis situation right now in so many ways. And I want people to open up their hearts, and open up their hands, and open up their wallets to help each other. Because if ever there was a time when we needed to do that, that time is now."

Watch the tribute to Alex Trebek below.

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