Before completing his degree, Trebek began his career in 1961 working for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. According to Trebek, "I went to school in the mornings and worked at nights; I did everything, at one time replacing every announcer in every possible job." He would eventually read the CBC national radio news and cover a wide range of special events for CBC Radio and CBC Television, including curling and horse racing.
Trebek's first hosting job was on a Canadian music program called Music Hop in 1963. In 1966, he hosted a high school quiz show called Reach for the Top. From 1967 to 1970, he was a host for the CBC, introducing classical music programs including performances by Glenn Gould. For one or two seasons he hosted a weekly skating program. Starting in spring 1969, Trebek also hosted Strategy, a weekday afternoon game show. From 1971 until the end of 1972, Trebek hosted I'm Here Til 9, the local morning drive radio show on CBC Toronto.
In 1971, Trebek was one of several to have been shortlisted to succeed Ward Cornell as host of Hockey Night in Canada. Although Trebek was the preferred choice of executive producer Ralph Mellanby, based on his audition and other CBC roles, Mellanby stated in 2020 that he ultimately chose Dave Hodge instead, because his boss did not want someone with a mustache to host Hockey Night.
Since the second incarnation of High Rollers premiered while The $128,000 Question was still airing and taping episodes, Trebek became one of two hosts to emcee shows in both the United States and Canada, joining Jim Perry, who was hosting Definition and Headline Hunters in Canada and Card Sharks, which coincidentally premiered the same day as High Rollers in 1978 in the United States. Trebek's francophone side was put on display in 1978, in a special bilingual edition of Reach for the Top and its Radio-Canada equivalent, Génies en herbe. In this show, Trebek alternated smoothly between French and English throughout.
After High Rollers was cancelled in 1980, Trebek moved on to Battlestars for NBC. The series debuted in October 1981 and was cancelled in April 1982 after only six months on the air. In September 1981 Trebek took the helm of the syndicated Pitfall, which taped in Vancouver and forced him to commute, as he had done while hosting High Rollers and The $128,000 Question in 1978. Pitfall was cancelled after its production company, Catalena Productions, went bankrupt. As a result, he was never paid for that series. After both series ended, Trebek hosted a revival of Battlestars called The New Battlestars that ended after thirteen weeks, then shot a series of pilots for other series for producer Merrill Heatter, for whom he had worked hosting High Rollers and Battlestars, and Merv Griffin. The Heatter pilots were Malcolm, an NBC-ordered pilot featuring Trebek with an animated character as his co-host, and Lucky Numbers, an attempt at a revival of High Rollers that failed to sell. For Griffin, (who was ultimately encouraged to hire Trebek by Lucille Ball) he shot two pilots for a revival of Jeopardy! when original host Art Fleming (a friend of Trebek's) declined to return to the role owing to creative differences. This revival sold; Trebek began hosting it in 1984 and remained the host until his death. His final episode hosting Jeopardy! was to air on Christmas Day 2020, However, Sony announced on November 23, 2020, that the air dates of Trebek's final week will be postponed, with episodes scheduled for the week of December 21–25 being postponed to January 4–8, 2021.
In 1987, while still hosting Jeopardy!, Trebek returned to daytime television as host of NBC's Classic Concentration, his second show for Mark Goodson. He hosted both shows simultaneously until September 20, 1991, when Classic Concentration aired its final first-run episode (NBC would air repeats until 1993). In 1991, Trebek made broadcast history by becoming the first person to host three American game shows at the same time, earning this distinction on February 4, 1991, when he took over from Lynn Swann as host of NBC's To Tell the Truth for Goodson-Todman, which he hosted until the end of the series' run on May 31, 1991.
In 1994, Trebek returned to the CBS network for the first time since hosting Double Dare to host the Pillsbury Bake-Off, which he hosted until 1998. Trebek and Pat Sajak, host of Wheel of Fortune, traded places on April Fools' Day 1997. Pat Sajak hosted Jeopardy! and Trebek hosted Wheel of Fortune with Sajak's wife, Lesly, as Trebek's co-host. Sajak and Wheel of Fortune co-host Vanna White played contestants at the wheel, with winnings going toward charities. Trebek appeared on Celebrity Poker Showdown in 2005 and came in second place in his qualifying game, losing to Cheryl Hines.
On October 1, 2018, Trebek moderated the only debate in the Pennsylvania governor's race, between Democrat Tom Wolf and Republican Scott Wagner. According to news outlets, he wanted to change the flow of the debate to be more conversational instead of the more traditional format. He dominated the debate and talked for 41% of it, often talking about himself without giving candidates time to discuss their stances on political issues. He also made remarks regarding the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. Trebek later apologized for his performance, stating that he was "naive" and "misunderstood" the role of a moderator. "I offer my sincere apologies to the people of Pennsylvania, a state I dearly love," he said.
Trebek married broadcaster Elaine Callei in 1974. The couple had no children although Trebek adopted Callei's daughter Nicky; they divorced in 1981. In 1990, he married Jean Currivan, a real estate project manager from New York. They had two children, Matthew and Emily.
In late 2001, during Jeopardy!'s 18th season, Trebek shaved the mustache that he had worn for over 30 years. He wore a fake mustache for the first half of the April 1, 2008 episode as an April Fools' joke. In summer 2014, Trebek regrew the mustache for the 31st season of Jeopardy!, only to shave it off again a month into the season. Trebek grew out a full beard at the beginning of the 2018 season, shaving it down to a goatee for the seventh episode and a mustache for the eighth episode, and the next day was clean-shaven again.
On January 30, 2004, Trebek escaped major injury after falling asleep behind the wheel of his pickup truck while driving alone on a rural road in the Central Coast town of Templeton, California, returning from a family home in Lake Nacimiento. The truck sideswiped a string of mailboxes, flew 45 feet over an embankment, and came to rest against a utility pole in a ditch. Trebek was not cited for the accident and returned to work taping Jeopardy! four days later.
In a 2018 interview with Vulture, Trebek said he was a political moderate and registered independent, neither conservative nor liberal, with some libertarian leanings. Trebek stated he believed in God as a Christian. During a 2018 gubernatorial debate, he said he was raised Catholic during his childhood and adolescence.
On December 11, 2007, Trebek suffered a minor heart attack at his home, but returned to work as scheduled in January 2008. In July 2011, he injured an Achilles tendon while chasing a burglar who had entered his San Francisco hotel room, requiring six weeks in a cast. Trebek suffered another mild heart attack in June 2012, but was able to return to work the following month.
On December 15, 2017, over the winter break of Jeopardy! taping, Trebek was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after reportedly experiencing complications from a fall in October of that year. The incident resulted in a subdural hematoma. Trebek underwent surgery to remove blood clots from his brain the following day. On January 4, 2018, the verified Twitter account of Jeopardy! announced that Trebek had been suffering from the fall. Trebek required a short medical leave and returned to regular hosting duty in mid-January 2018.
In 2018, while being interviewed by Harvey Levin on Fox News, Trebek floated the idea of retirement, saying the odds of his leaving Jeopardy! in 2020 were 50/50 "and a little less". He added that he might continue if he is "not making too many mistakes" but would make an "intelligent decision" as to when he should give up the emcee role. In October that year, he signed a new contract to continue as host through 2022, stating in January 2019 that although he was beginning to slow down due to his age, the show's work schedule, consisting of 46 taping sessions each year, was still manageable.
Pancreatic cancer and death
On March 6, 2019, Trebek announced that he had been diagnosed with stage IVpancreatic cancer. He had been experiencing a persistent stomach ache before the diagnosis but did not recognize it as a symptom of the disease. In a prepared video announcement of the diagnosis, Trebek noted that his prognosis was poor but said that he would aggressively fight the cancer in hopes of beating the odds and would continue hosting Jeopardy! for as long as he was able, joking that his contract obligated him to do so for three more years. Trebek updated the situation in May 2019, stating that he was responding exceptionally well to treatment and that some of the tumors had shrunk to half their previously observed size; he credited the prayers and wellwishes of his fans for the better-than-usual results and planned to undergo several more rounds of chemotherapy. Trebek finished that round of chemotherapy treatments in time to resume taping of the show in August 2019. Follow-up immunotherapy was ineffective, and Trebek resumed chemotherapy in September.
On October4, 2019, in an interview with CTV's Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme, Trebek said: "I'm not afraid of dying" and "I've lived a good life, a full life, and I'm nearing the end of that life... [I]f it happens, why should I be afraid [of] that?" In the same interview, Trebek noted that sores in his mouth, a side effect from the chemotherapy, were interfering with his ability to speak, noting that "there will come a point when they (fans and producers) will no longer be able to say, 'It's okay.'" On November 11, 2019, during the Final Jeopardy! round, a player's response stated, "What is We ♡ you, Alex!", which caused Trebek to become emotional. Hours later, #WeLoveYouAlex was trending on Twitter. In a December 2019 interview with ABC News, Trebek stated that he would begin looking at experimental treatments and chemotherapies and that despite periods of severe pain and depression, he was still in good enough physical condition to handle construction projects. Trebek also stated that he had already prepared an on-air farewell statement before his cancer diagnosis.
In March 2020, Trebek announced he had survived one year of cancer treatment (noting that his prognosis had given him only an 18% chance to survive that long) and that, though the chemotherapy treatments were often worse than the cancer symptoms themselves, he was confident that he would survive another year, saying that ending treatment would be a "betrayal" to his family, supporters, and to the God in whom he has faith. As a precautionary measure, Jeopardy! was to tape episodes without a studio audience, as protection from the COVID-19 pandemic; Trebek, because of both his age and his condition, was particularly at risk of death from the particular variant of SARS-CoV-2 circulating. Soon afterward, production of the show was suspended altogether. The show resumed taping in August, in time for the season 37 premiere.
On July 16, 2020, Trebek gave an update regarding his cancer. He said that, while he still felt fatigued, the chemotherapy was "paying off." He also stated that he was looking forward to taping again. On July 21, 2020, he published his memoir The Answer Is...: Reflections on My Life.
Trebek underwent surgery related to his cancer treatment in October. He returned to the show two weeks after the surgery, but was unable to handle his full workload because of pain from the surgery and had to split his usual five-episode taping session over two days; these five episodes would be his last. He taped his final episode on October 29, 2020. Trebek died at his home in Los Angeles on November8, 2020, at the age of 80, after 20 months fighting pancreatic cancer. His remains were cremated, and given to his wife.
On the November 9, 2020 episode of Jeopardy!, as a tribute to Trebek, current executive producer of both Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!Mike Richards opened the show with this statement:
I'm Mike Richards, the executive producer of Jeopardy!. Over the weekend, we lost our beloved host Alex Trebek. This is an enormous loss for our staff and crew, for his family, and for his millions of fans. He loved this show and everything it stood for. In fact, he taped his final episodes less than two weeks ago. He will forever be an inspiration for his constant desire to learn, his kindness, and for his love of his family. We will air his final 35 episodes as they were shot. That's what he wanted. On behalf of everyone here at Jeopardy!, thank you for everything Alex. This is Jeopardy!.
The lights on the set then dimmed blue in remembrance.
After each posthumous episode the title card read, “Dedicated to Alex Trebek. Forever in our hearts. Always our inspiration.”
In 2016, Trebek donated $5 million to the University of Ottawa to fund the Alex Trebek Forum for Dialogue, the objective of which is "to expose students to a wide range of diverse views, through speeches, public panels, events and lectures by University of Ottawa researchers, senior government officials and guests speakers from around the world." Trebek's gifts to the university, which at the time totaled $7.5 million, also fund a Distinguished Speaker Series, which has included a presentation by Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee, introduced by Trebek. In 2017, Trebek funded the Alex Trebek Leadership Award at the University of Ottawa, an annual $10,000 award to a summa cum laude graduate who has also demonstrated community leadership. By October 2020, Trebek's contributions to the University of Ottawa totalled around $10 million.
In March 2020, Trebek donated $100,000 to Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter in Los Angeles.
Trebek owned his own wardrobe, consisting of dozens of outfits and hundreds of neckties. In February 2021, Trebek's son Matthew donated the wardrobe to The Doe Fund, in keeping with a statement Trebek had made on his last day of taping.
In 2011, it was announced that Trebek would be one of the recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmy Awards. That same year Trebek received an Honorary Doctorate from Fordham University. Since June 13, 2014, Trebek has held a Guinness World Record for "the most gameshow episodes hosted by the same presenter (same program)" for having hosted 6,829 episodes of Jeopardy!, overtaking previous record holder Bob Barker.
On May 4, 2015, Trebek's alma mater, the University of Ottawa, named its alumni hall in his honour, as a benefactor to the university.
^Marchese, David (November 12, 2018). "In Conversation: Alex Trebek". Vulture.com. New York City: New York Media. Archived from the original on November 13, 2018. Retrieved November 13, 2018. I'm an independent. I'm not ultraconservative. I'm not ultraliberal either. I told Sean Hannity once: "I'm a social liberal and a fiscal conservative. I want to help people, but I'm nnecessarily eager to pay for it."
^ abEggertson, Laura. "Alex Trebek gift supports big thinking". Tabaret. Archived from the original on June 13, 2017. Retrieved December 12, 2016. Trebek credits the influence of his wife Jean on his approach to philanthropy. As quoted by Eggertson, "She has taught me the value of looking outside of yourself in a charitable way, helping others either financially or personally – and never expecting anything in return."