Alex Trebek Opens Up About His 30-Year Love Story with Wife Jean — and How Love Kept Him Alive
In his new memoir, the longtime Jeopardy! host gets personal about his love for his wife Jean: "We are one soul in two bodies"
Editor's note: On Nov. 8, Jeopardy! confirmed Alex Trebek died at age 80. The following article, on Trebek and his wife Jean, was originally published on July 22.
"She's kept me alive," he tells PEOPLE in this week's cover story, of how he's been doing his best to stay strong for her since the March 2019 diagnosis. “If it weren’t for Jean, I’d have put myself out of this a long time ago.”
- For more on Alex and Jean Trebek's love story, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
The couple, who just celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary, have an enviable love story, and Alex, 80, knows it. They met through a friend in 1988, when the Ontario-born Alex was 47 and had been hosting Jeopardy! for just four years. He was newly single after his divorce from his first wife, businesswoman Elaine Callei. Jean, then 23, was doing part-time bookkeeping for one of Alex’s friends.
“With Jean it just happened,” Alex writes in his book. “Sometimes you look at something, you look at someone, and you know. I mean, you’ve heard stories of people who meet and decide within half an hour; I knew this was going to be the person I’d end up with. With Jeanie that’s how it was. I wasn’t looking for love. But I recognized at a gut level that here was someone who was going to complete me as a human being.”
Though Jean, now 56, felt the same way, Alex admits that they had reservations about their 24-year age gap.
"At first it worried me,” Alex told PEOPLE in 1990. “But then I thought, ‘To hell with it. We’ll make it work.' ”
He later writes of meeting Jean's father for the first time — a man who was only two years older than he was.
"He was running a private investigation firm in New York, and he had arranged for a boat to host some family and friends for an engagement party," he writes in the book. "When Jeanie introduced me to him, he took one look at me and said, 'I guess I won’t be calling you ‘son.’ "
The parents to Matthew, 29, who owns a restaurant in New York, and Emily, 26, who works in real estate, were married in 1990 in Los Angeles. They'd find out they were pregnant with Matthew just three weeks later.
Alex, known for his great sense of humor both on Jeopardy! and in real life, made sure to keep things light on their wedding day.
"When the minister said, 'Do you, Alex, take Jean to be your wife?' I said, 'The answer is ... Yes,’ ” he writes. "Leave it to me, always trying to go for a laugh. And I got one. Everybody cracked up."
Though Alex has recently made peace with his decision not to pursue more cancer treatment if his current immunotherapy treatment doesn't work, he told PEOPLE in 2018 that he wished he'd had a longer life with Jean.
In his book he shares an inspiring quote he looks at daily in his home office. “I’ve got [a] framed image. Jeanie gave it to me,” he writes. “It’s a line from our favorite movie, Wuthering Heights: 'Whatever our souls are made of, yours and mine are the same.' That’s the way I look at our relationship. We are one soul in two bodies.”
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