'Jeopardy!' 's Alex Trebek Wishes He'd Met His Wife Earlier: 'We Could've Had a Longer Life Together'

Alex Trebek was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer this week

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 in March 2019.

If Alex Trebek could turn back time, there’s one important date in his life that he’d change: the day he met his wife.

“I’m pretty satisfied with my life,” the Ontario-born Trebek, 78, told PEOPLE in January.

“But my wife Jean and I have been together almost 29 years, and 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. I thought, oh my gosh … if I’d just met Jean in my 20s we could have had a longer life together.”

Ramona Rosales

The longtime Jeopardy! host added jokingly, “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!”

Months following his interview with PEOPLE, Trebek and Jean are now facing a difficult new season of life together: his cancer diagnosis.

On Wednesday, Trebek announced the somber news that he has been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

“Now, just like 50,000 other people in the United States each year, this week I was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer,” he said in a video message to fans.

Trebek, who has now hosted Jeopardy! for 35 years, vowed to “fight” the disease and also continue working on the game show. “Now normally the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I’m going to fight this and I’m going to keep working,” he continued.

As he battles this grave diagnosis, his outlook is hope-filled and positive.

“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,” continued Trebek.

He also quipped that he must continue working because of the terms of his contract through the 2021-22 season. “Truth told, I have to because under the terms of my contract, I have to host Jeopardy! for three more years!” he joked. “So help me!”

Although he’s entering a difficult new season of life, he isn’t doing it alone — he has his wife and two children (Matthew, 29, a restaurateur in Manhattan who owns Oso (a popular Mexican restaurant in North Harlem), and Emily, 27, who works in real estate in Los Angeles) cheering him on, who will certainly make sure he keeps the jokes coming.

“He’s got a great sense of humor,” Jean, 54, told PEOPLE in January. “He takes his job very seriously, but won’t take himself too seriously.” He’s also youthful. “He’s just an intelligent human being,” she said. “Part of Alex’s staying youthful is his staying curious.”

Jean said she and Trebek were just friends for a while after they first met, but there was something about him that she couldn’t shake.

“There was just this deep sensitivity about him with a gruffy exterior,” she shared. “I kept thinking, he’s 24 years older than me .. but there was something that just kept drawing me to him.”

As for what makes he and Jean tick after all these years, Trebek said they equally love staying home as opposed to going out.

“I like to fix things,” said Trebek, a self-described homebody who noted that his time off is usually spent reading and tinkering around the house, taking machines apart and repairing them. “I was never into going out to clubs. It wasn’t my scene.” He added they also usually like to watch movies together in bed after dinner.

Though they’ve been happily together for almost 30 years, Jean noted that they have their ups and downs just like any other couple.

“We have our challenges,” she admitted.

“And then we have our really beautiful times,” she added, “where we’re just so blessed to know that we’re in each other’s courtyard.”

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