Alex Trebek was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer in March 2019

By Natalie Stone
November 08, 2020 12:33 PM
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Longtime Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek has died. He was 80.

His death comes over a year after he was first diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer in March 2019.

"Jeopardy is saddened to share that Alex Trebek passed away peacefully at home early this morning, surrounded by family and friends. Thank you, Alex," the show tweeted on Sunday.

In a somber video message to fans shared March 6, the ABC game show host vowed to “fight” the disease and also continue working on the game show, which he hosted for 35 years. “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 said.

He also asked his fans to lift up prayers on his behalf. “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, who 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! Keep the faith and we’ll win. We’ll get it done. Thank you.”

And courageously fight he did.

Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty

In May 2019, Trebek exclusively told PEOPLE that his prognosis was looking up, and he was in “near remission,” according to his doctors.

“It’s kind of mind-boggling,” he said. “The doctors said they hadn’t seen this kind of positive result in their memory … some of the tumors have already shrunk by more than 50 percent.”

By the end of August, Trebek had completed his chemotherapy treatments, and announced in a video that he was “on the mend.”

“I’ve gone through a lot of chemotherapy, and thankfully that is now over,” he said. “I’m on the mend and that’s all I can hope for right now.”

The following month, the beloved TV host returned to Jeopardy! for the show’s 36th season. “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to our show,” he said in the episode.

“I truly hope you folks have enjoyed revisiting some of our special tournaments throughout this past summer. But today, Jeopardy! begins its 36th season on the air and I’m happy to report, I’m still here,” said Trebek.

Sadly, he announced in September 2019 that he had to undergo chemotherapy again.

“I was doing so well and my numbers went down to the equivalent of a normal human being who does not have pancreatic cancer, so we were all very optimistic,” Trebek said on Good Morning America. “They said, ‘Good, we’re gonna stop chemo, we’ll start you on immunotherapy’ and I lost about 12 pounds in a week and my numbers went sky-high, much higher than they were when I was first diagnosed.”

Born in Ontario, Trebek began his career at the Canadian Broadcasting Company in 1961. He hosted a few other game shows before taking on the role of Jeopardy! host in 1984, becoming a household name over the nearly 40 years that he starred on the series.

Throughout his time on the show, he battled numerous health issues, including two heart attacks, a full knee replacement, surgery to remove blood clots on his brain and a torn Achilles tendon.

Speaking with PEOPLE in January 2019, Trebek admitted that he knew he should be more active, but he was resistant.

“If I really wanted to do it, I would do it. I’ve got a little room over there with an exercise treadmill, and if I wanted to exercise and I thought it was really important, I would do it. But I don’t do it. I’m not a person who exercises for the sake of exercise, but I should start,” he said. “I’m becoming more sedentary, and that’s not a good thing.”

Credit: Everett

At the time, he also shared that he’d contemplated the idea of retirement, but admittedly wouldn’t know what to do with his open schedule.

“They’ve been wondering [if I’m going to retire] for years,” he told PEOPLE. “Somebody asked me once, ‘Have you given any thought to retiring?’ This was about seven, eight years ago. And I said, ‘Yes I have.’ Well, all of a sudden, Trebek is retiring. No. He has thought about retirement!”

He continued, “You get to a certain age, and if you’ve been doing the same show for 30 years, or the same job, whatever it is, for 30 years, wouldn’t you think about retirement? What am I gonna do? I’m enjoying myself and I’m having a good time with what I’m doing now, but if I were to retire, what would I do? I’d be lost.”

Credit: Ramona Rosales

“My wife would say I’m getting on her nerves because I’m around all the time,” he said of wife Jean Currivan. “I’m around most of the time anyway now except for two days.”

In 2019, Trebek and Jean, 54, celebrated their 29th wedding anniversary — but their almost three decades spent together in matrimony was far from enough time for the father of two.

“I’m pretty satisfied with my life,” Trebek shared with PEOPLE. “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.”

He joked, “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!”

Jean added of her husband, “He’s got a great sense of humor.”

“He takes his job very seriously, but won’t take himself too seriously,” she shared. He’s also youthful. “He’s just an intelligent human being,” she said. “Part of Alex’s staying youthful is his staying curious.”

Trebek is survived by his wife Jean and their two children: son Matthew, 29, a restaurateur in Manhattan who owns Oso (a popular Mexican restaurant in North Harlem), and daughter Emily, 27, who works in real estate in Los Angeles.

He also has an older daughter Nicky, 53, whom he adopted when he was married to Nicky’s mom, his first wife Elaine Callei. She’s a production coordinator on Jeopardy! and a singer-songwriter.