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Alex Trebek gestures while presenting an award at the 46th annual Daytime Emmy Awards in Pasadena, Calif., on May 5, 2019.Chris Pizzello/The Associated Press

Shortly after Alex Trebek revealed to his audience in March, 2019, that he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, he realized he had been given a blessing. Like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, who hears himself praised when he attends his own funeral, Mr. Trebek, who hosted the syndicated quiz show Jeopardy for more than 36 years, was inundated by expressions of love and affection from fans around the globe who might not have otherwise told him of their feelings while he was still alive.

“It has given people a reason, an excuse if you will, to express themselves, which they would not have thought of doing before,” he explained in July, during an interview with The Globe and Mail. “So, from that point of view, it’s been an eye-opening experience, and very humbling to suddenly realize, gosh, these people are really taking it to heart!”

Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek became a pop culture luminary

Alex Trebek, long-time host of TV’s Jeopardy!, dies at 80

That outpouring of affection turned to expressions of mourning on Sunday afternoon, as the news spread that the Sudbury-born Mr. Trebek had passed away in the early morning at his home in Los Angeles, with family by his side. Politicians, hockey players, actors, former Jeopardy contestants and fans alike shared their sense of loss.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: “We have lost an icon. Almost every night for more than three decades, Alex Trebek entertained and educated millions around the world, instilling in so many of us a love for trivia. My deepest condolences to his family, friends, and all who are mourning this tremendous loss.”

The Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings, who holds the longest winning streak on the show, with 74 wins, tweeted: “Alex wasn’t just the best ever at what he did. He was also a lovely and deeply decent man, and I’m grateful for every minute I got to spend with him.”

Flowers are seen on Mr. Trebek's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Nov. 08, 2020 in Hollywood, Calif.Rich Fury/Getty Images

Mr. Trebek had celebrated his 80th birthday with a quiet family dinner on July 22 at his home, where he had spent the previous four months after the coronavirus shut down Hollywood.

Production on Jeopardy resumed in August with safety protocols in place. In a statement, Sony Pictures Entertainment, which owns Jeopardy, said shows Mr. Trebek played host to would air through Dec. 25. The company added: “The show is not announcing plans for a new host at this time.”

Although Mr. Trebek spent his life in the public eye, he sought to remain something of a cypher, preferring to reflect his spotlight onto others, be they Jeopardy contestants or his favourite charities. This year, however, he had written a memoir, partly as a pre-emptive move against an unauthorized biography due out in the summer. The dedication for The Answer Is ... (Reflections on My Life), which was published by Simon & Schuster on July 21, read: “A bit of potpourri for those who are hoping to become survivors.”

In the lead-up to the book’s publication, aware of his impending mortality, Mr. Trebek, who took American citizenship in 1997, spoke in the July interview with surprising candor about his desire for the United States to confront the root causes of the protests that were then erupting across the country.

“We’ll get through it, because there are enough good people out there, and concerned people, and people with empathy, that we will survive. It’s not going to be easy,” he said.

“The United States has never been very good at looking at itself in a negative way. We’ve just kind of ignored all the negative things we’ve done throughout our history, going back to when we first set foot on these shores. I’ve never understood that, coming in from Canada. What’s wrong with acknowledging that you did some bad things? As long as you’re not continuing to do bad things now. I can’t be responsible for what my ancestors 250 years ago did. But I can sure as hell be responsible for what I’m doing now, to help society or to hinder society.

“It’s like being able to look at yourself and say: ‘Hey, I’m an imperfect human being. Here are my good points, here are my bad points. I’m workin’ on the bad stuff.' That’s all.”

From left: Mr. Trebek greets celebrity contestants Michael McKean, Isaac Mizrahi and Charles Shaughnessy on Jeopardy!'s Million Dollar Celebrity Invitational Tournament Show taped on April 17, 2010, in Culver City, Calif.Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

Mr. Trebek had frequently backed his beliefs with his chequebook, donating large sums to institutions such as his alma mater, the University of Ottawa, and the World Vision charity, which works to tackle the causes of global poverty and injustice.

Still, in The Answer Is..., he had left out the amount (approximately $10-million) he had donated to the Ottawa school. Why the omission?

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I just don’t want to sound as if I’m bragging, or whatever. I’ve donated to a lot of other charities as well over the years.” In fact, he added, “I’m sitting here at my desk right now with a cheque for [US]$750,000 made out to World Vision, to help that girls' school in northern Kenya, to save them from female circumcision, and being married off at the age of 13, 14.”

He and his wife, Jean, had also recently given US$600,000 to a shelter for the homeless in California’s San Fernando Valley. “If I were to start enumerating all of the things that we’ve donated to, I worry that it would just sound immodest, it would be bragging. It’s enough to say, we support this charity or that charity. People don’t need to know exactly.”

He began to joke about how he was looking forward to production on Jeopardy restarting, so he could earn a paycheque again. Also, he explained, though he was known for his skills as a handyman, he missed having something else to do.

“I am eager to get back to work, because it’s been my life for 36 years, and I miss it. I miss the exchanges with the contestants. I miss reading clues. I miss the excitement of it all. And, as opposed to my situation now, it gives you something to do. It’s a routine, it’s a project that is familiar to you.”

In the interim, he noted that the show was reairing episodes from the vault. "I mention in the intro to the first one, ‘Most of you have never seen these shows from the early years, and it’s all-new material! So – tune in, folks!' It’s like we’re doing brand-new stuff, except the host has bushy dark hair, a thick moustache and too much excitability going on.”

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