Tragically, Alex Trebek, the long-time host of the syndicated game show Jeopardy!, passed away earlier this month on November 8, at the age of 80, after struggling with pancreatic cancer. As a fixture on the show for 36 years, Trebek became a steadfast daily presence in the lives of millions of Americans. He became a symbol of intellectual achievement and commitment to curiosity and learning.
Behind the symbolism, though, lay an ordinary human with a story to tell. Before his death, Trebek released his autobiography, The Answer Is…:Reflections on My Life, this July. Alex Trebek was born as the son of a Ukranian immigrant hotel cook in a mining town in northern Ontario. Trebek does not pay short shrift to his origins, nor is he condescending in his tone. He understands most people are probably reading the book for insight into the world of Jeopardy!, but I think this choice is revealing of a very humble attitude in his perspective on his success.
Trebek does get to Jeopardy! and tells you about iconic champions Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer, but also tells you about his favorite contestants of lesser renown as well. Both in the book and on the show, he could vacillate between gravitas and silliness, becoming whatever the situation called for. He mentions several times that he is the host, not the star, of Jeopardy! The show itself is the star, and we are the players.
Written well into his cancer struggle, The Answer Is… can be pensive, but it is never morose. It is far closer to being joyful and full of life. While a look into the life of Alex Trebek (written by the man himself) may surprise its readers, we should all be so lucky to take stock of our lives as the final curtain closes.