Alex Trebek Cancer

‘Jeopardy!’ host Alex Trebek speaks at the 44th annual Daytime Emmy Awards in Pasadena, Calif in 2017. Trebek has returned to work, saying he’s ‘on the mend’ following treatment for pancreatic cancer.

It’s rare to see an unscripted moment of humanity on television. But when we do, it usually hits hard.

This week, a 12-second clip from “Jeopardy!” dropped like a bomb of emotions.

Instead of guessing on the final answer, contestant Dhruv Gaur, on an episode taped in September when Trebek announced he was re-entering treatment for Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, wrote: “We (heart) you Alex,” causing the host to stammer and get choked up. In turn, so did the viewing audience.

It’s a feeling anyone who has grown up on Trebek’s dry wit and sarcasm has been experiencing since the game show host was diagnosed with the disease in March. To many, he’s been a stable, friendly presence millions have welcomed into their homes since the ’80s (or ’60s and ’70s, if you grew up watching “Music Hop,” “Reach for the Top” and many more). We don’t want to see him leave our televisions. But while he’s still hosting, we want him to know how much he is loved.

If you grew up in the heyday of “Jeopardy!” in the ’80s and ’90s, you likely have some kind of silly memory tied to it. I remember thinking I was king of the world when I got a “Final Jeopardy!” question right and my mom didn’t (the correct question was “Who is Albert Einstein?”). My girlfriend and I play nightly games of “Jeopardy!” on our Amazon Echo.

My other non-”Jeopardy!”-watching friends remember “Saturday Night Live’s” classic parody of the show, with Will Ferrell as Trebek, heckled by Sean Connery (Darrell Hammond) and Burt Reynolds (Norm McDonald). The good sport he is, Trebek appeared on one of the last iterations of that sketch.

For the past five decades, Trebek has been ingrained in American culture, from the numerous terrible, broken “Jeopardy!” videos to shows like “The X-Files,” “Wrestlemania,” “The Simpsons,” “How I Met Your Mother” and “Family Guy.” In a pop-culture landscape that sees stars come and go, he’s arguably one of the most consistent, agreeable, controversy-free celebrities out there.

This year has led to a reckoning with the reality that Trebek won’t always be here to say hello and challenge our knowledge of history, science and pop culture. How he’s dealt with his mortality is how we all should aspire to take it on.

When asked about his illness on CTV, he gave this noble answer: “I’m not afraid of dying. I’ve lived a good life, a full life, and I’m nearing the end of that life … if it happens, why should I be afraid that? One thing they’re not going to say at my funeral, as a part of a eulogy, is ‘He was taken from us too soon.’”

I think back to my grandpa’s diagnosis of the same disease years ago and how that was such a tough discussion to have. We all knew how it would end, it was a question of how he, a joker and artist with a dry sense of humor, would react. He took it with a mixture of humility, frustration and dignity.

Instead of being depressing, Trebek’s message is encouraging and necessary, that we should deal with the inevitable darker things in life with grace and gratitude. He is certainly loved, and we should appreciate him while we still can.

— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live

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