Long goodbyes tug at heartstrings, but they have meaning and purpose too.
After 37 seasons and 8,310 episodes — the last 35 airing posthumously — Alex Trebek’s reign as “Jeopardy!” host finally came to an end. The show’s final slate of programming taped with Trebek as the host aired this week, having filmed the episodes in late October for an intended airing the week ending Christmas Day.
Upon his death a few days after he taped the programs, however, “Jeopardy!” producers decided to postpone their airing until after Christmas and New Year’s so all viewers could watch Trebek’s final episodes without affiliate pre-emptions for holiday programming.
In that last week of episodes, Trebek offered some heartfelt words, opening the show that aired Monday evening by asking viewers to “open up your hands and open up your hearts to those who are still suffering” from the coronavirus, particularly those suffering through no fault of their own.
— Chris Jacobs (@chrisjacobsHC) January 5, 2021
It was a typical Trebek moment: Kind-hearted, warm, and generous, without becoming overtly political. Moments like these have endeared the host to millions of viewers nationwide over more than four decades as a television quizmaster.
For the first 35-plus years of his tenure, Trebek and “Jeopardy!” often receded into the shadows, even as they became cultural touchstones spanning multiple generations. Trebek didn’t seek the limelight and lived a low-key lifestyle away from the tabloids.
The show carved out a prominent niche in the television landscape, but — apart from a few viral episodes — largely stayed true to its format, preferring intellectual substance to celebrity flash.
Trebek’s public announcement of his pancreatic cancer diagnosis in March 2019 changed that dynamic for both “Jeopardy!” and Trebek. From contestants sharing personal tributes in appreciation of Trebek’s on-air grace, to stories showing the importance of “Jeopardy!” in people’s lives (including this author’s), countless Americans opened their hearts in a way Trebek had scarcely imagined.
In a display posted prominently at the entrance to the “Jeopardy!” soundstage, Trebek shared some of the notes, cards, letters, and other memorabilia he received following his announcement. A handwritten letter from Trebek explained that the outpouring of support “is having a most profound and emotional impact on me,” adding that he arranged for the public display “so that each and every one of us might take some inspiration from the goodness that exists in our fellow man.”
Trebek’s last months also proved the axiom that living is a part of dying. While he considered himself a “wuss” about pain and suffering, he handled his final illness with dignity and grace. His memoir didn’t spare details about the physical anguish he endured behind the scenes — including before and after on-camera tapings. In fact, “Jeopardy!” executive producer Mike Richards noted that Trebek’s last week of episodes taped over two days rather than one, as Trebek lacked the physical stamina needed for the typical 8- to 10-hour tape day.
Still, his on-camera appearance never betrayed Trebek’s suffering in his final days and weeks. As someone who always deflected attention from himself to contestants, Trebek likely would not have wanted it any other way. Johnny Gilbert always introduced Trebek as the “host” of “Jeopardy!” — never the “star” — for that very reason.
An Example to Follow
While the timing of Trebek’s death had little to do with the pandemic that has changed all our lives, his represents another elegant, and eloquent, voice dimmed over the past 12 months. Here’s hoping that we preserve his legacy by following the advice he gave during his final week of episodes, in his last days on earth: By remaining kind to each other.