“Jeopardy! is saddened to share that Alex Trebek passed away peacefully at home early this morning, surrounded by family and friends,” the show wrote on its Twitter account Sunday. “Thank you, Alex.”
The news brought an end to more than a year and a half-long fight that the beloved TV personality underwent while continuing to host the game show that he loved.
The host’s transparency about the immense highs and lows of cancer treatment inspired so many who are now saying goodbye to the television icon. To help fully understand how harrowing the final year and a half of Trebek’s life was, below is a timeline of his public cancer fight.
In March 2019, when he was 78, Trebek shared a YouTube video in which he announced that he’d been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
“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 at the time. “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.”
Although he acknowledged the prognosis for this kind of illness was not good, he vowed to not only fight but continue to act as “Jeopardy!” host.
“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.”
Keeping his promise
Trebek made good on his promise to keep fans in the loop about his treatment and continue hosting “Jeopardy!”
In April, he released another video in which he said he was “feeling good” and had just finished taping the last episodes of Season 35. To date, he’d filmed 50 episodes since his diagnosis. He also noted that he fully planned to return to host Season 36 after a brief break for the summer to focus on his health and undergo cancer treatment.
Trebek confirmed at the time that “despite what you might have heard I’m feeling good; I’m continuing with my therapy… I look forward to seeing you again in September with all kinds of good stuff.”
Not all good news
Unfortunately, by May Trebek was starting to see the effects of both the illness and the treatment for it.
He told “Good Morning America” that, although his oncologist said he was doing well, he’d been experiencing some negative symptoms.
“I’ve had kidney stones, I’ve had ruptured discs, so I’m used to dealing with pain,” Trebek said at the time. “What I’m not used to [is] dealing with the surges that come on suddenly of deep, deep sadness and it brings tears to my eye. I’ve discovered in this whole episode, ladies and gentlemen, that I’m a bit of a wuss.”
Trebek took the pain and depression in stride, even as he told “CBS Sunday Morning” host Jane Pauley that filming those 50 episodes in Season 35 had days that saw him “on the floor writhing in pain” while on set.
“And it happened three or four times a day while we were taping,” he explained. “So that was a little – little rough on me.”
Best news yet
In late May, Trebek gave fans the best news he’d shared to date – doctors told him that his cancer was in near-remission.
Speaking to People at the time, the game show host revealed that his doctors were shocked at how well his tumors were responding to treatment.
“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.”
Trebek revealed that he cried “happy tears” when he learned that the treatment was working after struggling with it for weeks. He noted that he believes he had a distinct edge over the average person battling the disease.
Alex Trebek revealed his cancer diagnosis in March of 2019.
(Eric McCandless/ABC via Getty Images)
“I’ve got a couple million people out there who have expressed their good thoughts, their positive energy directed toward me and their prayers,” he shared. “I told the doctors, this has to be more than just the chemo, and they agreed it could very well be an important part of this.”
He continued: “I’ve got a lot of love out there headed in my direction and a lot of prayers, and I will never, ever minimize the value of that.”
The positive prognosis lasted through his 79th birthday.
Back to work
After taking time off to focus on his health and prepare for work all summer, “Jeopardy!” shared a video in August of 2019 announcing that he was back in action to host Season 36 of the show.
“I’ve gone through a lot of chemotherapy and thankfully that is over,” Trebek shared. “I’m on the mend and that is all I can say right now.”
Unfortunately, it would be the last bit of good news about Trebek’s cancer battle for a while.
Trebek told ABC News in September of 2019 that his doctors recommended that he undergo more chemotherapy after his numbers tilted in a negative direction and he ended up losing 12 pounds in just one week.
“I was doing so well,” the beloved host told the outlet at the time. “My numbers went down to the equivalent of a normal human being who does not have pancreatic cancer. So we were all very optimistic. And they said, ‘Good, we’re gonna stop chemo, we’ll start you on immunotherapy.’”
Despite the bad news, Trebek still vowed to continue working on “Jeopardy!” noting that it was acting as a bit of a tonic for his depression.
“I didn’t realize how fallible each of us is in his or her own way … I talk to the audience sometimes and I get teary-eyed for no reason. I don’t even bother to explain it anymore, I just experience it,” Trebek said at the time. “I know it’s a part of who I am and I just keep going.”
Fighting the fight
By October of 2019, Trebek was coming to terms with the new normal of his life amid cancer treatment. However, he also started to signal to the public that his illness may eventually prohibit him from adequately doing his job as “Jeopardy!” host.
He revealed that his treatment had led to the growth of sores in his mouth, which was affecting his speech.
“I’m sure there are observant members of the television audience that notice also, but they’re forgiving,” Trebek told CTV News at the time. “But there will come a point when they (fans and producers) will no longer be able to say, ‘It’s OK.'”
He also noted that, after a year of battling cancer and experiencing the highs of near-remission and the lows of more chemotherapy, he understood that he couldn’t keep it up forever.
“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 of that?” he said.
In a separate interview with “Good Morning America,” he noted that he worried about his wife and caretaker, Jean, given that he was still struggling with bouts of depression.
A positive spin
Despite learning to live with the low points of his cancer battle, Trebek shared yet another health update by way of a video on the “Jeopardy!” Twitter account to mark the one-year anniversary of his diagnosis.
‘Jeopardy!’ host Alex Trebek continued to do his job even while battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
(Kris Connor/Getty Images)
“Hi, everyone. If you’ve got a minute I’d like to bring you up to date on my health situation. The one-year survival rate for stage 4 pancreatic cancer patients is 18 percent. I’m very happy to report I have just reached that marker,” Trebek said from the studio.
He continued: “Now, I’d be lying if I said the journey had been an easy one. There were some good days but a lot of not-so-good days. I joked with friends that the cancer won’t kill me, the chemo treatments will. There were moments of great pain, days when certain bodily functions no longer function and sudden, massive attacks of great depression that made me wonder if it really was worth fighting on.”
The television personality then thanked his wife and all of the fans around the world who have rallied with support for him as he battled the disease.
“But I brushed that aside quickly because that would have been a massive betrayal – a betrayal of my wife and soulmate, Jean, who has given her all to help me survive. It would have been a betrayal of other cancer patients who have looked to me as an inspiration and a cheerleader of sorts of the value of living and hope, and it certainly would have been a betrayal of my faith in God and the millions of prayers that have been said on my behalf,” he said.
One last update
Trebek got an unexpected break from his hosting duties thanks to the coronavirus pandemic shutting down production. However, he was one of the leading voices championing to get back to work safely. Ahead of his 80th birthday in July, Trebek was promoting his first memoir “The Answer is…. Reflections on My Life.” Speaking to the New York Times, he gave fans the grimmest projection of his treatment plan yet when he confirmed that if his current cancer treatment failed to produce positive results, he would no longer continue treatment.
“Yesterday morning my wife came to me and said, ‘How are you feeling?’ And I said, ‘I feel like I want to die.’ It was that bad,” he recalled.
Trebek continued: “There comes a time where you have to make a decision as to whether you want to continue with such a low quality of life, or whether you want to just ease yourself into the next level. It doesn’t bother me in the least.”
He also made a similar assertion in his book. However, he walked those comments back later in the month, explaining that he was at a low point when he made those remarks.
“That quote from the book was written BEFORE my current regimen, and I was going through some bad times,” Trebek explained. “My current numbers are very good, but we will have to be patient with this new immunotherapy program that I am on. But if we were to stop being successful, I would return to my previous chemo treatment – NOT stop all treatment.”
Sadly, Trebek’s odds-defying cancer battle ended on Nov. 8, 2020. In less than 24 hours, fans, celebrities and former “Jeopardy!” contestants took to social media to publicly eulogize the man who redefined the game show genre for more than three decades.
However, perhaps no one summarized the host’s legacy better than himself.
Alex Trebek died on Nov. 8, 2020.
“He was a nice guy and that he was the best kind of quiz show host in that he always seemed to be rooting for the contestants,” Trebek told Fox News in January 2020. “He wanted them to perform at their best because if they did, that would make the show a success and he would be able to enjoy the success of the program in that regard.”
Trebek’s last episode of “Jeopardy!” is currently scheduled to air on Christmas Day 2020.