in memoriam

A Wake for Alex Trebek

Jeopardy! contestants, past and present, mourn the loss of their legendary host.

Photo: Kris Connor/Getty Images
Photo: Kris Connor/Getty Images

This article was originally published following Alex Trebek’s death in November 2020. We are republishing it today in honor of the late Jeopardy! host’s final episode, airing tonight.

More than a year after disclosing his stage-four pancreatic cancer diagnosis in the calmest way possible, longtime Jeopardy! host and arbiter of knowledge Alex Trebek died peacefully on November 8 “surrounded by family and friends” — a brutal loss for those who sought comfort and consistency with 30 minutes of objective truth every night. The show confirmed that, somehow, Trebek was filming new episodes just days before his death, despite the host admitting that he had struggled with depression and severe bouts of pain since making his diagnosis public. (His last Jeopardy! episode, fittingly, will be airing on Christmas Day as his final gift to us.) Hell, Trebek even found time to write a memoir and win some Emmys during his rounds of chemotherapy. Dammit to everyone and their mother indeed.

In the days following Trebek’s passing, Vulture reached out to several prominent Jeopardy! contestants to hear their stories and memories about the greatest game-show host of all time. No tribute is too long or short, or too silly or serious. Just a celebration of Trebek’s profound legacy, which will never cease to exist.

“He was the star of the show, but he made you feel like the star”

Julia Collins (20-time champion and third-longest winning streak in show history): Reading other contestants’ remembrances of Alex, I’m struck by how much commonality there is to our experiences. We collectively remember him as a consummate professional, quick and witty, full of jokes and anecdotes during commercial breaks, a big sports fan, and heartfelt in his love for his family. Alex was undoubtedly the star of the show, but when the cameras were rolling, he made sure the experience felt special for each contestant who took the stage.

For me — for every contestant — being on Jeopardy! was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For Alex, my tape day was another workday, midway through his 30th season hosting Jeopardy! Can you imagine having the same job for 36 years? There must have been days when Alex wasn’t feeling well or just not feeling it, but you’d never know it from the way he interacted with us contestants. In retrospect, it was an act of generosity to each of us to make sure that we got a chance to bask in this very special experience. I have the sense that he felt a real responsibility to us as contestants to make sure we didn’t feel like we were part of just another day at the office. When you got your photo taken with Alex, he had a few signature phrases that he’d use to put you at ease. My favorite was “together again, for the very first time.” When we’d all chat at the end of a taping, he’d draw us all into the conversation, and share his thoughts on some part of the game. On one memorable occasion, he shared a story about how he was interviewing Muhammad Ali at Louis Farrakhan’s house of Islam the night Bobby Kennedy was assassinated when he was starting out in media.

Collins and Trebek during her historic run. Photo: Jeopardy!/ABC

One of the few things that’s lost between being on the show and watching at home is how much you interact with Alex while the cameras are rolling. He wanted to see you ring in with the right answers, and sometimes would share during the post-game chat some wording tweak he had suggested for a clue to make it clearer. You’d sometimes hear him prompt a contestant to be more specific — which Roosevelt, for instance — but you didn’t see his facial expressions or gestures, asking for more. When I responded to the clue, “It’s the accident that got 78-year-old Texas lawyer Harry Whittington into political news in 2006” with “what is getting shot in the face?,” Alex gestured for more and I quickly added “by Dick Cheney.” He’d see that something was on the tip of your tongue, and give you silent encouragement to come up with the response. After all, the show is much more fun when the contestants are on top of their game, and Alex worked hard to keep the game moving forward and the contestants feeling ready to tackle the next clue.

Seth Wilson (12-time champion and 2017 Tournament of Champions quarterfinalist): People are always a bit surprised to hear that you don’t meet Alex before the show. You’re standing up there in the dark, Johnny Gilbert announces your name — which is a whole other surreal experience — and then suddenly, there’s Alex, welcoming 8 million viewers to a trivia game that you’ve been trying to get on your entire life. When I was on the show, I remember him introducing the categories, and then the next thing I knew I was making small talk with this television icon about how I have a very loud, very obnoxious laugh. And somehow, it all felt comfortable. That’s a testament to what made Alex such an iconic figure. On television, you get a sense of the steadiness he brought to hosting, but in person, it was even more palpable. The show was recorded as close to live as possible, so what you see as a viewer is what happened in the studio. He was doing it in real-time, and he seldom made mistakes in a job that would leave most people’s heads spinning.

But more than that, he was good at making the contestants feel comfortable. He took questions from the audience, joked around, and generally kept things light as he went about business during the commercial breaks. I vividly remember him singing “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo” on one of my tape days. He was a great host in every sense of the word — he made you feel at home in that studio. He said that his favorite part of hosting the show was getting to spend time with the contestants. That was very obviously true based on the way he interacted with all of us. Even when you got an “ooh, sorry,” after a wrong answer, it felt like he was on your side.

Jennifer Quail (eight-time champion): Everyone who’s been a contestant on Jeopardy! gets asked two things: “Were you nervous?” and “What’s Alex Trebek like?” The morning of taping, with getting up early and being taken to the studio and going over the rules yet again, then rehearsal and being in the studio for the first time, and finally watching and waiting for your name to be drawn to play, I honestly didn’t have time to be nervous. Once they draw your name, you’re hustled back to makeup, the real mic is put on, and you’re brought out to your podium. The production team does their best to get you ready, then the lights go down, and that’s the first time I realized, “This is it. I’m about to be on Jeopardy! for real.” The lights come up, the music starts, and Johnny Gilbert’s introducing you, and now there are definitely nerves. “And here is the host of Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek!”

That’s the first time contestants meet Alex, when he walks out from backstage. And yes, I was nervous — but there was something about how Alex took the stage, how he smiled, greeted the contestants and the audience, got the game rolling, that made it all seem comfortable. I mean, why shouldn’t it? I’d been seeing and hearing Alex in my living room since I was in grade school. As a contestant, one of the most reassuring things was realizing that, no matter how you were doing, Alex was on your side. He wanted you to do well, have fun, and enjoy your Jeopardy! moment. If he teased you, you knew he thought you were doing well. When you got something wrong, he was sorry. When you had a big win, he was happy. He was the star of the show, but he made you feel like the star. Even when he chatted with the audience and answered the same question probably ten times a week, he sounded like he was glad that person today had asked. When he came over to chat at the end of the show, no more note cards, he remembered what you’d talked about before and had follow-up questions, or he might want to talk about an answer you’d given. He wasn’t just following notes. He paid attention. He remembered. He cared.

If people who only got to meet him in their living room on their local station can take one thing from those of us lucky enough to meet him in person, I hope it’s that what they saw wasn’t an act. Alex really was funny and kind and as smart as you think.

Roger Craig (2011 Tournament of Champions winner and 2014 Battle of the Decades finalist): A thing some might not realize is how much of Alex’s persona and hosting was nonverbal. At home, viewers don’t get to see all the cues and comments his body language might share with contestants during a game. These are even hard for some in the studio audience to see. This is because the camera is usually on the contestants when they’re answering, not on the host. But he’s there, off camera, doing things to make the show run more smoothly. All these invisible things you might never realize that make it possible for Jeopardy! to run like a well-oiled machine.

Alex would lock eyes with a contestant that had rung in and help them get to the right answer, as he wanted everyone to succeed. The raised eyebrows, the shrugs, the forward leans, and a multitude of facial expressions that might indicate you still have time to change your answer, or more information is required. We too often focus on the words of a host and not on these subtle movements. Trebek was a master of both. He’d let his emotions come through in these moments, too. I distinctly remember a question on Saint Ignatius of Loyola going dead and the Jesuit-educated Trebek gave us his slight disapproving stare while delivering the answer. I felt I had let him down. Five seconds later and we’re onto the next response and he’d be back to encouraging the contestants and pushing them to do their best.

Emma Boettcher (three-time champion and 2019 Tournament of Champions finalist): Alex announced his diagnosis the week before I was scheduled to tape the show, and I didn’t know what to expect, or if they would continue taping at all. And then when the cameras started rolling and he walked out onstage, he was exactly like I’d watched him a thousand times before from home. Despite his illness, he was fully present for the contestants. That steadiness of his as a host was invaluable, because it made people who might otherwise be intimidated by being on TV feel like they’d be in good hands, no matter what happened during the game.

Ben Ingram (eight-time champion and 2014 Tournament of Champions winner): The main impression I got from Alex was, first, of his humanity, and then of his genuineness. He certainly appeared a professional and a gentleman on screen, but when you met him in real life, you knew for sure he was both.

“I have memories of seeing Jeopardy! on television before I even spoke English”

Buzzy Cohen (nine-time champion and 2017 Tournament of Champions winner): Alex was always there. And, even when he announced his diagnosis, we imagined he always would be. Growing up, I was as devoted as a Jeopardy! viewer as there was. I tuned in every night, without fail. As Ken Jennings has pointed out, the show is unchanged, nearly down to the minute, from when it first aired, and I internalized that cadence. I could switch to another channel and knew exactly when to change back without missing a moment. Alex was in my home every night, and while he didn’t need to, he earned his place there each and every episode. When I finally made it onto the show in 2016, it all exceeded my expectations. Not just my success, but the whole machine operated so smoothly — and at the center of that machine was Alex. He smiled when we got it right, encouraged us, sulked or teased us when we got it wrong, and laughed in all the right places. They say don’t meet your heroes, and in my experience that’s been mostly true, unless your hero was Alex Trebek. Man, he lived up to it and beyond.

Cohen and Trebek, having a snuggle. Photo: Jeopardy!/ABC

Monica Thieu (2012 College Championship winner and 2019 All-Star Games finalist): For as long as I’ve been alive, Alex has personified knowledge. Not just knowing things, but savoring knowledge, enjoying it, taking pride in it. Growing up in Dallas, I didn’t get to watch as much Jeopardy! as a kid as I would have liked, as it aired in our area at 11 a.m. during school. Only on days off would I be able to indulge myself at home, standing too close to the TV and yelling answers at Alex and the contestants. The closest I thought I would get to meeting Alex was through the National Geographic Bee, a spelling-bee-style competition where kids from grades 4-8 would rattle off answers about per-capita corn yields in various continents until one was left standing. Alex hosted the national bee from 1989 to 2013, so little me in 2005 set my sights on nationals. In fifth grade, I figured, I’ll never be able to go on Jeopardy!, so I may as well try and learn everything in this atlas and get to Alex that way. I made it to the final ten in the state of Texas but was foiled on one of the British Virgin Islands. I thought that was it for my aspirations.

The year I ended up getting on the show for the College Championship, I took the online test to audition for Jeopardy! in the spring of 2011. When I got the email inviting me for an in-person callback, I saw that I’d been assigned to attend a callback in Kansas City that June. “Come on, it’s not worth the trouble. You won’t actually get on the show,” my parents said, when I begged them to let me try out. Well, at that point I was 17, I had my grandparents’ old car, and I was desperate. “I’m driving to Kansas City whether you like it or not!” My dad ended up relenting and going with me. I nursed a hope that Alex might appear at the audition, but the most we saw of him was a recording of him reading a set of test questions in that familiar, reassuring cadence.

Arthur Chu (11-time champion and 2014 Tournament of Champions finalist): Alex has been the host of Jeopardy! literally for as long as I’ve been alive. I was born in 1984, the same year that the syndicated version premiered, and I’ve been seeing his face on TV at 7 or 7:30 p.m. since literally as far back as I can remember. I have memories of seeing Jeopardy! on television before I even spoke English. The fact that, for a short period of time, I was right there on TV with him does change my feelings about the show, but not as much as you’d think. I have, after all, spent far more years watching the show than the 11 days I was on it. The most surprising thing to me about my memories of the show is how little it matters that I’m in the episodes — even rewatching them now, with my memory of the tapings faded, it’s surprisingly easy to just enjoy the episode as though it were any other episode of the show, just with one of the contestants being a fat Asian guy who looks like me.

Jason Zuffranieri (19-time champion, tied for fourth-longest winning streak in show history): As a lifelong nerd of one stripe or another, I was transfixed by Jeopardy! from the very early days in the mid-’80s; I remember well my friends thinking I was a good candidate for the Teen Tournament due to my above-average memory only for me to dash their hopes when I asked “what’s a teen?” I’ve changed tremendously since those early days — basically everything has changed in these last 36 years — and it’s still baffling to think how steady and constant this man was.

“He worked to create a space where culture and learning was celebrated”

Buzzy Cohen: There’s so much he did for all of us, not the least being a champion for knowledge and curiosity in a time when personal beliefs can be held in the same regard as provable fact. It’s hard to imagine Jeopardy! without him, but it’s just as hard to imagine a whole wide world without him. Who will encourage us to know where Baku is? Who will make sure we pronounce French words right? Who will care about things being right? And who will in the same way make it all fun?

That’s one of the things about which we really connected during my appearances on the show — we both revered the show and took it seriously, but we were also both ready to find an opportunity to have fun. We don’t have a lot of people in the public sphere who can do both, and I think it’s important to have people who can show us how to be earnest and irreverent in the same breath.

I’m grateful I got to share some time with him in person, but I’m even more grateful he shared so much of himself with us for over three decades. Even though we knew he had been fighting this illness for so long, we all hoped he’d get to decide when he was done, not the disease. I’m missing him, and will continue to miss him, just as the millions of fans will.

Arthur Chu: The show never judged us. Alex, crucially, never judged us. I mean, I’m sure he did on the inside — he’s only human, and as anyone who’s interacted with me knows, some Jeopardy! champions can be extremely irritating. But on the outside he was nothing but patient, fair, and professional, showing up like clockwork night after night with his sharp suits and professorial demeanor, reading the clues, judging the answers, announcing the commercial breaks, and reacting to the humorous anecdotes without skipping a beat. As the face of the show, his consummate impartiality became the show’s impartiality. Jeopardy! promised that no matter how likable you were, if you rang the buzzer faster and knew more trivia than the other two mooks onstage with you, you got to take home a check for the amount of money listed on your podium

That fantasy, I think, is what’s kept Jeopardy! alive so long. In a world where “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is the terrible drumbeat we all march to every second of our lives, it was immensely liberating to get a peek at a world where it actually was what you know, run by a gruff but kindly old man who kept everyone at a polite arm’s length and was happy to hand a big check to anyone who answered his questions correctly. A guy who wasn’t your friend, because he was fundamentally too decent to make friends, because making friends would be playing favorites. Someone it was impossible to imagine wrangling special treatment out of by sucking up to him, someone who could let the aggressively quirky personalities of some of the nerdiest people in America bounce right off of him and never, ever let his feelings affect his job.

Alex, like Jeopardy! itself, was a throwback. He joked about how if his personality had a color, it would be gray; he made a joke out of TV hosts being caught in personal scandals by manufacturing a fake scandal over his facial hair; he never, at any point, created a Twitter account. He brought a bland, neutral consistency to a media landscape addicted to novelty; he brought a quiet, reassuring distance and gravitas to an audience insatiable for manufactured parasocial intimacy; he showed up and did his job and never let us see Alex as anything other than a game-show host, in an era where other game-show hosts of his generation unpleasantly surprised America by taking to the internet to tweet out conspiracy theories, air out their grievances with other celebrities and, in one notable case, successfully run for president of the United States. You can’t imagine Alex doing that. He was a celebrity who was content to just be who he was. He kept his faith with his audience. The drama was just in seeing who was better or worse at the game, and the drama always wrapped up with a warm handshake and well wishes for winners and losers alike.

Mister Rogers said that his whole goal in making Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was to provide just one adult that kids knew they could always trust, one island of stability for children who all too often had none in their real lives. In its own small way, Jeopardy! was that for adults — a safe space, a brief fantasy of how the world should be, a daily dose of sanity sandwiched before the chaotic maze of distractions in the primetime programming block and after the even more chaotic and mind-numbing evening news. It was the one show where, refreshingly, the rules weren’t made up and the points did matter. In that small way he was a role model, and his legacy matters.

Larissa Kelly (2009 Tournament of Champions finalist and 2019 All-Star Games winner): Alex’s superb technical skills as a host were only part of the reason he became so iconic. Watching him at work, you could also see how deeply he identified with Jeopardy!’s core principle that knowledge has value. Some game show hosts might have tried to differentiate themselves from the “nerdy” contestants, but Alex was delighted when players buzzed on difficult clues — and could be acerbic when questions went unanswered, particularly if the clues had to do with Canada. For over three and a half decades, he worked to create a space where culture and learning was celebrated, and where facts were stable entities rather than debatable propositions. The outpouring of appreciation for Alex ever since he announced his cancer diagnosis showed how meaningful that kind of a space is, not just for those of us who were lucky enough to be on the show, but for millions of viewers across the country. He’s going to be very missed.

Jason Zuffranieri: The world of trivia and knowledge-based games is as popular and prevalent as it is because of Alex Trebek. How many game shows come and go within a year or two? Jeopardy! remains the gold standard for all game shows, so much so that anyone with quick recall of encyclopedic knowledge is regularly peppered with The Question: “Have you ever tried out for Jeopardy!?” It is a part of our national conversation — uniting families, catching the fancy of viewers of all ages — because of its durable format, alluring visuals, and the ultimate earworm in its “think music.” All these things are indeed great. But the show has remained impeccable since its revival in 1984 because of its beloved host, a man who could be funny, serious, erudite, childlike, gruff — he wore all these hats countless times while somehow never making the show about himself. In doing so he elevated the show into the television pantheon, made the idea of trivia games popular, and proved himself the foundation of the entire enterprise and the glue that held it together so capably.

When someone like me gets The Call, it’s a bit like finding a golden ticket in a Wonka chocolate bar. Your life is irrevocably changed by this unexpected blessing, no matter the outcome. For the 30 minutes of your episode you have reached the pinnacle of the trivia world. Alex understood that — hell, he’s responsible for it being such a seminal moment in so many people’s lives! — and he made sure that the spotlight on the show he cultivated over the years was reflected at you so that you received all the attention. Not many people could’ve done it so well, or with such endurance and commitment, or dignity, or professionalism — and he always made it look easy, too. What a man. I thank Alex for making this game into the powerhouse that it is, and I thank heaven I had the opportunity to play and to meet the man himself. The show will endure — he would be insulted if it didn’t! — but it will never be the same.

“My favorite memory…”

Brad Rutter (Jeopardy!’s all-time winner and Greatest of All Time second runner-up): My favorite memory of Alex is also the most emotional. A bunch of us former contestants were in the audience for the last day of the season’s tapings in spring 2019, partly to deliver a scrapbook that the All-Stars had made for him, which he was very touched by. I took the opportunity to give him a personal note that I’d written and before the afternoon shows started. I got the call to go back to his dressing room to have a nice little chat for a few minutes. It was the first time I’d seen him not hosting the show since his diagnosis, and he definitely looked different — not sick or tired, exactly, but not absolutely normal and like nothing was wrong. He had on TV and onstage earlier, and it hit me that this could possibly be the last time I would see him. Fortunately it didn’t turn out that way, but none of us knew that at the time.

Trebek, Rutter, and purple. Photo: Jeopardy!/ABC

Then it was time to tape the last two shows of the day, so I went back to my seat and Alex went back in front of the camera and absolutely nailed it, as he always did. After the shows were done, he thanked the audience for coming, and gave us a very simple but visibly emotional “thank you,” and walked off the stage to the longest standing ovation I’ve ever heard. As I was getting ready to leave, someone pointed to the stage and I saw a shadowy figure in a baseball cap and jeans. He pointed to me, then put his hand on his heart. I did the same, and then he disappeared backstage. I never thought I’d cry in a place that holds so many happy memories for me as the Jeopardy! set, but I did that day. Tell the people you love and admire how you feel about them, folks. You never know when it might be your last chance.

Seth Wilson: It would be very, very difficult to pinpoint a favorite memory of Alex, but one moment does stand out. After the All-Stars Tournament wrapped up filming, we had a reception to celebrate. Alex took the time to chat with all the players and their guests individually, and he gave a short speech at the end of the night. He talked about how much fun he had as the host, especially for special events when he got to see past contestants again, and how much the show had meant to him. Getting the chance to hear his toast was the highlight of my Jeopardy! experience.

Julia Collins: My favorite memory of Alex, and one my fondest memories from being on Jeopardy!, is from my 21st game. It was my fifth day on set, and right before taping started, I was standing at the podium, chatting with Maggie Speak, the contestant coordinator, when I thought I heard a little soft-shoe coming from just offstage. I asked Maggie if Alex was dancing. She laughed a little and I heard the dancing resume at a brisk pace, along with a chuckle. My next question, “Wait, are we mic’d up to Alex already?” He could hear contestants in his earpiece during the game, but it had somehow never occurred to me that the mics were on in the few minutes before taping started and during commercials. Duh! I loved to chitchat with whomever was nearby during breaks, and it turns out Alex probably got to know me better than I had thought during all those days. I guess he must have liked me — he kept up the soft-shoe until he walked onstage a minute or so later.

Monica Thieu: I might have accidentally caught Alex off guard during my College Championship taping in January 2012. Before the Final Jeopardy clue of the last episode was revealed — the one that would decide the tournament winner — the producers came over and rehearsed the closing instructions. The winner would walk out from behind the podium and around to Alex’s lectern, where he would hand over the trophy and pause for the camera. At the time, I was in the lead, so I paid extra close attention while trying not to jinx it. I ended up answering the final clue correctly, winning the tournament! When the signal went up, I gingerly followed the blocking the producers had instructed. I stepped down from my podium and walked toward Alex, holding out the trophy. In my glee and bewilderment, I mistook his outstretched arms for an invitation to hug, and I went in and embraced the Alex Trebek. A producer later told me she couldn’t remember the last time Alex hugged a contestant. I never would have guessed. It felt so natural and warm.

Pam Mueller (2000 College Championship winner and 2014 Battle of the Decades semifinalist): At the Tournament of Champions, I remember being floored when Alex came out on set to the party afterward in a T-shirt and jeans. I even took a surreptitious picture as proof because it was so shocking to me! At that tournament, I was also goaded by Maggie Speak into saying that “now that I’ve been on Jeopardy!, my next goal is to be on Celebrity Jeopardy! on SNL.” Alex asked, “And who would you be?” Me: “I think I could be the band-camp girl from American Pie, you know — this one time, at band camp, I took a flute, and I can’t say the rest on national television.” Alex claimed to have no idea what I was talking about, in a way that made it clear he definitely did.

At the end of the All-Stars taping, he asked Brad, Ken, and me to come up and give an impromptu speech since we’d been with the show the longest. At the time, I was kind of petrified, but when he announced his diagnosis shortly after the shows aired, I was so glad to have had the chance to tell him in person how much he and the show meant to me. After he announced his diagnosis, the All-Stars decided to make a scrapbook for him, and gave it to him on the last day of the season. Each of us had a page where we could thank him in our own way, and part of what I said on mine was, “though my words were not as eloquent as I might have liked, I am so grateful that you gave me the opportunity at the wrap party to express a small piece of how you and the Jeopardy! family changed my life.” The page had two pictures of me; one right after winning the college tournament, and one during All-Stars when I finally got to hold the giant perpetual trophy with everyone’s names on it. I continued, “I think the trophies in these pictures are a good metaphor. Between my first appearance and most recent appearance I’ve grown up. I’ve gone from a girl who thought she was certain to lose to the Harvard kind to a woman who wasn’t afraid to face Ken and Brad.” Having success and support from the Jeopardy! family really helped me to grow.

Jackie Fuchs (Four-time champion and former Runaways bassist): All I can think about is the woodpecker. The bird appeared during the taping of my second or third Jeopardy! episode, not that you’d have seen it unless you’d been there. It happened during a commercial break, when Alex would field questions from the studio audience, sharing with the people in attendance — in a manner much earthier and funnier than one might expect — a little of himself and his favorite things. Drink: Chardonnay. Movie: How Green Was My Valley. Celebrity crush: Ava Gardner. These are things I learned only later, when I came back to as a former contestant to watch friends compete. But that word intruded into my awareness, snapping me back into the moment. Why the hell was Alex Trebek talking about woodpeckers? Something about DIY home repairs, which I learned later was one of Alex’s hobbies, but before I could piece the story together there came a producer telling Alex that the break was running long and suddenly the woodpecker was gone. Woodpecker, I hardly knew you.

I went on to win a few games. I made some new friends. Alex gave me a “good for you,” an “enjoy the moment,” and a “you should have rung in.” I talked about surfing and nuclear submarines and, unfortunately, my marital status. I posed with Alex for the contestant photos, the only time I saw him at all unsure of himself as he grappled with whether it was still appropriate to put his arms around female contestants’ waists during the contestant photos — yes. But then that’s one of the things I love most about the man contestants call “Uncle Alex,” even though most of us barely knew him at all. He was always growing, always learning, always wanting us self-described nerds and geeks to feel comfortable and respected, not just for what we knew — though thankfully, for that, too — but for who we were.

I don’t really know what the woodpecker has to do with his passing or why it’s on my mind, but everyone who competed that day remembers the pesky little bird. Maybe it was how much Alex seemed to relish telling the story, how he seemed to me, in that moment, a man who found joy in everything he did, whether it was hosting Jeopardy! or finding a way to outsmart a bird. Maybe it was that he cared about making the audience feel as respected and engaged as the contestants. The audiences were part of the orchestra that is Jeopardy!, and Alex was the conductor who made sure that all the instruments played in unison. So, rest in peace, Uncle Alex. Thanks for the woodpecker story and for letting me play for a while in your orchestra.

Roger Craig: Appearing on 20-some odd episodes of Jeopardy! over an almost ten-year span, it was always a pleasure spending time with Alex. As a contestant, you’re not allowed to interact with him except on the Jeopardy! set, so you could go literally years not seeing or speaking with him, but when you returned to the Jeopardy! set, he always made you feel welcome and like no time had passed at all. Alex would host and manage the show so that the questions, the contestants, and the game took center stage. He was the avuncular emcee who would throw in a quip here or there. The chats after the game had ended were a great place to get unfiltered and extemporaneous Alex Trebek. I once asked him about a story I’d read that he knew Lucille Ball. He then regaled us with a story about playing backgammon with her in her backyard. The Lakers or the NHL were also topics he loved to chat about. And he’d also make callbacks to previous chats and might gently rib you: “Did you buy everybody drinks at the hotel last night like you said you were going to?!” His great sense of humor was on display in these moments, but only for those in the studio as the audio never made it to air. Commercial breaks were a lot of fun, too. Accents, Q&As, and jokes that might not fit into the time slot.

The last time I saw him was at the afterparty for the All Stars Tournament in 2019. As I was grabbing a few crackers and slices of cheese, he walked up to me and was so gracious and thanked me for attending and hoped I’d had a good time. I assured him I always did, thanked him for everything and we chatted a bit about his work before Jeopardy! I closed by telling him what I knew then and now to be true: that being on Jeopardy! and meeting Alex Trebek could change your life in unimaginable ways.

A Wake for Alex Trebek