At a restaurant several years ago, a stranger went up to Alex Trebek, the longtime host of “Jeopardy!” and as strangers often did, tried to stump him.
“The American flag flies here 24 hours a day, every day of the year,” the stranger said, using the quiz show host’s particular locution, in which questions are delivered as answers.
Mr. Trebek sensed that the stranger was looking for something more clever than a list of which buildings, like the White House, had been authorized to fly the flag through the night. And without missing a beat he answered in the form of a question: “What is the moon?”
The quick-witted Mr. Trebek, who died on Sunday at age 80 after a battle with cancer that drew legions of fans to rally around him, hosted “Jeopardy!” for a record-setting 37 years. He was an authoritative and unflappable fixture for millions of Americans who organized their weeknights around the program, shouting out the questions as Mr. Trebek read the answers with his impeccable diction.
One major appeal of the show, apart from its intellectual challenge, was its consistency. Over the years its format stayed reliably familiar, as did Mr. Trebek, though he trimmed back his bushy head of hair, grew grayer and occasionally sported a mustache, beard or goatee. Otherwise he was the model of a steady and predictable host — a no-nonsense presence, efficient in his role and comforting in his orderliness.
Mr. Trebek’s death was confirmed by the show’s producers. They said that episodes of the show he hosted would air through Dec. 25 and that they had not made plans for a replacement.
Mr. Trebek had announced in a video on March 6, 2019, that he had received a diagnosis of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer that week. He said that like many others with the disease, he had no symptoms until it had spread throughout his body. He delivered the news from the show’s set, wearing, as usual, a bandbox-fresh suit and tie as he spoke straight to the camera without sentiment or histrionics.
When he commanded a game, he might occasionally raise an eyebrow and say “Oooh, noooo, sorry” or repeat a clue with a whiff of condescension; he told New York magazine that when contestants missed obvious answers, he deliberately struck a tone that was meant to convey: “How can you not get this? This is not rocket science.”
Through it all, he kept the game running on its strict timetable.
He started hosting in 1984, when the show returned to the airwaves after a hiatus. Since then he has been the only host, helming every episode except one, on April Fools’ Day in 1997, when he swapped places with Pat Sajak, the host of “Wheel of Fortune.”
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SOURCE: The New York Times, Katharine Q. Seelye