There aren’t many things that seem constant. The value of pi, I suppose (math joke). The number of things that are dependable seem to be reduced all the time. This is probably mostly a result of me getting older, but I think it’s also because our attention spans keep getting shorter and shorter.
One of the things that was dependable ended today. Alex Trebek, the long-time host of Jeopardy! died Sunday at the age of 80. Alex’s television career began in his native Canada in the early sixties. After moving to the U.S. in 1973 he began hosting game shows, including The Wizard of Odds (which I vaguely remember, though not because of him) and High Rollers (which I definitely – and fondly – remember, including Alex and his huge hair and bushy mustache). While High Rollers also featured questions and answers, the gimmick was in the dice rolling (which was done by Alex’s co-host – and fellow Canadian – actress Ruta Lee). The goal was to remove all of the digits 1 through 9 from the game board by picking combinations that added up to the roll of the two dice. If you rolled a 7, you could take the 7 alone or any combination of digits that added up to 7. There was some strategy to it, and it was also simple enough to play at home; all you needed was a pair of dice. And we played it a lot on our front porches when we needed a break from our baseball games in the vacant lot down the street.
Here’s an episode of High Rollers from Independence Day 1975, with Ruta almost getting hit in the head by a piece of set flying in a bit early as she makes her entrance, and also featuring Ray Wersching, then the kicker for the San Diego Chargers, as the returning champion (which gives you some idea how much NFL teams were paying their kickers in those days).
Alex started hosting the relaunched syndicated Jeopardy! in 1984, the same year the Tigers last won the World Series, and 36 years and over 8,000 episodes later, he was still there, night after night. I didn’t watch Jeopardy! every night, but it was always nice to know that I could tune in and there would be Alex, calmly reading answers from the board and encouraging the contestants. Even after announcing his pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 2019, he continued to host the show, taping his final episode less than two weeks ago on October 29, 2020. Producers have announced that pre-taped shows will continue through Christmas Day, which should be when Alex’s final show airs, including a short announcement he taped sometime this fall when it was apparent he wouldn’t be able to continue much longer. No announcement on his successor, or even if there will be one, has been made.
Four interesting – one might say trivial, which is appropriate since we’re discussing Jeopardy! – items I rediscovered while looking things up for this post:
- Johnny Gilbert, who has been the announcer for Jeopardy! since it returned in 1984, is 96 years old. He currently works only the afternoon tapings, with members of the Jeopardy! Clue Crew filling in in the evenings, though he still pre-records all of the opening and closing narration.
- Pancreatic cancer also claimed the life of the original host of Jeopardy! Art Fleming hosted the NBC daytime version from 1964 to 1975, and he died in 1995. He and Alex were friends, though Art believed the new version of the show was much easier than when he hosted it.
- Alex only “missed” one episode, and that was on April Fool’s Day in 1997, when he and Pat Sajak traded places, with Sajak hosting Jeopardy! and Alex hosting Wheel of Fortune.
- Alex died only eight days after Sean Connery. If you don’t know why that’s sort of interesting, Google “SNL Celebrity Jeopardy.”
Thanks, Alex, for all of the answers and all of the questions and for being there, night after night.