Alex Trebek was a charismatic man. Trebek entered the hearts of the world through hosting Jeopardy!; the show became a family pastime, going back for generations to test trivia knowledge. Trebek had a surprising amount of philanthropic efforts in his history as well, which gives even more weight to this recent turn of events. Unfortunately, on Nov. 8, Trebek died peacefully in his sleep after a short but harrowing battle with pancreatic cancer.
Trebek’s cancer became public in March of 2019 when he released a video discussing his stage 4 diagnosis. However, the renowned host didn’t take his diagnosis as the end-all-be-all. In 2019, Trebek was staring death in the face. In 2020, he spent his last day with his wife at full peace, as the man deserved. After hosting a hit show for 36 years, having Will Ferrel hilariously impersonate him on Saturday Night Live, and being a tireless philanthropist, Trebek deserved nothing less than a peaceful death. He instead used his fame to create awareness for pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is rare and is usually diagnosed late. Symptoms are pretty “vague,” says Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, as they range from nausea and loss of appetite to jaundice and pancreatitis. Tumors are located deep in the pancreas, making it near impossible to feel during a physical exam. Due to the difficulty of diagnosing pancreatic cancer, people like Trebek only find out during late stages. According to cancer.net, “The general [five]-year survival rate for people with pancreatic cancer is 9 [percent]. Survival rates and individual outcomes are based on many factors, including the specific stage of disease when it is diagnosed.”
Trebek was very active with PCAN after his diagnosis. He also founded The Trebek Family Foundation in 2011 with his wife, Jean, to help accommodate for an exponentially-increasing number of charity requests. In 2019, it was reported that the foundation had “$752,322 in revenue and $6.9 million in assets.” Through this, Trebek donated $100,000 to the Hope of The Valley Rescue Mission, an L.A.-based organization that helps with homelessness. Hope of the Valley did not ask Trebek for anything prior to the donation. In fact, Trebek called Ken Craft, HGTV president and CEO, and requested a tour of the new homeless shelter. After inviting craft to his home, Trebek offered him $100,000. Trebek also donated to the American Film Institute through the foundation, and was active in a non-profit for his favorite animal, the Musk Ox, for over 30 years.
Trebek also continued to nurture education by moderating the National Geographic Bee for 25 years (while still hosting Jeopardy!). Geography was one of his great passions. As a child, he would look through atlases, and read National Geographic. Gary Knell, the chairman of Nat Geo partners recalled: “He was a huge believer in geography education and was someone who deeply believed in the need to educate the population about geography — it was one of his great passions.” While hosting the National Geographic Bee from 1989 – 2013, he was able to touch the hearts of kids and adults, while meeting some of the brightest brains out there.
Trebek was a person who loved to watch the world learn. During my last years of high school, my family and I had gotten into a rhythm of eating dinner at 6:30 – 7:00 p.m. because Jeopardy! would be on during that time, and as we ate we guessed. Hearing of his diagnosis and then his death really reminded me that heroes aren’t immortal. I believe his life shows he was a hero because, despite world wide success for over 35 years, he was still thinking of how to help others. Even more impressive is that he dedicated his career to education, and rewarding contestants for their smarts. Now, I would like to think he’s up in the good place, with Bob Ross, Mr. Rogers, and Carl Sagan.
Featured Photo Courtesy of Zoomer Radio