11 Memorable Facts About Alex Trebek

Ben Hider/Getty Images
Ben Hider/Getty Images / Ben Hider/Getty Images

America lost one of its most beloved television and pop culture icons on November 8, 2020, when Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek passed away at the age of 80. Trebek was just as impressive in real life as he was on the small screen. From chasing down a robber to carrying the Olympic torch, here are just a few of the things that made Trebek such a beloved figure.

1. Alex Trebek’s ability to improvise helped him launch his career.

In his 2020 memoir The Answer Is…, Trebek credited Growing Painsstar Alan Thicke with helping him get his start in television. In the 1970s, Thicke developed a game show for NBC called The Wizard of Odds and championed Trebek as the perfect person to host it. Part of Thicke’s interest in having Trebek come aboard was that the studio wasn't large enough to accommodate cue cards, and he felt confident enough in Trebek’s improv skills that he figured he’d be able to wing it.

2. Alex Trebek appeared on a 1996 episode of The X-Files.

On April 12, 1996, Alex Trebek made a key appearance as one of the original Men In Black in a third season episode of The X-Files. His partner: Jesse Ventura. While Ventura was a first choice of the episode’s writer, Darin Morgan, it took the show a while to get to Trebek. Morgan’s first choice for the part was Salman Rushdie, but he was considered too controversial. When Trebek was ultimately suggested, it seemed like a perfect fit.

“I go, ‘there you go! That works,'” Morgan said. “Duchovny had been on Celebrity Jeopardy!, and so we were like, OK, we can get him.”

3. Alex Trebek has very fond memories of his Cheers cameo.

While Trebek has appeared in dozens of TV shows, he remembered his Cheers cameo best. "It was one of the first times that I had been asked to do a cameo on a popular sitcom," Trebek once recalled. "We read through that script and then went home and shortly afterwards, a few hours later, a script arrived with a number of changes that were added lines for me. They had discovered that I could handle lines, and so each day they added a few lines. And they were so friendly. Ted Danson and the whole cast were so friendly, so kind."

4. Alex Trebek carried the Olympic Torch in 1996.

As the Olympic torch made its way to Atlanta for the 1996 Summer Olympics, Trebek lent a helping hand. He carried the torch through part of Jacksonville, Florida, which is located less than 350 miles from Atlanta. Jeopardy! was also an official sponsor of that year’s Olympic games.

5. Alex Trebek once chased down a woman who was robbing his hotel room.

When he woke up his San Francisco hotel room to find a robber rifling through his possessions in 2011, Alex Trebek chased the robber down and cornered her in the ice machine alcove. He ended up getting everything back except some cash and a bracelet that was a gift from his mother.

The incident also revealed something about Trebek he may not have wanted people to know: He slept nude. When he gave an interview to The Today Show after the robbery, Trebek mentioned that he put underwear on before tearing out the door after the thief.

6. Alex Trebek was once prepared to shoot Jeopardy! sans pants.

Trebek was once fully prepared to record part of Jeopardy! pantless. During one Tournament of Champions, Ken Jennings and his two fellow contestants, both male, said it would help their nerves if they all stood in their skivvies behind their podiums. Trebek agreed to join in, not realizing it was all a prank.

7. Alex Trebek had a great sense of humor.

If his quick wit as host of Jeopardy! didn’t make it obvious, Trebek had a great sense of humor—and loved to poke fun at himself. (See the video above for just one example.)

8. Alex Trebek viewed impressions of him, like Will Ferrell's on SNL, as proof that he had made it.

When asked specifically about Will Ferrell’s ever-serious Saturday Night Live impression of him by the Archive of American Television, Trebek admitted that, "I loved them. It means you've arrived. If you do a take-off of somebody, it is a sign that you believe your audience will immediately recognize who you're poking fun at. And if that's the case, that means there must be a lot of people who have watched your show over the years or are watching now. So, they know immediately what the reference is. You're popular not only because of your own show, but the take-offs and mentions on other shows."

9. Alex Trebek loved Will Ferrell’s impression of him, but thought another actor did it better.

Though Trebek loved watching Ferrell’s impression of him, he thought that another actor had done it much better: Eugene Levy on SCTV. "He was introduced at first as Alex Trebel, but I guess they figured 'let's forget about this charade and let's just call you Alex Trebek,'" Trebek once said. "Eugene Levy to this day I maintain did the best Alex Trebek ever, better than Will Ferrell. He looked more the part, too. He had the dark hair and he had the black mustache."

10. Alex Trebek wrote with a crayon on Jeopardy! to benefit the players.

If you've ever noticed that Trebek wrote with a crayon on Jeopardy, you probably wondered why. The answer is rather thoughtful. As he wrote in his memoir, "It's the writing implement that makes the least amount of noise and won't be picked up by my microphone."

11. Alex Trebek had a special affinity for the musk ox.

Tim Bowman, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Trebek was a major philanthropist, and had a very particular place in his heart for the musk ox. When asked what made it his favorite animal, Trebek explained: "Musk oxen are family oriented, and I like that. When in danger, they form a protective circle with the males facing outward, and the cows and calves in the center. There are very few predators brave enough to attack this formation. Besides that, I like the way their furry coats wave in the breeze when they are running."

For decades, Trebek and his family have been major supporters of the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer, Alaksa. The farm, in turn, referred to Trebek as their Herd Godfather.

A version of this story ran in 2011; it has been updated for 2021.