(Gray News/AP) — Alex Trebek, the iconic host of “Jeopardy!” announced Wednesday he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
In a video posted online Wednesday, the 78-year-old said he was announcing his illness directly to "Jeopardy!" fans in keeping with his long-time policy of being "open and transparent."
He's among 50,000 other American who receive such a diagnosis each year, Trebek said. Normally, the "prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I'm going to fight this, and I'm going to keep working."
He plans to beat the disease's low survival rate with the love and support of family and friends and with prayers from viewers, Trebek said.
Trebek lightened the difficult message with humor: He said he must beat the odds because his "Jeopardy!" contract requires he host the quiz show for three more years.
"So help me. Keep the faith and we'll win. We'll get it done," he said, his voice calm and steady.
Ken Jennings, a longtime "Jeopardy!" player who took part in the show's "All-Star Games" that ended Tuesday, posted a tweet in which he compared Trebek to the late TV journalist Walter Cronkite.
"I've said this before but Alex Trebek is in a way the last Cronkite: authoritative, reassuring TV voice you hear every night, almost to the point of ritual," Jennings wrote.
Trebek has been the face of the trivia game show since 1984, helping turn it into a beloved program millions of people play along with nightly.
The 78-year-old underwent brain surgery to address blood clots in December 2017, but made a swift return just a month later. In October he renewed his “Jeopardy!” contract through 2022.
Trebek has perhaps been the gold standard in game show hosting for more than three decades. He’s been honored with an array of awards - five Daytime Emmy awards as Outstanding Game Show Host and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences among them - for his studious but affable presentation of the show, always asking contestants to provide answers in the form of a question.
“I think what makes ‘Jeopardy!’ special is that, among all the quiz and game shows out there, ours tends to reward and encourage learning,” he has said.
In 2014, Trebek set the Guinness World Record for most game show episodes hosted, and according to his profile on the “Jeopardy!” website has by now hosted nearly 8,000 episodes. He has been elected to both the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame and the National Association of Broadcasters Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
Even as he solidified his future with the show in the fall, he has spoken publicly on occasion in the last year about what direction “Jeopardy!” may go in after him. Before he extended his contract, he told TMZ last summer he could consider retiring in 2020 and offered up two people, CNN analyst Laura Coates and Los Angeles Kings broadcaster Alex Faust, who he thought could potentially replace him.
In February he jokingly added another candidate.
“It’s probably going to be a woman, somebody younger, somebody bright, somebody personable, somebody with a great sense of humor,” he said at an appearance in New York. “So I nominated Betty White.”
Trebek, a proud Canadian, was born in Sudbury, Ontario on July 22, 1940. His father was a chef who’d been born in Ukraine and his mother was a French-speaking Ontario native.
He earned a degree in philosophy from the University of Ottawa in 1961 and took his first broadcasting job with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that same year.
Before arriving at “Jeopardy!” he hosted a number of CBC programs, among them a music show, “Music Hop,” a quiz show for teenagers, “Reach for the Top,” and a game show called “Strategy.”
He crossed over into presenting for a U.S. audience in 1973, on the game show “The Wizard of Odds.” He made a number of other game show stops, including “High Rollers," “Double Dare," and “The $128,000 Question,” before finally arriving at his spiritual home, “Jeopardy!”
He married his wife, Jean Currivan Trebek, in 1990, and the couple have two children, Matthew and Emily. His first marriage, to Elaine Trebek Kares, ended after seven years in 1981.
As his career has grown ever longer and more decorated, Trebek has come to be seen in many ways as, rather than a popular game show host, something more like a national educator and public philosopher.
“My life has been a quest for knowledge and understanding and I am nowhere near having achieved that,” he told The Washington Post in 2012. "And it doesn’t bother me in the least. I will die without having come up with the answers to many things in life.”