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Alex Trebek, longtime 'Jeopardy!' host, dead at 80 after cancer battle

Alex Trebek passed peacefully at his home, the game show announced Sunday.

Alex Trebek, who helmed "Jeopardy!" -- one of the longest-running and most popular game shows in history -- has died following a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 80.

"Jeopardy! is saddened to share that Alex Trebek passed away peacefully at home early this morning, surrounded by family and friends. Thank you, Alex," the show tweeted Sunday morning.

George Alexander Trebek was born July 22, 1940, in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. George was his father's name, so people in Sudbury called him Sonny instead, according to The New York Times.

After reportedly dropping out of military college, Trebek earned a philosophy degree from the University of Ottawa. He went on to work for CBC, working as a presenter covering national news and other events. Trebek also hosted the first season of "Music Hop" -- essentially a Canadian version of "American Bandstand."

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Trebek first appeared on U.S. television screens as host of the NBC game show "Wizard of Odds" in 1973 followed by "High Rollers." Other game shows he tried his hand at included "The $128,000 question," "Double Dare," "Pitfall," "Starcade," and "The New Battlestars." Some of them never made it past the pilot stage.

It was in 1984 that Trebek was put at the helm for the revival of "Jeopardy!" The show originally aired from 1964-1975 with Art Fleming as host. When Fleming declined to return for the reboot, Trebek landed the job.

For more than 35 years, Trebek became a nightly mainstay in living rooms across the country. Proof that Trebek and the show were ingrained in America's psyche was easily demonstrated by its inclusion into pop culture. He made cameos on "Beverly Hills 90210," "How I Met Your Mother and "Cheers," to name a few.

Comedic actor Will Ferrell parodied Trebek multiple times on "Saturday Night Live," in a "Celebrity Jeopardy!" skit that had him often sparring with Darrell Hammond's rude and crude Sean Connery.

Trebek told Business Insider in 2017 that one of the favorite aspects of his job was interacting and joking with the audience between tapings.

"I get to display an aspect of my personality that doesn't really come across that often on the show because we are a material-driven program. A lot of clues to get through. So I don't have an opportunity to stop and suddenly tell a joke," Trebek said.

Credit: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
FILE - In this May 5, 2019, file photo Alex Trebek poses in the press room at the 46th annual Daytime Emmy Awards at the Pasadena Civic Center in Pasadena, Calif. Trebek said Tuesday, Sept. 17, that he’s had a setback in his battle with pancreatic cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy again.(Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

Trebek stunned fans in March 2019 when he announced he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. 

"Now normally, the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I’m going to fight this, and I’m going to keep working," Trebek said. He added in his trademark humor by joking that he planned to beat pancreatic cancer's low survival rate because he was under contract to host for three more years.

Promoting his memoir "The Answer Is ... Reflections On My Life,” Trebek told "Good Morning America" on July 21 that he intended to mark his two-year survival in February 2021. But in a separate interview with The New York Times, Trebek admitted that if the cancer treatment he was undergoing at the time failed, he would not continue it.

RELATED: Alex Trebek expects to mark 2-year cancer survival in 2021

Ever interested in facts, Trebek lamented to the Times about how in 2020 that facts no longer served as common ground as people retreated into their ideological bubbles.

“There’s a certain comfort that comes from knowing a fact. The sun is up in the sky. There’s nothing you can say that’s going to change that. You can’t say, ‘The sun’s not up there, there’s no sky.’ There is reality, and there’s nothing wrong with accepting reality," Trebek said. "It’s when you try to distort reality, to maneuver it into accommodating your particular point of view, your particular bigotry, your particular whatever — that’s when you run into problems.”

Trebek holds the Guinness World Record for Most Game Show Episodes Hosted by the Same Presenter. He's also won six Daytime Emmy awards for Outstanding Game Show Host and a Lifetime Achievement Emmy.

Beyond that, Trebek learned he made impacts on the lives of his contestants. In one of Trebek's final episodes, a tearful Burt Thakur told the host that he learned English by watching the game show as a child.

"I grew up... I learned English because of you. And so, my grandfather, who raised me – I'm gonna get tears right now – I used to sit on his lap and watch you every day, so it's a pretty special moment for me, man," Thakur said.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Trebek became the first person to host three game shows at the same time in 1991 -- "Jeopardy!," "Classic Concentration" and "To Tell The Truth."

Trebek has stars on both the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Canadian Walk of Fame. He was also named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2017 -- that country's second-highest civilian honor.

He was also a handyman, telling CBS's Jane Pauley he built the three-car garage at his home, among other things.

"I have a brown thumb. I do labor-type demolition and break things and fix them and get my hands dirty," Trebek told Business Insider. "Electrical, plumbing, drywall... carpentry, painting."

Trebek is survived by his wife, Jean, and their two adult children, Emily and Matthew and his stepdaughter, Nicky.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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