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Who is Alex Trebek? ‘The Answer Is…: Reflections on My Life’

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This beloved game show host and television icon has a new book out in which he looks back on a long and storied career.

Who is … Alex Trebek?

The longtime host of “Jeopardy!” has written a memoir, titled “The Answer Is…: Reflections on My Life” (Simon & Schuster, $26). It’s a chance to not just celebrate who Trebek has become, but to remember the earlier parts of the journey that led here – and to do so in his own words.

It’s a gentle voyage, to be sure. In a lot of ways, the book offers up its titular answer in much the spirit of the game show that came to define him – simply, concisely and accurately. The book matches the man, largely genial but with just a hint of remove.

As it should be.

(This is where I remind everybody that I was a contestant on “Jeopardy!” In fact, I was reading this book two years to the day after I got the call that I was going to be on the show. Obviously, this influenced the way that I experienced this book and I’m not going to pretend full objectivity. Nor am I going to ignore an in-context opportunity to mention it. I apologize for nothing.)

Through a series of personal stories, we get a sense of Trebek’s voyage from a young man in Sudbury, Ontario, dealing with familial difficulties whose aftermath would be felt many years later, courtesy of a long-held secret that leads to an unexpected expansion of his family. He searches for his purpose, casting about in a number of directions – including a brief dalliance with the thought of entering the priesthood – before realizing that his true calling was to entertain.

And ever since, entertain he has. From his early days as an on-air jack of all trades with the CBC, hosting a variety of programming – a teen-oriented music show a la “American Bandstand,” desk-and guest talk shows and the like. He even hosted some of the network’s curling coverage. He really did it all.

But it was when he followed his old buddy Alan Thicke to America – specifically Los Angeles – that Trebek’s star began to ascend. He had a run of moderately successful hosting gigs on an assortment of game shows, though none of them stuck beyond a couple of years. His personal life was up and down, with his first marriage dissolving largely due to his own issues – he readily admits to his initial shortcomings with regards to being a husband.

But when “Jeopardy!” came along, everything changed. He took the gig way back in 1984, assuming the host mantle on Merv Griffin’s relaunch of the show as a syndicated pairing with the already-popular “Wheel of Fortune,” and from there, it was off to the races. He spent the next 30-plus years beaming into our living rooms five nights a week, growing into a generational figure beloved by viewers of all ages.

“The Answer Is…” offers readers a chance to get to know Alex Trebek in a new way. Now, this isn’t a book designed to titillate – the closest we get to the hardcore sordidness of Hollywood is a story about he accidentally ate a friend’s hash brownies and wound up sleeping for an entire weekend. Instead, it’s an easy, engaging trip down memory lane – one whose structure is delightfully akin to the show, with chapter titles in the form of a question.

For years, he resisted appeals to write a book, but the outpouring of love and support following his pancreatic cancer diagnosis last year led him to finally put pen to paper out of a desire to share a little more of himself with the multitudes who have showered him with love and support. Again, it’s not a deep dive into the Trebekian psyche – even with the feel-good vibes, his nigh-legendary remove is still part of the picture. Still, it’s more than we’ve gotten in the past … and it’s more than enough.

So if you want the man himself to tell you what he thinks about all-timers like Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer or what it was like to shave the iconic mustache or how he REALLY feels about Will Ferrell’s “SNL” impression of him, this is the book for you. We also get some insight into what the past year has been like and how his cancer diagnosis and treatment impacted his work; there are a couple of moments that are truly heartbreaking.

Alex Trebek has been doing this job – and doing it well – for nearly four decades. The phenomenon of “Jeopardy!” as far as its unmatched ability to transcend generational divides means that there are millions of people out there who have been sharing their homes with him for their entire lives. He is a cultural touchstone the likes of which we may never see again, a subtle but constant presence.

For so many of us, that’s all the answer we need.

Last modified on Thursday, 30 July 2020 08:56


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