For Alex Trebek and his wife Jean, 2019 proved to be a very difficult year. Indeed, the Jeopardy! star discovered that he had advanced pancreatic cancer, news that he shared in March. And a couple of months before the announcement, Trebek opened up about a regret he had regarding his romance with Jean.
Trebek has been a household name in America for more than three decades thanks to his work on Jeopardy!. While he helmed a number of other television shows prior to that, the Canadian soon became synonymous with the popular trivia program. Incredibly, he’s gone on to host in excess of 8,000 episodes thus far.
After scoring the Jeopardy! gig, Trebek was then introduced to Jean later in the 1980s, and they’d tied the knot within a couple of years. From there, the happy couple built a family together, as he continued to establish himself as one of the best game show hosts on TV. However, fans were left stunned by his cancer announcement in March 2019.
Trebek shared the news in unflappable fashion via a video message, which has since earned more than five million views on YouTube. Moreover, since that moment, both he and Jean have been very open regarding the difficulties they’ve had to overcome together. As we suggested earlier, though, the television star also harbored a big regret about their relationship prior to the diagnosis.
Before we take a closer look at Trebek’s words, though, let’s first focus on the earlier part of his personal life. Back in 1973, the aspiring television host relocated from his home in Canada to the United States. The move quickly paid off, as he was recruited to helm The Wizards of Odds that same year.
While the program was canned in 1974, Trebek still gained plenty of experience and appeared in more than 100 episodes. Outside of his career, that year proved to be significant for another reason, as he tied the knot with his first wife.
From there, Trebek and Elaine Callei stayed together for more than half a decade. In that time, he also went on to become an adoptive father to the latter’s daughter Nicky, who took on his last name. However, in 1981 the couple’s relationship came to an end, and they got a divorce.
The split coincided with an interesting period in Trebek’s career, as he was bouncing around between jobs on the small screen. Of course, this all changed when he took on the Jeopardy! role in 1984. And if that wasn’t enough, the host also found love again at the back-end of the decade.
In 1988 Trebek was introduced to a woman named Jean Currivan at a social gathering. She was from Long Island, New York, and plied her trade as a property agent. After hitting it off, the TV legend subsequently asked her out on a date, with the meeting taking place at his house.
Unsurprisingly, Jean was fairly anxious ahead of her date with the small-screen star, as she recalled to People magazine in 1990. “[I felt] really nervous,” she admitted. “I was afraid I’d mispronounce my own name! But Alex is really down to earth. He’s much more casual than he is on the show.”
Although there was a 24-year age gap between them, Trebek and Jean continued to build their relationship after that first date. But not even she could’ve predicted what happened next, when she celebrated her birthday in the fall of 1989. On that special occasion, the Canadian handed his girlfriend two different gifts.
The first present was a pair of velvet trousers, followed by a coat to match. “I thought that was it,” Jean admitted. “Then [Trebek] said, ‘Here’s a little something else,’ and he took out this little wicker box.” The container housed a sapphire engagement ring that was covered in diamonds.
At that stage, Trebek asked Jean to marry him, leaving the New Yorker stunned. “[The ring] took my breath away. I mean, it was a rock,” she recalled. “I went all dumb. I think I said, ‘What?’” The birthday girl went on to accept the proposal, with the ceremony taking place in the spring of 1990.
However, Trebek noted to People that he’d had concerns over the age gap before popping the question. Speaking in July 1990, he said, “At first, it worried me. But then I thought, ‘The hell with it. We’ll make it work.’” Jean added, “I can understand why he was cautious about being with a younger woman. We just took it one day at a time.”
In January 2019 Jean touched upon that subject with the magazine once again and shone a light on her thoughts back then. “There was just this deep sensitivity about him with a gruffy exterior,” Trebek’s wife revealed. “I kept thinking, ‘He’s 24 years older than me.’ But there was something that just kept drawing me to him.”
Meanwhile, just a few weeks on from the wedding, Trebek and Jean received some life-changing news. At that point, they discovered that she was carrying their first child. The mom went on to give birth to Matthew Trebek, and the couple had their second kid, Emily, three years later.
Jean now plies her trade as a healer and reiki practitioner, with her own website called insidewink. She started down this particular path about a decade ago. And when Trebek was diagnosed with the cancer, his partner hoped that her work could aid his fight.
Speaking to the SurvivorNet website in November 2019, Jean said, “It comes from a place of love, because I want to uplift [Trebek]. And when I keep my own self buoyed and enjoying my life, I can actually share that with him. He can look at me and have a sense of, ‘Life is beautiful; my wife is doing something good.’”
And as Trebek’s battle continued into 2020, Jean made an interesting admission during a chat with ABC News. While talking to Michael Strahan, Jean revealed that she’d spoken to her husband about stepping back from his Jeopardy! hosting duties. Yet despite her request, she also recognized what he was still getting out of the job.
“I know it’s what feeds [Trebek]. He loves doing Jeopardy!,” Jean explained. “He has his own family over there. They are such a close-knit, beautiful group of people. So I think that gives him a lot of support. A sense of purpose and that he’s just not in bed and can be productive.”
As for Trebek, he empathized with the issues Jean’s faced since his diagnosis. “It’s always tough for the caretakers,” he said in the same interview from January 2020. “Because she has to deal with her worrying for my well-being. And [she also has to deal] with… I’m not always the most pleasant person to be around when I am experiencing severe pain or depression.”
So while times have clearly been tough for Trebek and Jean, their relationship still appeared to be as strong as ever. Nonetheless, as we heard earlier, the television veteran did harbor a strong regret prior to the cancer diagnosis. He laid his feelings bare during a chat with People magazine in January 2019.
“I’m pretty satisfied with my life,” Trebek said. “But my wife Jean and I have been together almost 29 years, and I was thinking about President [George H.W.] Bush when he died, and all the comments about his life about what a nice guy he is, and how he and his wife had been together 73 years.”
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, if I had just met Jean in my 20s, we could have had a longer life together,’” Trebek added. “[Although] I guess if I’d met her when I was in my 20s, she wouldn’t have been born yet. But, hey, 29 years is pretty good!”
Given the severity of Trebek’s condition, there would’ve been a concern that he might not reach the 30th anniversary with his wife. However, just a month before that landmark, Jean’s partner offered an update on his health status via another video in March 2020. It was a significant date in both their lives.
Indeed, Trebek’s update came 12 months after his initial diagnosis. Statistically, fewer than 20 percent of people survive the first year of stage 4 pancreatic cancer, so the beloved TV personality had managed to defy some serious odds. But he noted that his positive progress hadn’t been without its challenges along the way.
“I’d be lying if I said the journey had been an easy one,” Trebek told the camera. “There were some good days, but a lot of not-so-good days. I joked with friends that the cancer won’t kill me, the chemo treatments will. There were moments of great pain, days when certain bodily functions no longer functioned.”
“And [there were] some massive attacks of great depression that made me wonder if it was really worth fighting on,” Trebek candidly admitted. At that stage in the video, though, the TV star explained why he couldn’t give up his battle. In part, he credited the efforts of Jean and many other individuals.
“I brushed that aside quickly, because that would have been a massive betrayal,” Trebek continued. “A betrayal of my wife and soul-mate, Jean, who has given her all to help me survive. [And] it would have been a betrayal of other cancer patients who have looked to me as an inspiration, and a cheerleader of sorts of the value of living and hope.”
From there, Trebek then shed some light on a different statistic. He confirmed that the survival rate for the second year is even lower than the first, standing at just seven percent. Regardless of that figure, though, the Canadian noted that his oncologist was sure he’d still be around for the landmark.
After that, Trebek signed off by stating that a “positive attitude” could aid his brave battle against the disease. The video was subsequently posted on the Jeopardy! Twitter page, drawing a big response. It’s since earned close to eight million views, in fact, as well as around 400,000 likes and more than 100,000 retweets.
Just a few weeks before that emotional video was filmed, Trebek sat down for another chat in February 2020. On that occasion, he spoke to the WPXI news channel about his health. And just like he’d done ever since receiving the diagnosis, he refused to let things get on top of him.
Trebek told the channel, “Some people would say, ‘That’s a bad deal that Alex has got.’ But there are a lot of people out there who have been informed that they have cancer, they have heart problems, serious other diseases, they have Parkinson’s, whatever, you name it. But they have to deal with it, and that’s what I have to [do].”
“But [those patients] don’t have that great outpouring of warmth and prayerful thoughts coming from people all over America,” Trebek continued. “And that’s been a great help to me.” In keeping with that, the Jeopardy! host then went into a bit more detail regarding the widespread reaction to his story.
Once again, Trebek clarified just how important that was to him. “The response from people all over America and Canada with regard to my current health situation is humbling, really,” he added. “I had no idea that our show and myself had such an impact on the lives of so many people out there.”
That couldn’t have been made any clearer than on an episode of Jeopardy! in November 2019. As the show prepared to wrap up, a competitor named Dhruv Gaur unveiled his answer in the last round. It read: “We love you, Alex.” On top of that, Gaur placed $1,995 on the response, leaving him with just $5.
Gaur’s gesture certainly touched Trebek, who appeared to choke up for a brief moment. It came at a time when questions regarding his future on the show continued to hang over him. But as we heard Jean suggest a little earlier, the host didn’t want to throw in the towel just yet.
To explain more, Trebek spoke with CTV News in October 2019. He said, “I will keep doing [the show] as long as my skills do not diminish, and they’ve started to diminish. I talk to the producers about this all the time now. I’m sure there are observant members of the television audience that notice [my health struggles], but they’re forgiving.”
On that note, Trebek wanted to make something else clear during this particular period in his life. While he was able to reach his one-year milestone in March 2020, the Canadian wasn’t scared to touch upon the subject of death. For him, however, thoughts of passing away wouldn’t be greeted with fear.
“I’m not afraid of dying,” Trebek concluded. “As I told somebody the other day, one thing they’re not going to say at my funeral as part of a eulogy is, ‘He was taken from us too soon.’ I’m 79 years old. I’ve lived a good life, a full life, and I’m nearing the end of that life, I know that. If it happens, it happens.”