Let’s face it: streaming sensations rule our lives for a weekend or two, but nothing compares with the network stalwarts who have warmed our living rooms for decades. Just ask fans of the late Alex Trebek, broadcasting legend and longtime Jeopardy! host, whose fans credit him with everything from helping them endure decades in prison to introducing them to the loves of their lives. After Trebek passed away at age 80 from stage four pancreatic cancer on Sunday, thousands of remembrances poured in across social media, with Jeopardy! fans speaking powerfully about Trebek’s legacy and character. Perhaps the best encapsulation of Trebek’s titanic influence is a viral remembrance from recent contestant Burt Thakur, who credits Trebek with teaching him English.
On November 5th, Palm Springs project manager Thakur competed on Jeopardy! and won the episode. After his win, Trebek asked, “Any family members back home cheering you on?”
“You know, here’s a true story,” Thakur answered. “I learned English because of you. 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. Thank you very much.”
At the end of his testimony, Thakur wiped away tears. You just might, too, watching the video. After Trebek’s passing was announced, Thakur took to Twitter with a solemn remembrance, sending condolences to the Trebek family and sharing a passage from Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Death.”
Alex's impact is immeasurable. Thank you for sharing, Burt! pic.twitter.com/XgGGwJ8GlH
— Jeopardy! (@Jeopardy) November 6, 2020
When Thakur immigrated to the United States from India at the age of eight, he spoke Hindi, Urdu, and snippets of English. Each night, Thakur watched Jeopardy! with his grandfather, who cared for him while his parents worked long shifts in the medical field. When he joined the U.S. Navy, Jeopardy! continued to loom large in his life, keeping him company during lonely naval deployments. Competing on Jeopardy! was the honor of a lifetime, while meeting Trebek was, Thakur said, like "meeting an extension of my grandfather."
When with proud joy we lift Life's red wine up
To drink deep of the mystic shining cup
And ecstasy through all our being leaps—
Death bows his head and weeps.
I am overwhelmed with emotion right now and my heart goes out to the Trebek family. #Jeopardy #alextrebek @jeopardy pic.twitter.com/klFwYw9Cau
— Burt Thakur (@albertthakur) November 8, 2020
"I know people get upset when celebrities die," Thakur said in an interview with LAist, hours after news of Trebek’s passing broke. "To me, he wasn't a celebrity. To me, Alex Trebek was just another uncle."
For the legions of Jeopardy! fans who feel such a powerful personal connection to Trebek, perhaps it’s some small comfort to know that Trebek was as devoted to them as they were to him. Even after three decades in the limelight behind the podium, Trebek never stopped seeing the players as the show’s lifeblood.
“You have to set your ego aside,” Trebek told Vulture in 2018. “The stars of the show are the contestants and the game itself. That’s why I’ve always insisted that I be introduced as the host and not the star. And if you want to be a good host, you have to figure a way to get the contestants to—as in the old television commercial about the military—‘be all you can be.’ Because if they do well, the show does well.”
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