USA TODAY's last interview with Alex Trebek details his positive attitude battling cancer

Gary Levin

Editor's note: The interview took place in November 2019. Alex Trebek died Sunday at age 80 after fighting pancreatic cancer.


Alex Trebek is ready to host the "Jeopardy!" Greatest of All Time tournament, taping early next month. But he bravely continues to battle Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, which has sidelined and depleted him at times and led the show to shift its production schedule to accommodate him. 

"I'm feeling OK," he says, sounding upbeat in a recent phone interview. "Some days are better than others. I still have the effects of the chemotherapy; I’ve now had, I think, nine or 10 sessions. So it’s wearing on me. but I don't have any choice. I just have to stick with it, and hopefully they’re going to find a new drug that will enable me to grow my hair back. That will be something I will be very happy" about. 

The new tournament will pit the show's three biggest winners – James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter – as they play three to seven matches in a race for $1 million. Two matches (four games total) will be taped each day in early December. 

Trebek, 79, says pure adrenaline is keeping him going.

Next round:Exclusive: Three top 'Jeopardy!' champs face off in ABC's Greatest of All Time tournament

Alex Trebek poses with "Jeopardy!" champion James Holzhauer, who will compete in a 'Greatest of All Time' tournament airing in January, backstage at the 2019 NHL Awards last June in Las Vegas.

"I leave home and I’m in terrible shape sometimes," he says, calling from Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California, where "Jeopardy!" is taped. "And then I get here, and I get in the studio and I get hair and makeup done and get my wardrobe on, and the adrenaline kicks in and I go out onstage and it’s exciting for me, and it seems to work. I have to push myself;  I work harder than I did before, because it’s harder for me to concentrate with all the chemo and stuff. I feel dull, and I tire easily, but that’s OK."

As Trebek juggles the side effects that come with chemo, including temporarily weakened eyesight, an outpouring of support by fans and contestants has touched him. Dhruv Gaur, a semifinalist on this month's Tournament of Champions, wrote a message of support for his Final Jeopardy! response, sparking a viral hashtag #WeLoveYouAlex.  

"It surprised me on the show, obviously. And it got an awful lot of press," he says, ever mindful of the attention over his health and the quiz show, which he's hosted since its current syndicated version premiered in 1984. "I was thrown for a loop there. I started to tear up, but that’s OK; I tear up over a lot of things."

play-along fundraising drive, organized by semifinalist and former champion Steven Grade for last week's tournament final rounds, has so far raised more than $53,000 for the Lustgarten Foundation for pancreatic cancer research.