‘Jeopardy!’: Legendary Announcer Johnny Gilbert’s Winding Road to Working with Alex Trebek

by Chris Haney
(Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images for Chanel)

Some Jeopardy! fans may not know Johnny Gilbert by name, but they definitely know the announcer by his voice whether they realize it or not. The 92-year-old has been with the game show since 1984, but he took a long and winding path through the entertainment industry to get there.

As the show’s theme song begins to play, those three famous words hit every viewer’s ears – “This is Jeopardy!” The signature opening is Gilbert himself, and it’s not a recording. Each and every episode, the announcer is on set to introduce the game show and its host. This is the way it’s been since Jeopardy! hit syndication in the mid-1980s.

Gilbert’s iconic voice has anchored Jeopardy! for almost four decades. Yet the announcer most recently has taped his famous introductions from his Los Angeles home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. His voice has been an integral part of the game show for years, as executive producer Mike Richards said to ABC.

“If you just listen to the way Johnny articulates each name, each word, he has a voice and even more importantly, delivery, unlike anyone else… the fact we can still rely on Johnny is obviously very important to us as well,” Richards said to ABC, referencing his importance to the show, especially after Alex Trebek’s death.

‘Jeopardy!’ Announcer Johnny Gilbert’s Early Days

Johnny Gilbert might as well have been born into show business. His path to Hollywood began at a very young age in Newport News, Virginia. He sang in the choir at a Lutheran church in his hometown. Later on during his high school days, Gilbert joined a band and played locally in the area.

“I started taking voice lessons when I was still in high school, got a job with a little band and traveled around in that area for a while,” Gilbert told ABC. “That was the beginning of it all.”

Following graduation, he became a comedian, a Master of Ceremonies, and a singer at a Jacksonville, Florida nightclub. In addition, he continued to hone his craft as an entertainer while touring the country as a singing MC. Yet before his his first MC gig, Gilbert didn’t even know what a Master of Ceremonies was at the time. A local manager didn’t seem to care he had zero experience and showed him the ropes.

“He taught me how to introduce people on the stage and take them off the stage,” he recalled.

The Iconic Announcer’s Military Tenure and Eventual Hollywood Career

In the ’50s, the draft paused the longtime Jeopardy! announcer’s touring MC work, but not entirely as he joined the United States Army’s Seventh Army Special Services. While in the service, he was cast as the lead in Xanadu: The Marco Polo Musical, which was an original musical comedy. The musical toured all over Western Europe while he was stationed in Germany.

Following his stint in the military, he returned home to the States and continued his entertainment career. He moved to New York and worked on his first game shows. That included Music Bingo before he then moved to Los Angeles to host Beat the Odds. Furthermore, Gilbert worked on The Joker’s Wild, Dinah Shore’s talk show Dinah!, and The $25,000 Pyramid.

In 1984, a certain trivia show headed to syndication as Jeopardy! came calling. With the support of co-creator Merv Griffin and at the suggestion of new host Alex Trebek, they signed Gilbert to be the game show’s announcer.

After numerous jobs and appearances on television and the big screen, Johnny Gilbert found a home with the newly revamped Jeopardy!. It’s hard to imagine the famous trivia show without him and it’s great to still have him around 37 years on and counting.