‘Jeopardy!’: Why Alex Trebek Said He Had ‘Regrets’ About Going Public About Cancer Diagnosis

by Josh Lanier

When late Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek told the public about this pancreatic cancer diagnosis, fans rallied around him. He was a lifelong and beloved television fixture and his fight became a public concern. But it was for that reason he sometimes wishes he’d never looked down the lens of the Jeopardy! camera and told the world he had the disease.

In a long-ranging interview before his death, Trebek said he struggled with the added public burden it brought to his life.

“I regret that I have become, in many ways, the spokesperson for pancreatic cancer,” he said. “Well, there are a lot of expectations, and what I’ve discovered is that not only have I become the de facto flag carrier for it. A lot of people are coming to me and looking for help reassurance, and that’s tough.”

Trebek would often talk with others who also had pancreatic cancer.

“I was contacted recently by somebody a woman who has just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and she’s taking it very badly,” Trebek continued. “She’s about 10 years younger than I am, and I tried to cheer her up as best I could. (But) it’s tough sometimes trying to be as optimistic as you can when the other person feels none of that optimism, they feel only despair, and I don’t know if I’m strong enough or intelligent enough to help alleviate some of that despair. So, it’s tough on me, but hey, it is what it is, and I do the best I can.”

Trebek Knew He Has Responsibility as Public Figure

Alex Trebek said he understood his position was still one of privilege. He was wealthy and famous and was well known and well-liked by millions. But that carried with it a responsibility that he said he found hard to grapple with at times.

“There are a lot of people out there who have cancers who continue to live their lives and go about their business and do all of that, and they do it without recognition,” Trebek said. “I’m fortunate, if you will, because I’m in the public eye, and so I get a lot of recognition because of that. But to be the inspiration for a lot of other people makes me feel good, but it does place a responsibility on me that I feel I’m not deserving of.”

Trebek said he had his bad days, but he felt he couldn’t show them or risk letting people down. However, he said, he could always muster up the strength to go out and host Jeopardy! even on the tougher days.

“There are weaknesses that I feel in my body, but I can always suck it up when it comes time to tape the show,” he said. “I can be sitting in my dressing room, and I get up and I’m not able to move but all of a sudden when Johnny says, ‘And now, here is the host of Jeopardy! Alex Trebek.’ OK, let’s go.”

Trebek lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in October. He was 80 years old. Since his death, his family and friends have raised millions for cancer research in his name.