When the late Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek shaved his mustache, fans of the show and even news outlets reacted as if he’d grown a third arm. It was a massive deal for a lot of people. But that was only when they noticed it.
Trebek told Howard Stern that the initial reaction was completely different than its eventual fallout. That’s because no one noticed.
Alex Trebek’s mustache had been part of his signature look for decades, dating back to Jeopardy!’s inception. But one day in 2001 in between taping episodes, Trebek said he sat down in the make-up chair and decided it had to go. It was purely “on a whim,” he told Stern.
“So I came out and half the people in the audience didn’t notice immediately,” Trebek said.
When he went home later that night, his family also didn’t realize he’d done away with the crumb catcher.
“I went home and my wife my son and my daughter were sitting in the kitchen, and they didn’t notice immediately,” he said. “And I chatted for a few minutes and I said, “Anybody notice anything different about dad?’ And then my wife went ‘Oh my god, you shaved your mustache.”
His son Matthew, who was about 10 at the time, Trebek estimated, started to cry, Trebek told the radio host.
But people soon thereafter noticed the change, and they all seemed to have an opinion.
Late ‘Jeopardy!’ Host Trebek Hated the Attention
News stories poured in shortly after he whacked his whiskers. Everyone suddenly seemed to have an opinion on Alex Trebek’s upper lip. The Jeopardy! host said he never understood why his mustache was of such national importance.
He hated all the attention he got for simply changing his facial hair. And he had a brash — but funny — comment for anyone who made a fuss over the change.
“And it got so much press, I couldn’t believe it,” he told the New Republic in 2014. “The wars with Iraq or whatever at that time, and people are all in a stew over my mustache. I have one response: Get a life.”
Trebek expanded on this with the The Archive of American Television, saying he was “appalled” by the response.
“What amazed me afterward was the amount of press that got! It made newspapers and magazines everywhere!” Trebek laments. “I was surprised – and to a certain extent – appalled by this. I said ‘My god, this is a television quiz show host shaving his mustache.'”
In 2018, he sported a beard, which ignited its own mini firestorm of attention. The Jeopardy! twitter account polled the audience on whether he should keep it. Fans voted overwhelmingly that he should. But he shaved it anyway.
“Sorry to have to tell you folks, but voting is now closed,” he told the Jeopardy! audience. “And we’ve determined that the winner – is my wife, Jean. She voted for me to be clean-shaven and so – that’s it.”