Alex Trebek’s death in November 2020 marked the end of an era. The Canadian television personality had entertained entire generations of viewers as the charismatic host of Jeopardy. His absence leaves a colossal hole in the daytime television line-up, with his successors having some work cut out for them. Alex’s charm, wit, and kindness had become the most adored hallmarks of the hit game show. Therefore, it was no surprise that there was such an outpouring of public sentiment and tributes following his death.
When Alex announced that he had been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in March 2019, it became clear that his days were numbered. He went through strenuous and challenging chemotherapy treatments, and though he lived far longer than what doctors had initially projected, his body ultimately couldn’t handle the cancer. He passed on November 8, 2020, at the age of 80.
Though Alex’s death sparked countless homages, many still don’t know too much about his personal life. This is to be expected — game show hosts don’t get the same scrutiny as actors, singers, or reality television influencers.
So while we remember the late great Alex Trebek and celebrate his accomplishments and influence, it’s worth it to learn about the woman who’s been supporting him throughout. Her learnings on grief, pain, and death also teach us a thing or two about our own lives.
Alex and his wife, Jean, never let their 24-year age difference get in the way
Alex was married twice in his life. His first wife was television broadcaster Elaine Callei, and the pair had been married for about seven years. Though they didn’t have kids together, Alex adopted Elaine’s daughter from another relationship. Elaine and Alex got divorced in 1981.
Alex met his current wife, Jean Currivan, at a party in the late eighties. He was 24 years her senior, and Jean had only been in her early twenties at the time, but sparks couldn’t stop flying. Alex managed to invite Jean to his home for a first date, and Jean realized that Alex was “much more casual” in real life than in Jeopardy. In fact, she was so nervous about the date that she thought she’d mispronounce her own name.
The relationship took off immediately, and Alex surprised Jean the following year with three gifts: black velvet pants, a bolero jacket, and a 16-carat sapphire ring surrounded by diamonds. To no one’s surprise, Jean said yes. The two got married in April 1990, and three weeks later, Jean discovered that she was pregnant with their first son Matthew. Three years later, they welcomed their daughter Emily. Presently, Matthew is a restaurant entrepreneur in Manhattan, while Emily is a real estate agent in Los Angeles.
Occupation-wise, Jean had been a real estate project manager when she met Alex, but over the years, she’d begun practicing sound and Reiki healing.
There was just this deep sensitivity about [Alex] with a gruffy exterior. I kept thinking, he’s 24 years older than me…but there was something that just kept drawing me to him.Jean Trebek on People Magazine
Jean had “given her all” to help Alex survive, but they still had marriage “challenges”
Alex had never stopped documenting his journey with the disease and shared health updates as frequently as he could. In one such update in March 2020, Alex said that they were “some good days” and many “not-so-good” days. The not-so-good days were so horrific and trying at times that Alex had felt like he couldn’t continue any further. In those moments, he remembered his wife’s strength and patience. Giving up on life would be a huge “betrayal” of Jean, who had “given her all” to help Alex survive.
Additionally, both Jean and Alex were highly forthcoming about the trials and tribulations of the treatment as well as the toll it took on their marriage. Jean said in an interview that while the two bonded over so many different things, such as watching movies together in bed or cooking dinners, they had their “challenges” too.
As the caretaker, Jean was Alex’s first point of contact, the pillar of support he depended on every day. Cheering him up, cooling his tantrums, and keeping the hope alive. It was by no means a straightforward job and Alex admitted in an interview that she sacrificed a lot for his wellbeing.
It’s always tough for the caretakers because she has to deal with her worrying for my wellbeing and also dealing with…I’m not always the most pleasant person to be around when I am experiencing severe pain and depression, and she has to tread lightly around me.Alex Trebek on ABC’s Good Morning America
In another interview, Alex reflected on their thirty-year relationship and expressed regret over not meeting Jean sooner in life. Had he met her in his twenties, by some miracle, he could have known her longer and spent more time with her. That being said, he was still appreciative of the memories they had made together and the time they did spend together.
Following Alex’s death, Jean has been mostly quiet on social media and has been processing her husband’s death in her own way. Three days after Alex’s passing, Jean posted an acknowledgment on social media, thanking her followers for their “compassionate messages and generosity.” During Christmas, she posted a photo of herself and the kids celebrating the holiday without their father for the first time. Her caption spoke volumes about Alex’s departure forever changed their lives.
Time is too precious to be spent on anything other than kindness.Jean Trebek on Instagram
Our loved ones will get us through our darkest moments
Nothing can stop death, so we just have to live our lives knowing that death could strike us at any moment. For some people, this triggers “YOLO” adventures and risky escapades, but for others, this means cherishing the moments whenever possible. Alex’s final years were of both pain and joy, the good moments and the bad moments, the love and the regret, and the only person who pushed him to get through the whirlwind of emotions was his wife, Jean.
Whenever we face a crisis or go through a terrible time, we need to open ourselves up to our loved ones and let them take care of us and point us in the right direction. When you surround yourself with people who love you and make you happy, you’re going to leave this earth feeling like everything was just about worth it.
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