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'The Answer Is ...' review: Memoir answers the question 'Who is Alex Trebek?'

Alex Trebek delves into his life and behind

Alex Trebek delves into his life and behind the scenes of "Jeopardy!" in his memoir "The Answer Is ..." Credit: AP/Carol Kaelson

THE ANSWER IS … by Alex Trebek (Simon & Schuster, 287 pp., $26)

Here's a clue, "Jeopardy!" fans: For decades, Alex Trebek resisted writing this type of book before finally delivering one on July 21, the eve of his 80th birthday.

If you responded, "What is a memoir?" for around $30, you could spend your winnings on "The Answer Is … ," the long-awaited reflections from the beloved game show host.

In March 2019, Trebek announced that he'd been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He received an outpouring of support that convinced him that perhaps a memoir was warranted, after all. The book opens in Ontario, Canada, where Trebek grew up. After a relatively uneventful childhood, he attended the Royal Canadian Air Force military academy college — for three days. He dropped out when he learned the college planned to buzz his luscious head of hair. Instead, he studied philosophy while working as a disc jockey, ultimately spending 12 years with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

In the early 1970s, Alan Thicke lured Trebek to Los Angeles to film a game-show pilot. That led to a flurry of hosting gigs and a new Hollywood lifestyle to complement his new address. Still, Trebek jokes that he didn't easily fit in with the guys: He had no vices; his drink of choice is low-fat milk.

Trebek quotes Mark Twain, Malcolm Gladwell and Chinese proverbs, and he shows off a quick wit and reverence for intellect. Those are among the traits that have served him well since joining "Jeopardy!" in 1984, when the show was revived by creator Merv Griffin.

Trebek dishes on "Jeopardy!" superstars like Ken Jennings and whisks readers backstage at the game show. The behind-the-scenes intel is fun, especially for longtime fans of the show, but the rare insights into Trebek's personal life are far more revealing. He devotes loving passages to his "soul mate" — his wife, Jeanie, who hails from Huntington — and their two grown children, Emily and Matthew. (He's also a father figure to his first wife's daughter, Nicky.)

Over the years, Trebek has had so many maladies that "Jeopardy!" turned them into a category. (Ailments include: a torn Achilles tendon; two heart attacks; and blood clots in his brain.) The pancreatic cancer, he acknowledges, has taken the hardest toll.

"This morning I sat down with (Emily), Matt and Jeanie, and told them I had made my decision," he writes. "I'm going to stick with this current protocol, then that's it. If it doesn't work I'll probably stop treatment. It wasn't an easy conversation, and it isn't any easier writing these words. Quality of life was an important consideration."

After nearly four decades at the lectern, Trebek is more than the face of "Jeopardy!" he's its heart. He's so synonymous with the show, and the charm that's made it an evening ritual, that even after a satisfying memoir, at least one question remains. How does the show continue without him?

Give a "daily double" to whomever has the answer for that one.

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