I don’t normally get moved by celebrity deaths.
Sure, I am sad for the loss of a life, but I know that celebrities are people who never knew me and who I never actually knew. I knew their work, but I didn’t know them. I always felt that you were conscripting grief you didn’t really deserve when you mourned the loss of someone who was never actually part of your life.
But it felt different when I found out Alex Trebek died. I never met Alex Trebek. I had wanted to, for years. I’ve taken the Jeopardy! test for years, but never got a chance to be selected for the show. I’m certainly not alone in that camp.
Alex never knew who I was. Even had I made the show, I would have been one of thousands of contestants who made their way behind the lectern. Some have become part of our pop culture ethos, such as James Holtzhauer, Buzzy Cohen, Austin Rogers or Ken Jennings. But most likely, had I ever made the show, I would have been like the thousands who never became famous from the show. And that would have been enough for me.
Every night at 7:30, Alex joined my family in our den. A general ritual in my house is to start cooking dinner around 6:45, and hopefully be done by 7:30 so we can watch the show together.
When my kids were little, it was a bit tougher for them. Every once in a while they would know an answer and would get excited. As they got older, they got more involved. Not bragging, but I’m pretty OK at Jeopardy!, and my kids would often ask that I not shout out the answer so they would have a chance to answer. It took patience on my part, but I was grateful that they wanted to take part in that half hour each night.
And the one constant was Alex. A few years ago, my wife and I were talking about how divided we can be as a society, and how a lot of that depends on who is talking to you from the television screen. That was never the case with Alex. He brought us all together, even if just for 30 minutes a night.
He was funny. He was kind. He was snarky at times, which was also usually pretty funny. But he was there, every night, serving up 61 questions a night. My family bonded around that 30 minutes. We celebrated when a category came up in our wheelhouse. Broadway musicals? Allie, you got this! Snakes? Parker, your time to shine! Annoying husbands? Ooh, Jenn, this one's for you!
I always enjoyed seeing questions that might be up my friends’ alley as well. I loved taking a screenshot of an answer and sending it to someone to share a clue that seemed tailor-made for them.
And through it all, Alex was there. Consistent. Steady. Smart.
I would never suggest that my feeling of loss is anywhere near that of his family and friends. It would be selfish of me to even remotely consider such a thing. But I guess it’s not too much of a stretch to say that I’m sad for all of us Jeopardy! fans who will feel this loss every night. And more than anything, I guess I just want to say, “What is Thank you, Alex?”