Canadian television host Alex Trebek, who died on Sunday aged 80 following a prolonged battle with pancreatic cancer, is best known as the face of the evergreen game show “Jeopardy!” but keen viewers may also remember him stumping for brands during commercial breaks.
Born in 1940 in Sudbury, Ontario—a small mining town 250 miles north of Toronto—Trebek would go on to earn a philosophy degree from the University of Ottawa before carving out an early niche in media with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, appearing on a string of the national broadcaster’s TV and radio programs in the 1960s.
“I went to school in the mornings and worked at nights,” Trebek later recalled of his time with the CBC. "I did everything, at one time replacing every announcer in every possible job."
In the early ‘70s, he moved to the United States and formally began his television career, hosting a series of short-lived game shows including NBC’s “The Wizard of Odds” and “High Rollers,” and CBS’ “Double Dare.”
More than 10 years after Trebek’s departure from his native Canada, entertainment titan Merv Griffin tapped him to host a daily syndicated version of “Jeopardy!” that would become an instant hit. Trebek helmed the quiz show from the first episode’s premiere on Sep. 10, 1984—which featured an adland copywriter as its inaugural contestant—until his death yesterday morning.
Throughout a decades-long career, Trebek became a reliable presence and household name in North America, with a 2013 Reader’s Digest poll naming him one of the 10 most trusted people in the United States—beating out fellow game show host Pat Sajak, then-President Barack Obama and every justice on the Supreme Court.
And, for brands looking for celebrity ambassadors, Trebek’s perceived familiarity made him an ideal pitchman.
Perhaps the “Jeopardy!” host’s best known credit in the advertising world is as a spokesman for the Philadelphia-based Colonial Penn Life Insurance Company, for whom he’d often relay an “important message” during commercial breaks.