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Alex Trebek's widow didn't realize how much of an icon he was until his cancer diagnosis

"We were equal partners in a marriage," said Jean Trebek.
/ Source: TODAY

Jean Trebek, the widow of late "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek, realized her husband was an icon only after he revealed his cancer diagnosis to viewers.

During an interview with The Eden Magazine, Jean Trebek opened up about the couple's 30-year marriage and called the legendary game show emcee "my most beloved friend."

Jean Trebek, widow of late "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek, never realized her husband was an icon until after he shared the news of his cancer diagnosis with fans.Michael Kovac / Getty Images

"Like most long-term relationships, we had our ups and downs, but the truth of it was that we were very close and experienced a lot of life together. It was important to Alex to keep his personal life separate from his professional life, unless it was 'needed,'… i.e., attending an award show or something like that," she explained.

The couple typically opted for quiet nights at home, so Jean Trebek rarely witnessed the spectacle of fans on the street clamoring to greet her husband. "When we did go out, it was perhaps for a quick dinner or movie every now and then, so it wasn’t like we were always out in public for me to really notice his popularity," she said.

That all changed after Alex Trebek revealed in March 2019 that he'd been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He died in November 2020 at age 80.

"I started realizing just how much he was adored by people from all walks of life when he made his public announcement that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer," said Jean Trebek.

Both she and her husband were moved by the outpouring of love and support from "Jeopardy!" fans. "We received cartons of mail every day filled with get-well cards, etc., at our home address, and I knew that the studio was receiving so much more. It was astonishing!" she recalled.

Though she now realizes how beloved her husband was, she's grateful she was unaware of his massive fame for most of their marriage.

"In looking back, the fact that I did not identify Alex as an 'icon' was a gift. We were equal partners in a marriage, and we had our own personal growth issues to deal with just like any ordinary couple," she explained. "It would have been really weird for both Alex and myself if I thought of him as some celebrity. He could just be himself at home, and that was it."