From The Vault


From The Vault: Alex Trebek shares his story of working garbage detail in Cincinnati

Posted at 12:38 PM, Mar 07, 2019
and last updated 2020-11-08 15:17:00-05

This story was originally posted Mar. 7, 2019, following Trebek's cancer diagnosis. We are republishing it today in memory of the Jeopardy! host, who died Nov. 8, 2020.

CINCINNATI — "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek stunned fans this week by announcing he'd been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

"Now, normally, the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I'm going to fight this," he said in a video posted to the show's YouTube account. "And I'm going to keep working and with the love and support of my family and friends — and with the help of your prayers also — I plan to beat the low survival rate statistics for this disease."

Seemingly everyone knows Trebek as a suave and sophisticated TV host. One piece of trivia that Cincinnati fans of the quiz show may not know is that Trebek actually spent some time in the Queen City working a much less glamorous job when he was a teenager and his mother was working here as a governess.

"My job was to look after the garbage," he said.

Trebek told WCPO about it in a 1999 interview:

"I went there and had a summer job in a big apartment project on the maintenance crew, so part of my duties were to mop halls and garbage detail, repacking garbage cans because people are very bad about packing garbage," he said. "They just don't do it right. They'll see six big garbage cans out there and they'll fill each one half full instead of having three of them fully loaded."

In a way, the job actually helped prepare Trebek for "Jeopardy!"

"I would sit there, people would throw out magazines — Life magazines, Time, Newsweek — and I'd sit there and I'd read the magazines," he said. "So I wasn't the best garbage man working for that project, and as a result they fired me before the summer was over."

Trebek has managed to hold down his "Jeopardy!" job a bit longer. He's been hosting it since 1984. In the announcement about his cancer, he dryly joked that he had to beat the disease because he's got a contract to continue hosting the show for three more years.

"So help me," he said. "Keep the faith, and we'll win. We'll get it done."