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Trebek Trekked Back In Book

Category : “The Answer Is…”

$100 – “Alex Trebek Biography” . A : What is The Answer is… A few weeks ago, I wrote about the sad death of Alex Trebek. So, being a fan of the show he put on the map, Jeopardy, and since he was Canadian like me, with only one degree of separation from me (we had a mutual acquaintance), I figured I’d get his recently-released autobiography and read it.

$200 – “North American Countries”. A: What are the U.S.A., Canada and Mexico. While Mexico doesn’t play much into the story, Trebek is a Canadian who found fame and fortune in the U.S., married an American (“someone who was going to complete me as a human being”) and eventually became an American citizen. The book contains a lot of interesting stories about his childhood and youth in Canada, from his parents – a beer-drinking, cursing father who taught himself English and became a respected cook and his church-going, teatotaller mom who coincidentally had family in the States, which began his love affair with the U.S. – his rather disreputable youth and iffy relationship with school and its authority figures, to a photo of him in a denim jacket and jeans …a “Canadian tuxedo” as he proudly calls it. And about his life in the more populous country to the South, and all the steps along the way to becoming the best-known and respected game show host on TV.

$300 – “Jeopardy” – A: What is the TV show Alex Trebek hosted for over three decades. Given that it was what made him famous, and conversely, a show he made famous and a ratings hit, it’s appropriate he spends a good chunk of the book talking about it. And also, the best-forgotten game shows he had to take part in along the way to get him the spot, which initially was low-paid and low-prestige by comparison. The saving grace of that was that creator Merv Griffin paid little attention to it, allowing Alex and a few writers to basically shape it as they saw fit. We get Trebek’s reflections on his favorite players, not something that happened overnight as he also tells us he really didn’t talk to them much outside of what we saw on the program. He wanted to avoid getting too close to them both to avoid allegations of favoritism, and to emotionally distance himself anyway so as not to be upset when they inevitably lost. However, he did gain a soft spot for contestants like all-time champ Ken Jennings (who is slated to replace Alex when the show resumes next year), Eddie Timanus, a blind contestant, and Cindy Stowell, a multi-game winner who always seemed awkward on camera and a tiny bit “off”… and died before her shows aired. Turns out she was suffering from terminal cancer and very ill while filming, but she kept going… something of a guide for Alex himself a few years later on.

$400 – “Content” – A : What was Alex in 2020. When he wrote the book, he already knew he had cancer and little chance to survive. He speaks poignantly about the ill effects of the cancer as well as the harrowing treatments and how he knew in the end, he was unlikely to prevail. Yet, we also see that at 80, he was fine with it. He felt he’d lived a good, long and blessed life, loved some fine people and been loved in returned. He was remarkably at peace with the idea of this being his last year on Earth, although the pandemic frustrated him. When your days are numbered down to triple digits at best, you want to do all that you can when you feel up to it… and simple joys like going to the movies with his wife and kids had been taken away by Covid.

$500 – “Honestly Fun” – A: What was Alex Trebek. He surprises in the book, largely with his candor. He sometimes swears, he has a fast and sometimes PG sort of sense of humor and he made mistakes along the way, as we all do. He doesn’t shy away from any of those in the book, nor from his political convictions. He says he’s voted for Democrats and Republicans at different times and isn’t partisan, but he also left little doubt whatsoever about his feelings of the White House at the time of his death “If you start off by saying ‘Here’s the way we’re gonna solve it’…and worse if that certainty has no basis in fact and is being pushed by someone who just doesn’t have the mental capacity to adjust, you’re in deep trouble. And that’s what we’re seeing today.”

All that plus his thoughts on sleeping nude, his favorite celebrity fan, comedy parodies of himself and of course, the moustache. The Answer Is… that Trebek’s book is worth reading.

‘Me’ And The Reading List

Well my year’s reading list is off to a good start – I just completed the first book of 2020, the much-publicized Me by Elton John. I’ve been a fan of John since I was a small kid (which coincided with the peak of his chart domination in the early-to-mid-’70s) so it held obvious appeal to me. Happily the kiddo got me a copy for my birthday late last year and once I started into it, I couldn’t put it down. Well, technically I did put it down, many times, but still, reading the 340-ish page autobiography in a week was fast work for me and an indication of how interesting it is.

Elton reveals many surprises about himself in the book but perhaps the biggest surprise to the reader is how little he actually talks about his music. Although he does mention briefly the inspirations for songs like “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, he spills very little ink actually analyzing his records or giving detail into the writing or recording process. What he does do though is give the reader great insight into what his life was like during the various time periods – and he pulls no punches.

The flamboyant singer hides little if anything of his troubled life, from his rocky relationship with his temper-tantrum throwing mother (whom he credits for his own bad temper) to his cold and distant father to the years of trouble caused by cocaine and over-drinking. He admits to feeling lucky he didn’t catch AIDS and succumb to a fate like Freddie Mercury (one of a number of close friends in music he shares stories about) and is able to mock his own lavish lifestyle which very nearly drove him to bankruptcy despite being one of music’s most successful and biggest-selling artists. The book is part anecdote, part cautionary tale.

Happily it’s also part redemption story. It might have taken him 60 years or so, but John (now 72) seems to have put his life together quite well and sort his priorities better than he did when young. He’s married, sober and a doting father to a couple of boys, for whom he apparently wrote the book.

Definitely a worthwhile read for any Elton fan, or for anyone looking to see what lifestyles of the rich and famous were like in the disco era.