For over 36 years, Johnny Gilbert has said the same 10 words, with the same mix of razzle-dazzle and the high cadence of a seasoned showman: “And now here’s the host of ‘Jeopardy!’… Alex Trebek! Trebek would appear with a wave of his hand and a smile, and the game would begin.
He’s delivered a version of that familiar warm-up more than 8,000 times, since the first episode of Trebek, which aired on September 10, 1984, when the newly-formed host took the stage with a dark, bushy mustache and a pale pink color. pocket square. But on Friday, TV audiences will see Gilbert’s final presentation of a longtime colleague-turned-friend, as the last episode filmed before Trebek’s death in November airs.
“As much pain he was in, I never thought he was dying,” Gilbert said. “The day I heard this, a part of me left this world.
Next week, “Jeopardy!” will return with Gilbert introducing a new name: Ken Jennings, a former record candidate, who will be the first in a series of new interim hosts.
“It was a very weird feeling,” Gilbert, 92, said in an interview Wednesday. “I never thought of anyone to host the show except Alex.
After Trebek’s death, Gilbert, who turned 70 career in entertainment, said he was wondering if now was the right time to go. At that time, due to the pandemic, he had not worked at the studio in Culver City, Calif., But had recorded his announcements from a bedroom in his house in Venice Beach.
“I was like, ‘Gee, can I keep doing this? Can I still do what the show needs? He said. “And I decided, yes, I would continue. I would continue because Alex wanted the show to continue.
When Trebek died aged 80 in November after battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer, the show’s producers made it clear that there would be no rush to play the role of a man who had been the face and voice of “Jeopardy!” for so long. Just 10 days before his death, Trebek had shot in the studio and the series had enough episodes to end the year. Instead of ending the final week of 2020, a chaotic week for television and viewers, the show decided to push the final five episodes of Trebek to this week.
The show also acknowledged that Gilbert was among those who felt disturbed by a new host delivering “Jeopardy!” clues. Instead of choosing a permanent successor right away, they opted for a series of interim hosts. Jennings, the only guest host that has been officially announced, has already recorded 30 episodes, a spokesperson for the show said. (In recent days, Jennings has received criticism on social media for posting callous tweets in the past, for which he excuse, raising questions about whether he would play the role permanently.) The Los Angeles Times reported this week that Katie Couric had been signed as another guest host, but the show did not confirm this.
Gilbert and Trebek, both of whom worked in television in the early 1980s, met at a party in Hollywood a few years before Merv Griffin decided to put on a new production of “Jeopardy!” Gilbert was already a household name on daytime television, having worked as a golden voice announcer for “The Price Is Right” and Dinah Shore’s daily talk show.
In his memoir, published last summer, Trebek wrote that he recommended Gilbert to Griffin: “How could you forget a voice like that?” (Gilbert’s voice wasn’t just used for announcing; he was a singer early in his career and recorded two albums in the 1960s.)
What resulted, Gilbert said, was a friendship that involved a lot of locker room talk, good-humored teasing in front of the studio audience, and deep mutual respect. On the set of “Jeopardy !,” Trebek often scoffed at Gilbert’s age, joking that he had been Abraham Lincoln’s announcer.
“We’ve been together longer than either of our marriages, and we’ve never had a word against it,” Trebek wrote of Gilbert in his memoir.
Wearing one of his many “Jeopardy!” Branded varsity-style jackets, Gilbert was warming the audience ahead of the recordings, urging them to speak to Trebek during commercial breaks and ask him any questions they might have. When the time came, Trebek spoke endlessly with audience members, Gilbert recalled, adding that more than once Trebek’s involved conversations with studio audience members would last longer than commercial breaks.
Gilbert recalled how Trebek continued to work during his illness. When Trebek was receiving chemotherapy treatments, Gilbert said, there were times when he was clearly in great pain. Sometimes he was too sick for the usual banter between episodes with the production crew.
Trebek wrote in his memoir that there were days during his illness when he could barely make it to production meetings. But after Gilbert delivered his brand introduction – “And now here’s the host of ‘Jeopardy!’… Alex Trebek!” – Trebek wrote that he would feel like himself again and be able to take the stage.
This transformation was also evident to Gilbert.
“It didn’t matter how he felt when he came out on stage,” Gilbert said, “when I introduced him there was Alex Trebek.