Alex Trebek calls autistic 'Jeopardy' superfan to cheer him up during depression battle

An autistic "Jeopardy!" superfan received the phone call of a lifetime when his personal hero, Alex Trebek, rang him up for a cheerful chat on the phone — twice, after the first call went to voicemail.

32-year-old Matthew Kneeter, who in addition to autism struggles with epileptic seizures, is an avid "Jeopardy" viewer who grew deeply depressed after learning of Trebek's pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Desperate to boost his spirits, his mother tracked down contact information for Trebek's own son to ask if his dad would be willing to make a brief phone call, she explained to NY Daily News.

The woman, Debbie Stevens, raised her children on her own after her husband died of cancer 15 years ago. She's also a survivor of pulmonary fibrosis, battling the disease for more than three decades despite receiving a life expectancy of just ten years.

Stevens wasn't sure if the idea would ever come to fruition, especially given Trebek's current health status: He's in the process of undergoing another round of chemotherapy.

But on Oct. 18, Stevens emerged from her home bathroom to discover a voicemail from a call she'd just missed: "This is a message for Michael," a familiar voice said.

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Alex Trebek and wife Jean Currivan
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HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 04: TV personality Alex Trebek (L) and Jean Currivan Trebek attend the 43rd AFI Life Achievement Award Gala honoring Steve Martin at Dolby Theatre on June 4, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AFI)
BURBANK, CA - APRIL 26: TV personality Alex Trebek (L) and Jean Currivan Trebek attend The 42nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards at Warner Bros. Studios on April 26, 2015 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for NATAS)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 12: TV host Alex Trebek (L) and Jean Currivan Trebek attend the celebratory dinner after the special tribute to Sophia Loren during the AFI FEST 2014 presented by Audi at Dolby Theatre on November 12, 2014 in Hollywood, California. on November 12, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AFI)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 05: Jean Trebek (L) and TV personality Alex Trebek attend the 2014 AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Jane Fonda at the Dolby Theatre on June 5, 2014 in Hollywood, California. Tribute show airing Saturday, June 14, 2014 at 9pm ET/PT on TNT. (Photo by Michael Buckner/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 04: TV personality Alex Trebek (L) and Jean Trebek attend the 2014 AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Jane Fonda at the Dolby Theatre on June 5, 2014 in Hollywood, California. Tribute show airing Saturday, June 14, 2014 at 9pm ET/PT on TNT. (Photo by Kevin Winter/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 25: TV personality Alex Trebek (R) and Jean Trebek arrive at the Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation's 19th Annual 'Taste For A Cure' at Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on April 25, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 19: Alex Trebek (R) and Jean Currivan Trebek arrive at the 38th Annual Daytime Entertainment Emmy Awards held at the Las Vegas Hilton on June 19, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
Alex Trebek and wife Jean Currivan attend Hollywood Stars Night Thoroughbred Horse Race on June 22, 1990 at Hollywood Park in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Alex Trebek and wife Jean Currivan attend the opening of 'Jackie Mason - Brand New' on May 30, 1990 at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Alex Trebek and Jean Currivan during The 49th Annual Thalians Ball at Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by John Heller/WireImage)
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The message continued, "My name is Alex Trebek. It is Friday, about 6 o’clock your time. My son Matthew, who has a restaurant in North Harlem, told me that you and your mom had been in contact and you’re fans of the show, and I just wanted to thank you for that, and I appreciate it. I hope you’re well. Maybe someday if you manage to get to Los Angeles, you can come to a taping of the program. That would be great. Hopefully, I’ll still be around hosting it."

Less than five minutes later, Stevens asked if Trebek would mind calling back, which he did. He spoke with the mother and son for about 10 minutes.

"He’s an amazing person,” Stevens said.  "He knows how many people love watching the show. He doesn’t want to let people down. As sick as he is, he wanted to assure Michael that he is okay."

Trebek, who received his diagnosis in early 2019, is continuing to film the show even while in treatment.

 

“[I’ve lived] a full life, and I’m nearing the end of that life ... if it happens, why should I be afraid that?” the 79-year-old said in October 2019. “One thing they’re not going to say at my funeral, as a part of a eulogy, is, ‘He was taken from us too soon.’” 

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Pat Sajak and Alex Trebek together
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Pat Sajak and Alex Trebek together
PASADENA, CA - APRIL 28: Pat Sajak and Alex Trebek attend the 44th Annual Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards - Press Room at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on April 28, 2017 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Jerritt Clark/WireImage)
PASADENA, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 28: (L-R) Pat Sajak and Alex Trebek attend the 44th Annual Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on April 28, 2017 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Greg Doherty/Getty Images)
Pat Sajak (L) and Alex Trebek pose backstage at the 38th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards show in Las Vegas, Nevada, on June 19, 2011. Both received a Lifetime Achievement Award. AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN SANCHEZ-GONZALEZ (Photo credit should read ADRIAN SANCHEZ-GONZALEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Pat Sajak (L) and Alex Trebek pose backstage at the 38th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards show in Las Vegas, Nevada, on June 19, 2011. Both received a Lifetime Achievement Award. AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN SANCHEZ-GONZALEZ (Photo credit should read ADRIAN SANCHEZ-GONZALEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Pat Sajak (L) and Alex Trebek pose backstage at the 38th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards show in Las Vegas, Nevada, on June 19, 2011. Both received a Lifetime Achievement Award. AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN SANCHEZ-GONZALEZ (Photo credit should read ADRIAN SANCHEZ-GONZALEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
CULVER CITY, CA - APRIL 17: Game show hosts Alex Trebek (L) and Pat Sajak (R) pose on the set of the 'Jeopardy!' Million Dollar Celebrity Invitational Tournament Show Taping on April 17, 2010 in Culver City, California. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images)
(EXCLUSIVE, Premium Rates Apply) Pat Sajak, Host of 'Wheel of Fortune', Vanna White, Co-Host of 'Wheel of Fortune' and Alex Trebek, Host of 'Jeopardy!' (Photo by M. Phillips/WireImage)
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