Only months after losing host Alex Trebek — the face of the show — Jeopardy! also lost one of their young rising stars when Brayden Smith died on Feb. 5, 2021. The Nevada native won five games in a row and banked over $115,000 in winnings during his appearances, and was preparing for his return to the show for the upcoming Tournament of Champions, as per the New York Post.
Smith’s mother posted a tweet on Feb. 12, 2021, confirming her son’s death and also celebrating his appearance on the long-running quiz show. “We are so grateful that Brayden was able to live out his dream on @jeopardy,” she wrote. The 24-year-old’s run on Jeopardy! coincided with the last days of Trebek as the host. Trebek’s final day in-studio was Oct. 29, 2020, and he died of pancreatic cancer only 10 days later, as per WFTV.
One of Smith’s most cherished memories was sharing a stage with the TV icon. “To finally be on stage with somebody that I’ve seen five nights a week every week for over a decade was really a dream come true,” he told the show’s correspondent Sarah Whitcomb Foss (via People). The young contestant had an impact on Trebek’s final days on the show. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in December 2020, Jeopardy! producer Mike Richards said, “[Trebek] did, I believe, really like Brayden, because he was young and kind of interesting, and funny in his own way.”
But what caused the trivia star to die so young?
Brayden Smith's family reveals the cause of his death
According to the New York Post, Brayden Smith had been in the hospital for days prior to his death on Feb. 5, 2021. His family confirmed with 8 News Now that he “died following complications after surgery.” Smith’s family also thanked all those who had sent condolences online after the official Jeopardy! Twitter account quote-tweeted his mother while tweeting out: “The JEOPARDY! family is heartbroken by the tragic loss of Brayden Smith. He was kind, funny and absolutely brilliant.”
In the obituary for the young Jeopardy! contestant, he was described as “a voracious reader and autodidact, a lover of knowledge and an advocate for justice.” He had graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas a year before appearing on the game show. To honor his legacy, and his thirst for knowledge, his family set up the Brayden Smith Memorial Fund which will raise money for students in Nevada. According to the fund’s website: “Distributions will include funds for scholarship awards, conference fees, seminar tuitions, research grants, school supplies, field trips, and more.”
Fellow Jeopardy! champion James Holzhauer was saddened by Smith’s passing and offered to match initial contributions to the fund. “Absolutely devastated by the tragic loss of one of Jeopardy’s finest players and Las Vegas’s finest humans. Please consider a donation to Brayden’s memorial fund for Southern Nevada students. I will match the first $10,000,” Holzhauer tweeted.
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