By Sara Whitman/Feb. 13, 2021 11:08 am EST/Updated: Feb. 13, 2021 11:21 am EST
Jeopardy! has lost another member of its family. Brayden Smith, known as Alex Trebek's "Last Great Champion" (per his obituary) earned more than $115,000 during his five-game winning streak near the end of Trebek's reign as Jeopardy! host, as noted by TMZ. His family told the publication that Smith died of natural causes following a "medical emergency." He was 24 years old.
His mother, Debbie Smith, confirmed his death on Twitter on Feb. 12, 2021. "We are heartbroken to share that our dear Brayden Smith recently passed away unexpectedly," she wrote. "We are so grateful that Brayden was able to live out his dream on @jeopardy."
In response to the news, Jeopardy! released a statement on Twitter, saying, "The JEOPARDY! family is heartbroken by the tragic loss of Brayden Smith. He was kind, funny and absolutely brilliant. Our deepest condolences go out to Brayden's family. He will be missed."
Jeopardy! fans also expressed their love for the champion following the news of his death. "So sorry he's gone. I loved the signature look on his face right before he answered a daily double," one fan wrote. Another said, "We are so very sad for the family & for the world. He was so impressive on Jeopardy and looked forward to seeing him on Champions. We were thankful that Alex had one last great champion before he passed."
Another former Jeopardy! champion, James Holzhauer, also took to Twitter to share his condolences. "Absolutely devastated by the tragic loss of one of Jeopardy's finest players and Las Vegas's finest humans," he tweeted. "Please consider a donation to Brayden's memorial fund for Southern Nevada students. I will match the first $10,000."
Jeopardy champion Brayden Smith impressed Alex Trebek
Competing on Jeopardy! was a "lifelong dream" for Brayden Smith, who served as the captain for his high school's Quiz Bowl team, as noted in his obituary. His winning streak had greatly impressed host Alex Trebek, who, according to The New York Post, nicknamed him "Billy Buzzsaw." He also told Smith his gameplay was "most impressive" and that he did not know what else to say about his skills.
Furthermore, executive producer Mike Richards told Entertainment Weekly that Trebek was fond of Smith. "And he did, I believe, really like Brayden because he was young and kind of interesting, and funny in his own way," Richards said. "I could tell that he very much enjoyed that young man, and that was fun to watch. I think that energized him."
In a January 2021 interview for Jeopardy!, Smith said Trebek was a "mainstay" in his life and he was grateful to have finally been on stage with him. "The best part of it for me was spending time with him. Doing the questions and answers is almost incidental, I think, to spending time with somebody who I had cherished in my life for such a long period of time ... I think back on it all the time and really savor each moment that I got to have with him," he said.
Before he died, Smith was looking forward to competing on Jeopardy!'s "Tournament of Champions" and had recently graduated form University of Nevada, Las Vegas with an economics degree. He had plans to attend law school. He is survived by his parents, his three brothers, three grandparents, an uncle, an aunt, and multiple cousins.