Alex Trebek's final day was a peaceful one, surrounded by his family. Following the Jeopardy! host's death on Sunday, ET's Kevin Frazier speaks to the show's executive producer, Mike Richards, on Monday night's episode of Entertainment Tonight. Trebek was 80 years old at the time of his death, which came after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
"He had a nice final day. He was out on his swing that he loved with his wife and surrounded by family," Richards says of Trebek's wife of 30 years, Jean. "It was a very peaceful day, there were laughs, and then he went to sleep."
"If you know Alex, he did everything that perfectly and even his last day was done that perfectly. I just love that he had a nice, a good last day," he adds. "Ultimately, his family came back into town. He was surrounded by everyone and I think he knew that it was his time. He was very at peace with that."
The way Richards describes Trebek's final day is remarkably similar to how the host had envisioned it happening, a scenario he laid out in his memoir, The Answer Is...: Reflections on My Life, earlier this year.
"Here I am wanting to enjoy what might be the last of my days, and, what, I’m supposed to just stay at home and sit in a chair and stare into space?" Trebek wrote, referencing quarantine due to COVID-19. "Actually, that doesn’t sound too bad. Except instead of a chair, I’ll sit on the swing out in the yard… Yep, I’ll be perfectly content if that’s how my story ends: sitting on the swing with the woman I love, my soul mate, and our two wonderful children nearby."
Richards was in contact with Trebek throughout the last week of his life, when the host was considering postponing some tapings of the show.
"I spoke to Alex Tuesday. He said, 'I'm not doing great, I'm not sure if we're gonna be able to tape Monday and Tuesday,'" Richards recalls. "I said, 'That's OK, you just let me know how you're doing.'"
They spoke again on Thursday, which Richards classifies as "not a great day" for Trebek, but things really took a turn for the worse the next two days when the host instructed his son to fly home. Trebek and his wife shared two children, Emily, 27, and Matthew, 30.
"Friday, he isn't feeling good, but he's talking about taping not this week, but next week," Richards says. "It was Friday, he said that his son should fly back in, which he did on Saturday. I knew Saturday that things had taken a turn."
Though Richards knew of Trebek's ailing health, he still finds it "hard to believe he's gone."
"I knew things weren't going great for him, but he'd been battling so hard. You just kind of thought maybe he would fight it again," Richards explains.
Richards notes that Trebek's family has likewise been "shocked" by the host's death.
"They've taken it very hard. We all knew that he was sick, we all knew that this was a very deadly form of cancer, [but] he went so suddenly, even in spite of all of that," he says. "I think the family is shocked. They're in mourning. It feels very sudden."
"I think they have great comfort in that great last day, to be honest. I think that's the best thing that could have happened given the circumstances," Richards adds. "But I think that they're shocked, kind of like us, at the suddenness ... I think they're shocked and very sad."
While Richards will remember Trebek as someone who was "willing to endure" pain for his craft, the EP says it's the host's family that's his greatest legacy.
"He was a family man. That's just who he was. More than anything else, more than a quiz show host, he loved his wife, Jean. They were like two high school kids together... He loved her so much," Richards says. "He [was] a great family man and a great broadcaster. And that's what makes him special."
Tune in to Entertainment Tonight on Monday to see more of ET's interview with Richards during a special tribute episode to Trebek.