Alex Trebek may be gone, but his run on Jeopardy! is still ongoing. While the famed host died on Sunday at age 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer, he filmed yet-to-be-aired episodes of the game show less than two weeks prior.
“They were amazing. We had chills the entire time,” Jeopardy! EP Mike Richards tells ET’s Kevin Frazier of Trebek’s final run of episodes. “We didn’t know that they were gonna be his last shows. He had had a surgery, he had been out for a couple weeks. He told me, ‘Don’t cancel those tape dates, I’ll do it.’ He was very firm about it.”
The last episodes will air during Christmas week, with one even set to include a moving speech from Trebek.
“He gives a speech… talking about the importance of being together, loving each other and the importance of family,” Richards reveals. “It was unbelievable. Just the entire day was unbelievable. We didn’t know it was the last day, but there was something very special in the air.”
That speech about love and family is one that Richards says he’ll “treasure,” largely because he knows how true it was for Trebek, who had been married to his wife, Jean, for 30 years. The pair shared two children, Emily, 27, and Matthew, 30.
“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,” Richards says. “So that’s what I’ll treasure.”
On top of Trebek’s love for his family, Richards counts the host’s dedication to his work, even amid pain and ailing health, as one of his best qualities.
“When you see someone that dedicated to their craft, that believes that what they’re doing is that important, that they’re willing to endure that much pain, it’s truly inspirational,” Richards says. “… For the last year and a half, he has come in every morning. He was in enormous pain, exhausted, just battling every day.”
“So the real truth is, there was nothing different about the week before [his death] — we taped 10 days ago — than the week before that,” he continues. “He had just been battling so hard, and then the second that that music started, it was like he’d sit up, the shoulder blades would go back.”
Trebek’s final five episodes, Richards notes, show the host “at the top of his game,” something Trebek was determined to maintain throughout his illness.
“Funny, the diction is perfect, the accents, hardly any pickups. He was perfect,” Richards says of the episodes. “… It was very tough to watch him [be in] pain, because we all knew what was going on. It was beyond impressive watching him then pick himself up and deliver the show at the highest level.”
Through watching those episodes, Richards has found a sense of comfort, something he hopes fans will feel as well.
“Oddly, it’s so great to see him. He’s in such fine form that it was kind of a relief,” Richards says. “… It’s hard to believe he’s gone, but then when you see it, you’ve settled right in.”
“I encourage people to watch, because you’ve got 35 more episodes of this incredible broadcaster at the peak of his powers,” he continues. “As I was watching, I was just drinking up every pronunciation, every inflection, every word, every, ‘You got it.’ Everything. I hope the fans do it as well.”
Tune in to Entertainment Tonight on Monday to see more of ET’s interview with Richards during a special tribute episode to Trebek.
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