Jeopardy! Executive Producer Recalls Alex Trebek's "Herculean" Final Tapings Before His Death

As fans prepare to watch Alex Trebek's final Jeopardy! episodes, Executive Producer Mike Richards recalled how the late host was hospitalized mere days before returning to set.

By Samantha Schnurr Jan 04, 2021 5:48 PMTags
Watch: "Jeopardy!" Host Alex Trebek Dead at 80

This week, Jeopardy fans will see Alex Trebek host for the last time. 

Less than two months after the beloved Jeopardy host's death, the ABC game show is gearing up to air his final five episodes, beginning on Monday, Jan. 4. While he was battling pancreatic cancer behind the scenes, Trebek forged ahead, resulting in these last shows fans will get to see with him at the helm

"He was an absolute warrior and what he was able to do by getting himself back to the set to tape those final episodes...We didn't know it was going to be his final episodes and neither did he, but it was herculean," Executive Producer Mike Richards said in a Jan. 4 interview on Today. "He was in enormous pain. He was, you know, 10 days away from passing away and you will not sense any of that in these episodes. He is strong. He sounds great. He's funny and he's amazing."

The 80 year old was known to keep his struggles with his health mostly out of the spotlight, save for the occasional brief statement. However, Richards shed some light on how much Trebek was privately enduring in his final days. 

"The week before we taped those episodes, he was in the hospital," he told co-hosts Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb. "This man was unbelievable. He calls me and he said, 'Mike, I'm going to be fine. I'll be in to tape. I was able to eat Jello today.'" 

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"I went, 'Alex, that's great,'" Richards continued, "'but that doesn't mean you're going to be ready to host five episodes of a game show,' which is an enormous amount of effort, and he said, 'Do not cancel. I will be there.'"


Not only was Trebek there, but he delivered a chills-inducing speech, too—one fans will finally get to see on Monday night. 

"What he did on tonight's show is just a great testament to him. He comes out. He usually said something about what was happening in the news or about what game play had been happening. And in this very special, unbelievable final week, he comes out and gives a talk about the importance of togetherness and sticking together and that the world is struggling, but we have to get through it together," Richards explained. While there were only a few people in the studio due to COVID-19 safety measures, those on set couldn't help but applaud. Still, Trebek maintained his usual approach to being fawned over.


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"Usually in his monologue, he would come out, give a statement and then go to the categories," the executive producer described. "We all burst into applause. And you don't see it on camera, but as he's going to the categories, he sees us start to applaud and he kind of looks at us like, what are you guys doing? And, we were so moved that we had to applaud."

The ultimate professional to the end, Trebek proved even in his tough final days how important his signature role was to him. "He was getting chemotherapy once a weekend. So, I think there was a level of professionalism. I think he really understood the importance of the show and what it meant to people," Richards said. "He wrote an autobiography that described his childhood, and that kind of hard-working, blue collar, I'm going to go in and go to work. And that's what he did."

(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)