"She was happy and content and living her life on her terms and surrounded by her close friends," says pianist Michael Feinstein

By Alexia Fernandez and Liz McNeil
May 13, 2019 07:21 PM
Advertisement

Doris Day turned 97 on April 3 — and she made sure to celebrate with one of her favorite musicians.

Entertainer Michael Feinstein tells PEOPLE he was invited to share in the festivities with Day in what became their first face-to-face meeting despite a correspondence of several years.

“Her longtime manager drove me to her house, which is a few miles from Carmel-by-the-Sea, and I arrived at a 14-acre paradise that looked like Doris Day should live there,” says Feinstein, 62.

Of her home, he says, “It was idyllic. I was struck by the fact that this was a 97-year-old woman and she was still so connected to the world.”

The two hit it off and were quickly “consumed with two subjects: animals and music,” which Feinstein says were “the two most important things in her life.”

“She would say, ‘I just love animals’ — and it was so wonderful to see that her fervor for other creatures had not diminished and she was so concerned for the welfare of creatures and the welfare of the planet,” Feinstein adds.

Michael Feinstein and Doris Day
Jackie Joseph

Day had a successful singing career as well, although Feinstein says she was “very humble and modest” about it.

“She never talked [about] or listened to her own recordings because she was so tough on herself,” says Feinstein. “For decades, she would not listen to her own work because she feared it would not be good enough and then when she did, she was sincerely surprised they were good. She was the one person who did not know what everyone else knew.”

As a special gift to Day, Feinstein sang for her at her home, regaling her with songs such as “My Romance,” which Day sang in the 1962 version of the musical Jumbo.

“She was delighted when I’d sing her songs and she would mouth the words,” he says. “She was happy and content and living her life on her terms and surrounded by her close friends.”

Feinstein also sang her version of the 1967 song “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries” as well as other hits of hers.

Doris Day and Michael Feinstein
Jackie Joseph

“She was encouraging me and snapping her fingers and nodding and swaying and kept saying, ‘more’ and ‘more,'” he recalls. “It was the most thrilling command performance I’ve ever given, and I’ve performed for presidents and royalty, but performing for her was truly thrilling.”

Day died in the early hours of Monday morning at the age of 97.

Her business manager and close friend Bob Bashara told PEOPLE Day “was fine at her birthday party.”

“For her birthday event, she was in good spirits,” Bashara said. Shortly after, Day “developed a cough and it turned into bronchitis and she was briefly hospitalized,” he continued.

“When she came home, she began to decline and was given hospice care,” he said.

“[When she died] there were some very close friends and loved ones who were with her,” Bashara said. “She was surrounded by a few loved ones.”

Bashara added Day “died peacefully” after a fulfilling life working on films and TV shows.

“She lived by her most famous song, ‘Que Sera, Sera.’ That was her belief. Whatever will be, will be, and there is a purpose for everything that happens, and you need to get on with her life,” explained Bashara. “She always looked forward and looked for the good in whatever happened.”