How Alex Trebek Spent His Final Few Months Before His Death at 80: 'I've Been Getting Rid of Stuff'
“My job gave me quality of life,” he told PEOPLE in July. “It established a rhythm and order of things. I miss it very much.”
The longtime game show host, who was the face of Jeopardy! for 37 years, adored his job. He once told PEOPLE he had no plans to retire. "Why would I retire?" he said. "If I did, my wife would probably say I was home too much and getting on her nerves!"
Still, the forced time at home wasn't all that bad. Production on his show shut down due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic almost exactly a year after he'd been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer in March 2019, so he was enjoying the extra time at home with Jean, 56, his loving wife of 30 years, and his children: Matthew, 29, Emily, 27, and Nicky, 54.
He’d also just released his first memoir, And the Answer Is... Reflections on My Life. But he was a little bored. Because he’d been undergoing various treatments, he was so immunocompromised he couldn’t even leave the house or his property. So he did what many others have done: cleaned up around the house.
“I’ve just been doing little projects around the house, getting rid of stuff,” he told PEOPLE in July. “I have accumulated so much over the past four decades, it’s difficult to decide what’s got to go. My wife Jeannie has a great theory. She says if you haven’t used it in a year, it’s got to go. Well, I have things I haven’t used in 40 years! So I'm just tidying things up, if you will.” He added, "I just sent away a whole bunch of old electronic equipment this morning to a charity that recycles them, so that's good."
- Read more about Alex Trebek's extraordinary life and career in the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
So did he find any treasures while digging through things? Not really.
"You think you've found a good treasure, and then you look it up on eBay and it goes for $17.90," he said with a laugh. "You say, 'Well, I can get rid of it now, I guess.' "
However, it didn't take a pandemic or personal illness to get Trebek to enjoy working around the house. Before being diagnosed with cancer, on his off days he could usually be found taking up some sort of repair project at home, and his friends and family would always comment on his love of tinkering.
"I work around the house," he told PEOPLE in 2018. "My latest project is trying to repair a washer dryer in the guest house. The heat will not come on. So I've taken it apart, and I've ordered a part that I think might be the problem, but I don't know. If it isn't, then I'm kind of shafted." He added with a laugh, "I will probably have to call a repair man."
After his cancer diagnosis, he continued to take on small repair projects to keep his mind off of his illness. "I just finished fixing up my wife's bathroom," he said in July.
On Nov. 8, eight days after hosting his final episode of Jeopardy!, which will air on Dec. 25, Trebek died peacefully at home at age 80, surrounded by his beloved family and a small gathering of friends.
In his final months, when he wasn't working around the house, taping new episodes of Jeopardy! (the show resumed production in late July, with new safety protocols in place) or resting, he spent as much time as he could taking in the beauty of his Los Angeles backyard, sitting on a swing with Jean, whom he referred to as "his soulmate."
Trebek wrote in his memoir about his hopes for his legacy. “I’d like to be remembered first of all as a good and loving husband and father, and also as a decent man who did his best to help people perform at their best,” he wrote. “I’ll be perfectly content if that’s how my story ends: sitting on the swing with the woman I love ... my wonderful children nearby.”
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