Alex Trebek Was Worried About the Direction of the Country in 2018: 'There's a Lack of Civility'

Gillian Telling
·2 min read

Before his Nov. 8 death after a battle with pancreatic cancer, Alex Trebek was feeling anxious about how divided the country had become.

The longtime Jeopardy! host was a firm believer in values, being neighborly, and lending a helping hand to those in need. He also believed in thank you notes — while he received thousands of letters and well wishes after his diagnosis, he really took the time to answer as many of them by hand as possible.

In 2018, he told PEOPLE he wasn't feeling great about the direction of our society. "There's a lack of civility in our society right now that bothers me," he said. "When I grew up, if you walked down the street, you made eye contact and said, 'Hi, how are you?' Or, 'Good morning' if you didn't know them. Now, it's almost impossible to make eye contact because everyone has their face buried in cell phones as they're walking."

  • Read more about Alex Trebek's extraordinary life and career in the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

Trebek wasn't a huge fan of smartphones, admitting that he didn't really "do" text messages and certainly didn't do social media.

"We have become isolationists," he lamented about our addiction to screens. "It bothers me. It frightens me, because we are losing our sensitivity to others. It's not that we don't care about other people, we just don't notice them enough to care. And that's frightening."

RELATED: All the Ways Late Jeopardy! Host Alex Trebek Gave Back During His Lifetime

In his last interview with PEOPLE in July, he opened up about how good it felt to extend a helping hand to others and just do the right thing.

"For the past 15, 20 years, [my wife] Jean and I have done that. We've given back. We've traveled, helped charities in different countries. It was a conscious decision," he said.

The month prior, the couple donated $500,000 to the Los Angeles-based organization, Hope of Valley Rescue Mission, to help them build a new facility to assist with unhoused seniors.

RELATED: Alex Trebek's Wife Jean Shares Photo from Their Wedding as She Thanks Fans for Support After Husband's Death

"They do good work," he said. "Jean and I are Valley people. We've lived here 30 years, and we wanted to try and foster more of a sense of community."

He continued, "There's so much division in our society. Not necessarily political division, but the division between the haves and have-nots, between Blacks and whites, the young and the old. Those are some of the divisions I wish we could try to resolve just by saying, 'Hey, you're having a rough time. What can I do to assist you?'"

"That would go along way," he added. "You make friends by doing things for people."