Richard Dawson Diagnosed with Cancer Only Three Weeks Before Death

06/05/2012 at 11:40 AM EDT

Richard Dawson Died 3 Weeks After Cancer Diagnosis
Richard Dawson hosts Family Feud, 1980
Three weeks ago, Richard Dawson thought he was suffering from heartburn.

The late Hogan's Hero actor-turned-game show host, fondly remembered for his lips-on approach to his Family Feud contestants, then found out he had esophageal cancer, according to his children.

"It all just kind of happened really quickly," his son Gary tells Access Hollywood. Dawson, 79, died Saturday night due to complications related to his cancer. "Luckily, he didn't have to go through all the bad treatments and stuff."

Dawson had a heart attack when he underwent his first radiation treatment, says Gary, a son from Richard's first marriage, to '50s British screen bombshell Diana Dors. (Married to Dawson from 1959-66, Dors was frequently compared to Marilyn Monroe. She died of ovarian cancer in 1984, at 52.)

"There were no signs before," adds Shannon, his daughter from his marriage with Gretchen Johnson, who met Dawson when she competed on Feud. (They wed in 1991.)

His children, including Mark, his other son with Dors, stayed with their father in his final moments.

"We all got to say goodbye," Gary says. "When we were saying goodbye, his eyes popped open. He hugged us. It was a beautiful moment."

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