Playing the game of life. Pat Sajak’s journey to becoming the longest-running TV game show host has had its ups and downs over the years.
The TV personality became a staple of the small screen after taking over for original Wheel of Fortune host Chuck Woolery in 1981. “When I started hosting Wheel (with Susan Stafford) on this date 40 years ago, the top 10 TV shows included Dallas, Three’s Company, The Jeffersons and The Dukes of Hazzard,” Sajak tweeted in December 2021, in honor of his 40th anniversary as host. “Ronald Reagan was in his 1st year as president. Number 1 song: Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Physical.’”
One year after beginning his decades-long career on the show, he was joined by cohost Vanna White, and the two have been entertaining viewers for over 40 years. “We’re like a brother and sister after 37 years,” White exclusively told Us Weekly in December 2019. “I think the two of us have been together longer than anyone else, as far as having spouses or children or whatever. We have been together a long time. … I can just look at him and tell what kind of a mood he’s in.”
Five years after taking on his now-iconic role, Sajak split from his ex-wife, Sherrill James. He later tied the knot with Lesly Brown, and the two became parents to son Patrick and daughter Maggie in 1990 and 1995, respectively.
In addition to helping make contestants’ dreams come true with expensive prizes and elaborate trips, the Chicago native’s actions as host have occasionally garnered him backlash from Wheel of Fortune fans. Following the show’s April 13, 2022, episode, fans called Sajak out on social media over a joke he made about White. Since the episode’s winner was an opera singer, the host wrapped up the episode by asking White, “Are you an opera buff at all?” to which she responded, “Yes, I’m not a buff, but I like opera.”
Poking fun at her answer, Sajak joked, “Have you ever watched opera in the buff? I’m just curious.”
After the episode, one fan tweeted, “I feel like I just witnessed a #metoo moment on @WheelofFortune?” Another user defended the star, writing, “People love shows and sitcoms with filthy language and violence then want to jump on Pat Sajak for everything he says. I’m sure his intent was a play on words from Vanna’s I’m not an opera buff. I don’t think he was trying to insinuate anything inappropriate.” White did not publicly comment on the joke.
In addition to online criticism, Sajak also faced a major health scare in November 2019, as he had to undergo emergency surgery due to a blocked intestine. “Our taping on Thursday was canceled because host Pat Sajak underwent successful emergency surgery to correct a blocked intestine,” the show’s Twitter page wrote in a statement at the time. “He is resting comfortably and looking forward to getting back to work. Taping resumed today as scheduled and Vanna White has stepped in as host.”
He opened up about his near-fatal illness one month later, telling Good Morning America that he was in surgery within two and a half hours of experiencing “horrific pain” in his stomach. Feeling “great” at the time of the interview, Sajak went on to note, “I’ve actually felt ridiculously good for several weeks. I’ve been back in the studio actually, doing shows. Even spinning the wheel and, you know, nothing has popped. So I think it’s OK. … I’m as good or bad as new, and that’s great. I still have my wits about me. They didn’t remove that, so I’ll be selling vowels for a long time.”
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Scroll below for a timeline of Sajak’s ups and down through the years: