'Wheel of Fortune's' Legendary Pat Sajak

Radio and Weather Reports Were Stepping Stones to Success

Pat Sajak Wheel of Fortune Host
Pat Sajak. Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images Entertainment

Pat Sajak joined "Wheel of Fortune" in 1981, taking over the show from Chuck Woolery. Today he is one of the most recognizable game show hosts in the world. His dry, sometimes self-effacing humor is a well-known trademark.

A Start on the Radio

Sajak was born in Chicago on Oct. 26, 1946. He went to Columbia College in Chicago. Like many game show hosts and announcers, Sajak got his start in radio. After working at a local Chicago station covering the overnight shift, Sajak joined the army in 1968 and took over the main DJ duties on Armed Forces Radio in Vietnam.

He was the successor to famed Armed Forces Radio announcer Adrian Cronauer, and Sajak inherited the now-famous "Good morning Vietnam!" opening.

Several DJ gigs later, Sajak started working as a TV weatherman, at first in Nashville and then in Los Angeles in 1977 when he was scouted by NBC.

Wheel of Fortune

"Wheel of Fortune" had been hosted by Woolery since 1975, and at that time it was a daytime game show. A salary dispute with show creator and executive producer Merv Griffin caused Woolery's exit in 1981, and Sajak took over.

Sajak, who was then only known to local LA audiences as their weatherman, was not initially well received. But the show continued to gain traction, and in 1983 it went into evening syndication in a selection of markets nationwide. Sajak warmed up to his new role as a game show host, and audiences warmed up to him in turn. In 1984 the game was rolled out nationwide in the evening and has enjoyed an enormous amount of success since then.

Other Television Projects

Sajak has been involved in a number of other television shows in addition to "Wheel of Fortune." Most notably, he had his own late-night talk show from January 1989 through April 1990 on CBS, titled simply "The Pat Sajak Show." He has also filled in as host for Larry King and Regis Philbin.

Many game show hosts appear as celebrity guests on other game shows, and Sajak has played:

  • "Password Plus"
  • "Super Password"
  • " Celebrity Jeopardy"

He also was a contestant on "Wheel of Fortune" himself in a special April Fool's Day episode in 1997 that was hosted by Alex Trebek..

Awards and Recognition

Sajak has won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Game Show Host three times, in 1993, 1997 and 1998. He also won a People's Choice Award for Favorite Game Show Host in 1987 and has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In 2011 Sajak was recognized by the Daytime Emmy Awards, along with Trebek, with a Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Fun Facts

  • Sajak is currently the host of "The Pat Sajak Baseball Hour," a syndicated sports talk radio show.
  • He has been spoofed in a number of television shows and movies, including "Sesame Street,"  with a puppet named Pat Playjacks. He's also played himself in dozens of shows, including "The Larry Sanders Show" and "Rugrats."
  • Sajak is often listed in the closing "Wheel of Fortune" credits with unusual job titles. Some of these have included Senior View Finder (during Room With a View week), Vowel Whisperer and Sasquatch Wrangler.
  • Projects outside of "Wheel of Fortune" include his own line of games available through patsajakgames.com, and a music production company.
  • Writing is another one of Sajak's talents, and his political commentary can be found at Ricochet.com.
  • During another April Fool's Day episode, Sajak finished the show by inviting Vanna White to remove his "wig," which revealed a bald head. The gag was in response to viewers asking if Sajak wore a hairpiece. This created quite a stir among fans who wondered if he was actually bald – but -- of course -- the whole thing was a joke.

In His Own Words

"I really believe this may be the show that's never canceled." -- On taping the 5,000th episode of "Wheel of Fortune."  -- Time.com Quote of the Day

"I came from a very modest background. The best thing about having (money) is not having to worry about it. I don't sit around adding up my net worth. I'm still happy that when I go to the grocery store I can throw anything into the basket without looking at the price.

I still find that a kick." -- very modest background. The best thing about having (money) is not having to worry about it. I don't sit around adding up my net worth. I'm still happy that when I go to the grocery store I can throw anything into the basket without looking at the price. I still find that a kick." -- USA Today