Pat Sajak's Stunning Transformation

Pat Sajak has come a long way from being a former weatherman on a local news station. Since his youth, he has become a source of entertainment for millions of American families who have cuddled up on the couch to watch him through the decades. But some fans may not know that the "Wheel of Fortune" star never dreamed of having a career as a game show host, despite his natural stage presence and witty banter in front of the camera.

Nonetheless, Sajak became interested in broadcast television at an early age, not knowing at the time which direction it would lead him. With over 40 years on the airwaves under his belt, the Chicago native has evolved into one of the most iconic television personalities of his time. Whether he's doling out prizes or simply allowing a viewer 30 minutes of sweet escape from their day-to-day lives, he has truly become a staple in the lives of many. Now that the seasoned television host has announced his retirement and spun the wheel one last time, let's take a look back at Pat Sajak's stunning transformation.

Pat Sajak fell in love with broadcast television as a child

Pat Sajak grew up on the west side of Chicago, Illinois, born to two Polish-American parents, who gave him his original surname, "Sajdak" (which he later changed). He lived in an industrial part of town, where his parents made a lower middle-class living and divorced during his youth.

He found his escape through broadcast television at an early age, watching Jack Paar on "The Tonight Show" in the late '50s and early '60s. None of his relatives were associated with show business, yet the future television personality was drawn to the industry nonetheless. "I would sneak out of bed at night, not to go out with the guys or grab a beer, but it was to turn on 'The Tonight Show' and see what Jack was up to," Sajak admitted in a 2012 interview with the Hoover Institution. 

Broadcast television also gave Sajak a more encompassing view of his hometown, one he didn't get the chance to explore much due to his family sticking to his close-knit neighborhood. "I would come home and I would see beauty shots of downtown Chicago and it looked like Oz to me," he recalled. "I got a little older [and] I found out we were like eight minutes from downtown Chicago, but I thought it was the other side of the moon."

Sajak served in the Army

The U.S. Army and "Wheel of Fortune" aren't exactly two things that fit together, unless you're Pat Sajak. Viewers may be surprised to learn that the game show host joined the U.S. Army in 1967 and was later sent to Vietnam during the war. Sajak worked as a DJ for the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, helping entertain the many soldiers and provide them with the latest worldwide news. He was originally trained as a clerk typist, but his communication skills had him transferred to Saigon to work as a disk jockey, the same job he had before enlisting. "The Army can work in mysterious ways," the television host joked in his United Service Organizations blog post, written in 2014.

Sajak recalled feeling privileged during his service, which included staying in a hotel with plenty of nearby establishments. "I used to feel a bit guilty about my relatively 'soft' duty," he wrote. "But I always felt a little better when I met guys who came into town from the field and thanked us for bringing them a little bit of home. I always thought it was strange that they should be thanking me, given what so many of them were going through on a daily basis."

His experience in the Army is something Sajak looks back on proudly, and he carried it with him in his future career. "On 'Wheel of Fortune' my favorite weeks are those which feature military personnel," he shared at the time.

His TV dreams led him to become a weatherman

Before Pat Sajak was spinning wheels and announcing million-dollar prizes, the broadcast television enthusiast was busy during the weather report for local news. After being discharged from the Army in 1970, he accepted a job with NBC's local Nashville station, WSM, where he worked as a DJ on the radio station and sometimes filled in for news anchors on the television channel. When a position needed filling for the station's weekend weatherman, Sajak was chosen for the spot. 

Sajak's colleagues fondly remember him as the one who would crack jokes in the newsroom, and even during segments. Former WSMV4 Sports Director Rudy Kalis recalled one late night at work when Sajak was working as the booth announcer and tried his hand at comedic relief when the camera cut back to him on commercial breaks. "He got so tired of doing it because he would have to be here until midnight, that he would sit in his seat and go further and further and further [down]," Kalis recounted to WSM4. "So, all of the sudden, all you saw was the top of his head, and he said the reason he did that was just to see if management was watching."

Despite the shenanigans, Sajak did so well in Nashville that he eventually turned heads in Los Angeles. He took a weatherman position with the local NBC affiliate, KNBC, in 1977, and even got a fan letter from his former idol Jack Paar, who had become one of his viewers at the time.

Sajak's chops landed him the Wheel of Fortune

While working the weather report in Los Angeles, Pat Sajak caught the attention of Merv Griffin, the man behind "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune." When the latter needed a replacement after its original host, Chuck Woolery, left the show in 1981, Griffin put in a good word for Sajak to NBC studio heads, and he ended up taking Woolery's former spot.

"Wheel of Fortune" involved taking different contestants through word puzzles and hangman-like games to score cash prizes, trips, new cars, and more. To determine which prizes were given to a contestant, a wheel of fortune was spun throughout the segment. While the 30-minute game show was first broadcast for daytime television, it eventually was added to nighttime syndication as well, airing right before "Jeopardy!," with the two shows gaining enormous popularity.

Sajak attracted an enormous fanbase, and hosting the show led to several other gigs on television. He was one of the Macy's Day Thanksgiving Parade cohosts from 1984 to 1986, and also hosted "The Pat Sajak Show" in 1989, where he got the opportunity to interview Jack Paar. In the '90s, he used his platform to create his own broadcasting corporation, Sajak Broadcasting Corporation, where he licensed local radio stations, like the ones he worked at in his youth as a disc jockey.

He became real life friends with his co-host, Vanna White

Vanna White joined forces with Pat Sajak as his "Wheel of Fortune" co-host in 1982. While they have become one of the most-loved television duos of all time, their relationship wasn't always seamless. When White made her debut, Sajak didn't expect her to last long, admittingly misjudging her from the start.

"I thought Vanna was a terrible choice," Sajak said in an interview (via the Television Academy Foundation), adding that she was incredibly nervous when trying out for the gig. Eventually, White proved Sajak wrong and got more and more comfortable on air. The two co-hosts began to have an incredible friendship on and off screen, going on to be part of each others' lives for the next 40 years. "Believe it or not, Pat Sajak and I have only had one argument in 36 years and that was over putting ketchup on a hot dog," White told Fox News in 2019.

While the two may have jokingly leaned into romance rumors over the years, they've also shot them down. "We get along real well now, and there's no point in pushing that," Sajak said in a 2007 interview (via the Television Academy Foundation). White shared just how in sync they are in 2023, telling Good Morning America, "How do you describe being with someone for 41 years that you love and adore? I know everything about him, I know when he walks in, when he's walking up the stairs, if he's in a good mood or a bad mood."

Sajak has been married twice

Pat Sajak met his first wife, Sherrill, in 1978, and they tied the knot a year later. The two ultimately divorced in 1986 and went their respective ways, with Sherrill leading a seemingly private life since her days with Sajak.

The former "Wheel of Fortune" host met his second wife, Lesly Brown, in 1988 after meeting through friends in common. Despite their 19-year age difference, the two quickly struck up a friendship, which turned into a romance. Brown admitted that her participation in a reality dating show festered some harbored feelings in the game show host. "There was definitely borderline jealousy. That was good," she shared with People, with Sajak adding, "I knew she was the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with." A year after their first meeting, the two tied the knot.

Brown is no stranger to show business, either, and she even posed for the likes of Playboy in the late '80s. She also has a similar interest in television to her husband and had already received her bachelor's degree in television production from the University of Maryland before meeting him. While Brown has had a few guest spots on "Wheel of Fortune," she's happy to take a back seat to her husband's bustling career. After raising her and Sajak's two children, their son, Patrick, and their daughter, Maggie, Brown went on to work as a professional photographer.

His children were featured on Wheel of Fortune

Pat Sajak and Lesly Brown welcomed their first child, Patrick, in 1990, followed by their daughter, Maggie, in 1995. Ever since their births, Sajak has brought them along, featuring them on the show or taking them to visit the set throughout their childhood. While America may have fallen in love with Sajak as a game show host, he made it a point to brag about his kids on "Wheel of Fortune" in the years to come.

When Patrick graduated from medical school in 2021, Sajak made it a point to congratulate him on the show. "Do you mind if I do a little parental bragging here?" he asked Vanna White, before adding, "So you know my son, Patrick, you've known him all his life. He's made it through medical school, and he is now officially Dr. Sajak, and we're very thrilled about that."

Maggie became a big part of the "Wheel of Fortune" family as well, and even took on White's job as co-host while her father underwent surgery in 2019. In 2021, she assumed the role of social correspondent for the game show, after which she graduated from Princeton, attended Columbia for a post-grad program, and earned a Georgetown University law degree. She looks back on her childhood days at "Wheel of Fortune" with fondness, posting an Instagram photo of her father walking her around on set as a toddler, writing, "Happy birthday to my dad! Thanks for leading me through life."

Sajak had emergency surgery after an intestinal blockage

Pat Sajak underwent emergency surgery in 2019 after a morning walk had him doubling over in pain. The game show host recounted the experience to Good Morning America, discussing how an intestinal blockage led to his operation.

"I had this horrific pain in my stomach," Sajak recalled, adding that "within two and a half hours I was in surgery. I mean, it was that quick and intense." The host revealed that a blocked intestine led to a sharp decrease in his blood pressure, which could have become fatal had he not gone in for surgery so quickly. The scary incident had Sajak missing work for the first time in 40 years, with his co-host Vanna White stepping in for him and his daughter, Maggie, manning the letter board. 

Sajak remembered his medically induced daze, telling Good Morning America, "In the background, I could hear my wife and daughter talking. It sounded like they were a mile off, but they were right next to me," he said. "They were talking to each other. And I remember thinking, not in a morbid way, 'I think this must be death. This must be what death is like.'" Thankfully, the game show host made a full recovery and was back on the show after taking a month off to recover. "I'm as good or bad as new, and that's great," he joked at the time. "I still have my wits about me. They didn't remove that, so I'll be selling vowels for a long time."

Pat Sajak announced his retirement after 41 years of hosting

After snagging the Guinness World Records title for the longest-running host of a single game show, Pat Sajak announced his retirement after 41 years with "Wheel of Fortune." He relayed the news on X, formerly known as Twitter, in 2023, writing, "Well, the time has come. I've decided that our 41st season, which begins in September, will be my last. It's been a wonderful ride, and I'll have more to say in the coming months. Many thanks to you all."

Sajak's final episode on the show in 2024 was filled with emotions, including Vanna White's tearful goodbye to her long-time colleague. "You made me who I am, you really did," White gushed. "You're like a brother to me, and I consider you a true lifelong friend," she added. 

While Sajak will no longer tell new contestants to "spin that wheel," he has thousands of heartfelt memories with the people he encountered and the lives he changed throughout his career. During his final episode, the game show host admitted he joined the show with intentions of it being a carefree 30 minutes of "family fun," but never imagined the true impact it would have. "Gradually it became more than that: a place where kids learn their letters, where people from other countries hone their English skills, where families came together along with friends and neighbors and entire generations," he shared. "What an honor to have played even a small part in all that. Thank you for allowing me into your lives."

What's next for Pat Sajak?

Pat Sajak won't be making his nightly run on "Wheel of Fortune" anymore, meaning he's got a lot of free time in the future. The former "Wheel of Fortune" host sat down with his daughter, Maggie, for an interview about what's next, saying he's open to whatever life throws at him, especially if it means his family could be expanding. "I'm perfectly happy if it just means that I'll continue with my crossword puzzles and play with grandchildren," he joked to Maggie. "Hint, hint, hint, no pressure." As for whether or not he's officially retired, the door isn't exactly closed. "For me to do anything else it would have to be something special," he clarified. 

While Sajak hung up his hosting hat, Vanna White extended her contract with the show, and she will continue at the letter board in his absence. Ryan Seacrest is slated to take over as host, with his inaugural season beginning in September 2024. The "American Idol" host took to Instagram following Sajak's farewell, posting a photo of himself along with him and Vanna White in a tribute. "Pat, congratulations on an incredible run with Wheel of Fortune! Your dedication, charm, and wit have made the show a beloved part of American television for decades," he said, adding, "Your partnership with Vanna has been nothing short of iconic, and together, you've created countless wonderful memories for viewers."