Why Pat Sajak Almost Didn’t Become ‘The Wheel of Fortune’ Host

Pat Sajak is one of television’s most iconic figures. For decades, he has hosted the hugely popular reality TV game show Wheel of Fortune, along with his co-host, the charming Vanna White.

He has won many awards and honors over the years, but one of the biggest gauges of his success has been the warm way that fans continue to respond to Sajak.

Thousands of viewers have grown up watching Sajak on TV over the years, and many cannot imagine the television landscape without the host. Still, there was a time when Sajak wasn’t the top pick for Wheel of Fortune — and he very nearly lost out on the job of a lifetime. 

How old is Pat Sajak?

Pat Sajak on the red carpet
Pat Sajak | Mike Pont/Getty Images

Pat Sajak was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1946. Sajak was raised by working-class parents, including a father that was a factory worker. Sajak was exposed to tragedy at an early age, losing his father when he was very young. After Sajak graduated from high school in 1964, he entered the workforce, taking a job as a hotel desk clerk all while taking college courses.

Sajak served in the Vietnam War as a radio disc jockey, putting his years as a teen DJ to good use. After leaving the military, Sajak continued to work in media and broadcasting, working as a radio announcer all throughout the early seventies. In 1977, Sajak’s focus shifted slightly when he took a job as a weatherman for a TV station in Los Angeles.

The job gave Sajak the exposure he hadn’t received as a DJ and radio host, and he began catching the attention of prominent producers. 

Pat Sajak almost missed the chance to host ‘Wheel of Fortune’

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By the early ’80s, television game shows had started to become wildly popular, and one show, in particular, had started to stand out. Wheel of Fortune first debuted in 1975, the brainchild of Merv Griffin.

The syndicated game show had gone through several hosts over the years, and in 1980, Griffin was on the lookout for the perfect person to host the beloved show. Griffin noticed Sajak when he was working as a television weatherman, and believed that Sajak’s outgoing and effusive personality was perfect for the gig.

Griffin approached Sajak about the job, and he was receptive to the offer — however, Fred Silverman, the then-CEO of NBC, wasn’t Sajak’s biggest fan at first. In fact, according to Good Housekeeping, he reportedly flat-out rejected Sajak for the job, saying that the candidate was “too local” to work as the host of a nationally syndicated game show.

Ironically enough, Silverman lost his job shortly after rejecting Sajak, and Griffin was able to hire Sajak for the role of host. 

Pat Sajak is a television icon

Ever since initially getting hired in 1981, Pat Sajak has been the face of Wheel of Fortune. He probably never could have foreseen how popular he would become after accepting the role, and he has since gone down in pop culture history. Sajak has been spoofed on cartoons and late-night talk shows and has been mimicked by many top comedians. 

Throughout all of his fame and fortune, Sajak has remained grounded. He is happily married with two children and has rarely been involved in any sort of tabloid scandal or crisis. He is also still a workhorse and has only notably missed filming on one major occasion when he had to undergo major surgery in late 2019.

Fortunately, Sajak had people, like Merv Griffin, who believed in him from the very beginning.