Vanna White Opens up About Pat Sajak’s Retirement & 42 Years of Memories

The alphabet hasn’t been the same since Vanna White started flipping letters to reveal puzzle answers on Wheel of Fortune in 1982. With her wholesome good looks, sparkling smile and movie star wardrobe, White winningly combines girl-next-door charm and Hollywood glamour. She’s a darn good cheerleader too! It’s made her an American icon.

On the eve of taping the final show with retiring longtime host Pat Sajak, she shared memories and mused on what’s next.

Do you remember your first day on Wheel?

Vanna White: I remember being extremely nervous. It was hard for me to even talk. My mouth was just shaking out of nerves because it was, “I can’t believe this is happening. I’m on a TV show.”

What got you through it?

Pat. [He said,] “Calm down, it’s going to be OK.” I was just a little old girl from North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, wanting to be on TV from the time I was 10. He made me feel comfortable in front of a camera. He was my teacher.

How do you feel about his retirement?

I can’t describe how I feel. I feel happy for him. I can’t imagine doing the show without him after 41 years. I sum it up as [like] reading a good book. It always has to end. This has been the best book I’ve ever read.

So what are your fondest memories of Pat?

I don’t think there’s anything [he and I] haven’t talked about in 8,000 shows. We’ve traveled around the world together. We’ve watched our kids grow up together. We’ve thrown pies in each other’s faces. He’s so funny! I love him like a brother. Gosh, I’ve known him longer than I’ve known anybody. We will be friends forever.

Vanna White and Barbie Dolls

DMI / The LIFE Picture Collection / Shutterstock

You are booked on Wheel for another two years at least. How long do you see yourself sticking around?

I don’t know. When I heard that Pat was retiring, I thought maybe I should retire too. But I’m not ready! We’ll see toward the end of those two years how I feel. I thank God after all these years that I still love my job.

Did you ever see this becoming your career?

I never would have thought that this would turn into a 40-plus-year job. I’m happy that I am myself [on the show]. I don’t play a character. I am who I am. It’s a fun show that everybody of all ages enjoys. We give money away!

Have you ever made a mistake?

The puzzle was either “Dr. Spock” or “Mr. Spock.” I turned the “D” or the “M,” I can’t remember. I looked up and it was not the letter that [the contestant] called. But that was the only time.

You’ve had a few product lines: dolls and clothes, and now a yarn, Vanna’s Choice.

Yes, and I donate half my [yarn] proceeds to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I’ve donated, I’m proud to say, over $2 million. It makes me feel so good that I can give back.

What’s your personal style?

What I look like on TV is not what I look like when I show up in the morning to work with no makeup, wet hair, sweats, tennis shoes. They turn me into this glamorous person. When I’m not on TV, I’m very casual. My job is dressing up. That’s the last thing I want to do when I’m not working.

Vanna White with children Nicholas Santopietro and Giovanna Santopietro

Vanna White with children Nicholas Santopietro and Giovanna Santopietro (Jason Merritt / FilmMagic)

You’ve worked with so many celebrities. Do you have a favorite?

When we first started Celebrity Wheel, we had Tony Hawk, a famous skateboarder. When my son was 12 years old — he’s now almost 30 — he went to his skate camp and got a helmet. I asked Tony to sign it. It was very special to me to bring back that family memory. All the celebrities are nice and fun. They have a good time because they’re playing themselves and they’re winning money for their favorite charity. Jack Black was very funny, and Snoop Dogg.

Did you know you’d made it when you got your star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?

When I first moved to Los Angeles in 1980, I walked down Hollywood Boulevard and looked at those stars and I said to myself, “One day, I’m going to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.” So, everybody, follow your dreams. They come true! That’s what that day meant to me: I did it.

You hold the Guinness World Record for most frequent clapper on television.

I’m so proud of that. Mainly because every Christmas I would buy my kids The Guinness Book of World Records. We would look at everything. I’ve been on TV for 41 years — my kids’ whole life. Did they care about that? No. “Mom, you’re in The Guinness Book of World Records!” They were very impressed. That’s what mattered to them.

This is an excerpt from TV Guide Magazine’s Wheel of Fortune: Farewell, Pat Sajak issue. For more inside scoop on the long-running game show and Pat’s final episode, pick up a copy of the issue available on newsstands and for order online at

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