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Who Hosted Wheel Of Fortune Before Pat Sajak?

On June 12, 2023, "Wheel of Fortune" host Pat Sajak announced via Twitter that he would step down from the long-running game show. In his 40-plus years as host, Sajak has become synonymous with "Wheel of Fortune" itself. He first took up the mantle in 1981 and has since collected 22 Daytime Emmy nominations and three wins.

It's hard to imagine a pre-Sajak era of "Wheel of Fortune," but the series looked much different before Sajak and co-host Vanna White joined in 1981 and 1982, respectively. "Wheel of Fortune" debuted as a daytime show in 1975, led by host Chuck Woolery and presenter Susan Stafford. When Woolery departed in 1981, Sajak took over the daytime and nighttime iterations of the show. In 1989, Sajak left the nighttime slot to accommodate a short-lived late-night show on CBS, and Rolf Benirschke and Bob Goen assumed duties until the program was canceled in 1991. Save a couple odd episodes, like Alex Trebek's April Fool's takeover in 1997, Sajak and White have been the sole hosts ever since.

Chuck Woolery is a career game show host

When late-night host Merv Griffin was developing "Wheel of Fortune," he was no stranger to game shows, having already created Jeopardy in 1964. Griffin enlisted Chuck Woolery — a wannabe Nashville singer — as host after hearing him perform on his show.

After a few years, however, the relationship between Griffin and Woolery soured. When Woolery's contract was up after seven years, the "Wheel of Fortune" host wanted a pay increase to $500,000 a year. NBC agreed, but Griffin threatened to move the series to CBS if they went through with the raise. "I made them an offer that they could refuse," Woolery later joked on "Donahue" in 1989, "and guess what?" In 1981, Sajak took over.

Woolery landed on his feet. In the years since he left "Wheel of Fortune," Woolery has become a career game show host, helming "Love Connection," "The Big Spin," "Scrabble," "The Dating Game," "Greed," and "Lingo," to name a few. He also hosted a number of live stage shows. In 2023, Woolery appeared in two episodes of the ABC documentary series "The Game Show Show."

For Woolery, hosting is a skill that taps into his inherently personable disposition. "What people liked about me on television is that I was natural and myself," he told The Hill in 2012. "I've learned to be at ease, whether I'm doing an interview, on radio or television, and it's easier for me to come across as myself, and people believe me because it's from the heart."