Wheel of Fortune being associated with someone other than Vanna White or Pat Sajak? We know. It isn’t easy to comprehend. Nonetheless, the legacy of Susan Stafford is undeniable. Today marks the anniversary of the last time Stafford ever turned a letter on the iconic game show in 1982.
For those who aren’t familiar with Vanna White’s predecessor, Susan Stafford co-hosted Wheel of Fortune alongside Chuck Woolery from 1975 to 1981 when Pat Sajak replaced Woolery. In 1982, after a short stint hosting with Sajak, Susan Stafford made a tough decision. By her own choice, she announced that she’d be leaving Wheel of Fortune.
Why? Good question. Stafford felt unfulfilled by the work. At least, that’s the impression she gave during an interview in the late 1980s.
“I mean, for seven years I stood there and turned letters. I had to ask myself if that was any way for a grown woman to live her life,” Stafford told the Chicago Tribune in 1987. “No, I like myself too much for that. Do I miss the money? You bet I do.”
Say what you will about her decision to walk away from Wheel of Fortune; it was a selfless choice. She left TV to pursue a career in the medical field caring for cancer patients. According to her website, she went to school, earning an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University and later a Ph.D. in the same field from Pacific Western University.
Susan Stafford Documented Her ‘Wheel of Fortune’ Experience in a Book
Susan Stafford’s bosses at Wheel of Fortune had trouble believing her desire to leave the show. She was one of the highest-paid women on TV, after all. But by the time she told them of her plans, she had already made up her mind.
In 2010, Susan Stafford published a book titled Stop the Wheel, I Want to Get Off! In it, she explains her decision to leave Wheel of Fortune in depth. And there is actually quite a bit to take away from her experience.
“I was given a lot of attention as one of the highest-paid game show ladies; however, the recognition was only good for so long. I learned to be all things to all people to such an extent that I pushed the ‘real me’ down. It’s like when a wastepaper basket is already full, and we keep stuffing the paper down instead of emptying and starting fresh. That’s a good example of what I was doing. I needed a fresh start,” Stafford writes in the book.
Even fellow game show legend and late Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek had some kind words to offer for Stafford’s book.
“Getting Wheel of Fortune was a big break for Susan. When she left Wheel to devote herself to charitable endeavors, it was a big break for those in need,” said Trebek.