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The Wheel of For­tune

beauty talks to Closer about hard times and how she learned to never give up.

“It warms my heart and makes me so happy to be able to give back.”

— Vanna, to Closer

For­tune hasn’t al­ways smiled on Vanna White. Shortly af­ter she moved from Myr­tle Beach, S.C., to Hol­ly­wood seek­ing star­dom in 1980, her beloved mother, Joan Rosich, died of can­cer. “That was dev­as­tat­ing to me,” Vanna re­calls to Closer. “But it gave me the strength to prove that her sup­port was go­ing to help me achieve my goal.”

She soon landed a job as the let­ter­turner on Wheel of For­tune, and more than 35 years later, she re­mains a pop icon in that role. “You turn on the TV to­day, and ev­ery­thing is so neg­a­tive,” Vanna says. “It’s nice to have 30 min­utes of fun with Wheel of For­tune.”

Vanna, 61, has suf­fered more than her share of losses over the years. In 1986, her fi­ancé, soap-opera ac­tor John Gib­son, died in a plane crash. “I was at the pin­na­cle of Vanna-ma­nia when this trag­i­cally hap­pened,” she re­mem­bers. “The sup­port I got from my fans was so tremen­dous that it made me feel like I wasn’t alone.”

Then in 1992, Vanna (who was mar­ried to Ge­orge Santo Pi­etro at the time) suf­fered a mis­car­riage af­ter an­nounc­ing her preg­nancy on an episode of Wheel. “I was so ready to be a mother,” she says. “I don’t know how you de­scribe that loss.”

It’s at mo­ments like these that Vanna re­mem­bers the great­est ad­vice her mother gave her. “Never give up, no mat­ter what,” she shares. “Fol­low your heart and fol­low your dream. And that’s what I did.”

Vanna went on to have son Niko in 1994 and daugh­ter Gigi three years later. "When they were younger, they were able to travel with me or come to the show,” she says. “I thank God ev­ery day for all that He has given me.”


The ever-grate­ful Vanna has al­ways made a point to give back, most re­cently do­nat­ing $2 mil­lion from the sales of her Lion Brand Yarn line to the St. Jude Chil­dren’s Re­search Hos­pi­tal in Mem­phis, Tenn. “I re­mem­ber when I first started 10 years ago, I thought, Wouldn’t it be great if we reached a mil­lion dol­lars?” she says. “And here we are at $2 mil­lion!”

A life­long knit­ter and cro­cheter, Vanna of­ten makes blan­kets for the ba­bies of Wheel of For­tune crew mem­bers. “I love it, and it’s ther­a­peu­tic,” she says of her hobby. “I’ve al­ways got a project I’m work­ing on.”

Now that her kids are grown and she’s got an empty nest, Vanna has more time to fo­cus on her­self — and her re­la­tion­ship with John Donaldson, her boyfriend since 2012. “Will we get mar­ried? I don’t know,” she re­veals. “At this point, I feel like I am mar­ried. Ev­ery­thing is so good, there’s no rea­son to change any­thing.”

That sen­ti­ment goes for her work on Wheel as well. “I love my job, and I can’t imag­ine not do­ing it,” she says. (In fact, Vanna and Pat Sa­jak just re­newed their con­tracts through 2022.)

Through all of life’s ups and downs, it seems Vanna has fi­nally solved the puz­zle of how to stay strong and find last­ing hap­pi­ness. “We’re faced with a lot of pos­i­tives and neg­a­tives, and we have to ac­cept them and do what­ever we can to get through it,” she says. “It’s like if you break an arm — it takes time, but it does heal.”

In the end, “Life is not per­fect — just try to make the best of it,” says Vanna. “Be strong, be kind to peo­ple and be happy.” — Bruce Fretts, with re­port­ing

by Amanda Cham­pagne-Mead­ows

Vanna do­nated $2 mil­lion of the pro­ceeds from her yarn line to help the pa­tients at St. Jude Chil­dren’s Re­search Hos­pi­talin Mem­phis.

“Both my par­ents were so sup­port­ive,” says Vanna with her dad, mom and brother.“My world came crash­ing down,” says Vanna of fi­ancé JohnGib­son’s 1986 death. Vanna says she’s only fought with Pat once — when she put ketchup on a hot dog!Vanna with her son, Niko, daugh­ter Gigi and boyfriend ofseven years John Donaldson

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