Charlie O’Donnell dies at 78; announcer on ‘Wheel of Fortune’
Charlie O’Donnell, a television announcer best known for his elongated introduction of “Wheeeeeeel of Fortune” during the 28 years that he was the game show’s off-stage voice, has died. He was 78.
O’Donnell, who was also Dick Clark’s early sidekick on TV’s “American Bandstand,” died Monday of natural causes at his home in Sherman Oaks, his family said.
“He quite literally was the voice of ‘Wheel,’” Pat Sajak, the show’s host, told The Times on Tuesday. “He had an old-school style that was a little over the top. It was perfect for the show. We’re a little over the top.”
The announcer joined “Wheel of Fortune” in 1975 and, except for long break in the 1980s, continued to warm up audiences and describe contestant prizes until shortly before he died.
“Charlie started the excitement right from the get-go. It begins when you hear ‘Wheeeeeeel of Fortune’” said O’Donnell’s agent, Fred Wostbrock. “I always joked with him that he said the show’s name like a spinning wheel.”
Born Aug. 12, 1932, in Philadelphia, O’Donnell discovered his calling when he was about 13 and saw an announcer introduce a live radio show, he recalled in a 2004 interview with Don Barrett of LARadio.com.
While working in radio for a Philadelphia station and as a DJ in New York, O’Donnell joined Clark on “American Bandstand” in the late 1950s.
They had known each other for “a long time” before “Bandstand” and “hit it off immediately” on the show, O’Donnell told LARadio.com.
He stayed as the program’s announcer for a decade and followed “Bandstand” to Los Angeles when it moved here in the early 1960s.
In 1964, O’Donnell was a disc jockey on KRLA-AM (1110) when he and his colleagues introduced the Beatles when they played the Hollywood Bowl in a show produced by Bob Eubanks.
As they surveyed “18,000 screaming kids,” his fellow DJs were nervous, O’Donnell told LARadio.com.
“I had experience with live shows,” he said, “but I wasn’t ready for this. Bob Eubanks told me to go out first since I was physically the biggest in case they threw anything. We had no idea what they were going to do.”
Once the Beatles started playing, “it was absolutely hysterical,” O’Donnell said. “It was so loud, but what a night.”
When the Beatles appeared at the Bowl in 1965 and at Dodger Stadium in 1966, O’Donnell also was an announcer.
He went on to work at a number of other local radio stations and in the 1970s anchored an afternoon newscast on KCOP-TV (Channel 13).
On television, he served as an announcer for the Oscars and the Emmys and for more than 15 game shows. They included “The $20,000 Pyramid,” “The Newlywed Game” and “Press Your Luck.”
“He took great pride in what he did,” Sajak said. “He had genuine enthusiasm. Every time he announced that someone had won the money, it sounded like he had won it.”
O’Donnell’s first wife, Jane, died of ovarian cancer in 1984 at 54.
He is survived by his second wife, Ellen, whom he married in 1989; his four children, Dennis, Patricia, Michael and Bridgid, all of Los Angeles; and two grandchildren.
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