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Inside 'Wheel Of Fortune' Star Vanna White's Personal Tragedies And Scandals That Threatened To Derail Her Career

Jul. 1 2021, Published 12:03 a.m. ET

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For nearly four decades Vanna White has been lighting up living rooms around the world as the bubbly blonde on Wheel of Fortune, but underneath her positive exterior, White has dealt with sadness and heartbreak throughout her life.

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White, who had just landed her dream job on WOF, was suddenly hit with heartache when her then-fiancé was killed in a tragic plane crash.

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Vanna White And Pat Sajak

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“It was May 17, 1986,” White recalled of the day she heard that the plane the Young and the Restless star John Gibson was flying had crashed outside of L.A. “The second I heard about it, I fell to my knees. It was just devastating,” she spilled to PEOPLE.

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Dealing with professional success — WOF was riding high as one of the biggest shows on TV — and struggling with personal tragedy became too much for White, but she explained that the viewers of the beloved game show are what helped her get through the loss of her fiancé.

“I heard from so many people who had shared the same experience of losing someone instantly in an accident, and that really helped me,” she told the outlet. “I didn’t feel like I was alone — because when something like that happens, you immediately think you’re the only one.”

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After picking herself up and looking for love again, White married restaurateur George Santo Pietro in 1990. Tragedy struck the newlyweds two years later when, after she publicly announced she was pregnant with their first child, she sadly miscarried.

“Obviously I lost the baby, which was devastating after announcing it. The good news is I was able to get pregnant again and had two beautiful, healthy children,” she dished, referring to her son Niko, born in 1994, and daughter Gigi, born in 1997. “But losing a child — there’s nothing good about that.”

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White and Pietro eventually called it quits in 2002 after 12 years of marriage.

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All while WOF was sitting on top as America’s game show, White was dealing with scandals that threatened to derail her image as the wholesome girl next door.

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A move by Playboy founder Hugh Hefner sent shockwaves throughout the world and angered White. In 1987, WOF viewers were shocked to see White gracing the cover of Playboy magazine. Inside the issue were some very revealing, seminude photos of the blonde bombshell.

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White was outraged by her presence on the scandalous magazine cover. Turns out, she didn’t agree to appear in the magazine. Hefner had bought some risqué snaps she agreed to pose for in 1982 — prior to her WOF days — when she was in need of a little cash.

According to the Chicago Tribune, she needed to do the shoot to pay for rent when she left her hometown of North Myrtle Beach, S.C., to pursue her acting career in L.A. “When I first moved to Hollywood, I was too embarrassed to ask my dad for rent money. I was young and I wanted to do it on my own,” she said. “So, I did these lingerie shots and from the moment I said I would do them, I thought, ‘I shouldn’t be doing this, but I’m not going to ask my dad for money, so I’m just going to do it!'”

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White sued the magazine, and Hefner personally, for allegedly tarnishing her image. She later dropped both suits.

In 1998, White found herself in court again after she sued tech giant Samsung after the company ran an ad featuring a robotic letter-turner clearly inspired by her WOF persona. White took on the electronics company, claiming intellectual property infringement, and won her case.

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Vanna White And John Donaldson

Throughout scandals and tragedy, White has found love once again with current beau John Donaldson and is ready to make it official after a decade together, according to an insider. "She wants to be married before she turns 65 next February," a source exclusively spilled to OK!, adding that White could tie the knot with the contractor as early as this summer.

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