Charles John "Charlie" O'Donnell (August 12, 1932 - November 1, 2010) was the longtime announcer on Wheel of Fortune, beginning with the 1974 pilots. Charlie was the second person to ever hold this role, and the first to do so under its more familiar title (Mike Lawrence handled these duties on the 1973 pilot, Shopper's Bazaar).
O'Donnell continued with the show until August 1, 1980, leaving it in wake of the show's announced-then-retracted cancellation. After this, Jack Clark announced the majority of episodes until he left due to declining health in May 1988, with M. G. Kelly taking over around July or August. While Charlie temporarily returned to fill in on both versions around May 1988 (alternating in this role with Johnny Gilbert), he did not return permanently until February 20, 1989, where he remained until shortly before his death.
In his career, O'Donnell missed only two weeks of episodes: the weeks of November 27 and December 4, 1995. During this time, Johnny Gilbert filled in.
Charlie had several trademarks, most notably by drawing out the word "Wheel" when introducing the show, and starting in the early 2000s, drawing out the word "thousand" whenever someone won cash in the Bonus Round. Starting around 1989, his delivery became much deeper and more relaxed than it had been previously.
For much of Season 10, at least some of Charlie's intros were pre-recorded. It is not known why this was done.
Charlie appeared on-camera several times, the earliest known instance being as Santa Claus on Christmas Day 1978 (an episode which also had appearances by Jo Ann Pflug and Chuck Woolery's daughter Melissa). Charlie also appeared on a 1994 episode where his name was the answer to the Speed-Up puzzle, the June 5, 1998 episode, the ceremonial 3,000th nighttime show (where he was shown on-camera introducing Pat and Vanna), the Christmas Day 2000 episode (wishing viewers a happy holiday at the end of the credits), the ceremonial 4,000th nighttime episode (appearing with most of the cast and crew towards the end), and many Christmas Week shows in the late 2000s.
O'Donnell also did announcing work on various video game versions of Wheel, plus the CD-i version of Jeopardy! in which he also read all of the game's clues in Johnny Gilbert's place. His last Wheel game was the 2010 Wii version, released the day after his death.
He also did a promo for the University Games board game "Can You Beat Ken?", based on Jeopardy!'s 74-game mega-champion, Ken Jennings.
"Are you brain-dead?! I'm your announcer!"
Charlie held permanent announcing duties on American Bandstand (1958-68), The Cheap Show (1978-79), (Celebrity) Bullseye (1981-82), The Joker's Wild (1981-86), Tic-Tac-Dough (1981-86), (Celebrity) Hot Potato (1984), The $100,000 Pyramid (1985-1988), The Big Spin (1985), Wordplay (1986-87), The New Newlywed Game (1987-89), The All-New Dating Game (1987-89), The Gong Show (1988-89), Merv Griffin's adaptation of Monopoly (1990), Burt Luddin's Love Buffet (1999-2000), and various other shows. He also played a game of Dating in early 1988 (it was during this appearance that he uttered the above quote).
O'Donnell also filled in on The $25,000 Pyramid, Trivia Trap, Press Your Luck, Card Sharks, and To Tell the Truth (1990-91).
Charlie was also a main news anchor on KCOP from about 1975-84, also hosting the station's Dialing For Dollars. He appeared in either this role, announcer, or reporter on various shows and films, including the 1966-68 Batman (specifically, the November 10, 1966 episode "Deep Freeze").
In the tribute for him on November 5, 2010; it was mentioned that he also did announcing work for various other events such as the Academy Awards, and was Dick Clark's partner and sidekick on American Bandstand (Clark himself died on April 18, 2012); a photo of a younger Charlie next to Clark was included in the tribute.
He often subbed for Ernie Anderson in a few episodes of the first season of America's Funniest Home Videos.
Charlie married his high-school sweetheart, Mary Jane, in 1952. They remained together until her death in 1984, just before he left KCOP, of ovarian cancer (18 months after being diagnosed). He then met Ellen Lerner during the same year, and the two married on May 7, 1989; they remained together until his death.
Charlie died on November 1, 2010. Shortly before his death, Gilbert was brought in as a last-minute replacement for the weeks of November 1 and 15. Beginning on November 22, five different guest announcers filled in for the rest of Season 28: Lora Cain, Joe Cipriano, John Cramer, Rich Fields, and Jim Thornton. Thornton was chosen as the new permanent announcer in June 2011.
At the time of Charlie's death, he had recorded another eight weeks that had not yet aired: November 8, 22, and 29; December 20 and 27; January 3; February 7; and March 28. Despite this and a tribute on November 5, he was dubbed over with guest announcers on all of the aforementioned episodes. The show claimed that it was "a tough decision, but it would have been too sad to hear Charlie's voice so close to his death", although it has been speculated that this was actually done instead to keep the appearance of taping in airing order.
Despite a similar approach with the Summer 2011 reruns, using Jim to dub over the other tryouts, Charlie's announcing remained intact on all repeats from the first two months of the season, as well as the weekend repeats of Season 27. However, the replacement promotional plugs and SPIN IDs were recorded by two different female announcers: Sarah Whitcomb (Foss) and Kelly Miyahara of Jeopardy!'s Clue Crew.
On July 30, 2011, Charlie's friends and family gathered at Sony to celebrate his life and longevity; this included a lengthy tribute video produced by Wheel director Mark Corwin and narrated by Randy West which contained a great many clips from Charlie's long career. It is not known just what the tribute contained, however, as it has not been released to the public.