Wendy O. Williams

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Wendy O. Williams
Plasmatics 1979, promo shot.jpg
Williams in 1979
Wendy Orlean Williams

(1949-05-28)May 28, 1949
DiedApril 6, 1998(1998-04-06) (aged 48)
Cause of deathSuicide by gunshot
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • actress
Musical career
  • Vocals
  • saxophone
  • clarinet
Years active1978–1990
Associated actsPlasmatics, Motörhead
Wendy O. Williams signature.png

Wendy Orlean Williams (May 28, 1949 – April 6, 1998) was an American singer, songwriter and actress. Born in Webster, New York, she came to prominence as the lead singer of the punk rock band Plasmatics. Her stage theatrics included partial nudity, blowing up equipment, and chain-sawing guitars.

After leaving home at 16, Williams hitchhiked to Colorado, earning money by crocheting string bikinis. She traveled to Florida and Europe landing various jobs such as lifeguard, stripper and server at Dunkin' Donuts. When she arrived in New York City in 1976, she began performing in live sex shows, and appeared in the 1979 adult film Candy Goes to Hollywood. That year, she was approached by manager Rod Swenson, who recruited her to the Plasmatics. The band shortly became known on the New York City underground scene, performing at clubs such as CBGB.

After releasing three albums with Plasmatics, Williams embarked on a solo career and in 1984 released her debut album, WOW. She followed with the albums Kommander of Kaos (1986) and Deffest! and Baddest! (1988), before she retired from the music industry. Williams made her screen debut in Tom DeSimone's film Reform School Girls (1986), for which she recorded the title song. She also appeared in the 1989 comedy Pucker Up and Bark Like a Dog, and television series The New Adventures of Beans Baxter and MacGyver. On April 6, 1998, Williams died from suicide near her home in Storrs, Connecticut.

Dubbed the "Queen of Shock Rock," Williams was considered the most controversial and radical female singer of her time. Performing her own stunts in videos, she often sported a Mohawk hairstyle. In 1985, during the height of her popularity as a solo artist, she was nominated for a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.

Life and career[edit]

1949–76: Early life[edit]

Williams was born to Robert F. Williams, a chemist at Eastman Kodak,[1] and Audrey Stauber Williams (1921–2008) on May 28, 1949 in Webster, New York. She studied clarinet at the Community Music School program of the University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music, and later was a clarinetist in her high school's concert band. At the age of six, she appeared tap-dancing on the Howdy Doody show as a member of the "Peanut Gallery."

She had her first run-in with the law at the age of 15, when she was arrested for sunbathing nude.[1] Williams attended R. L. Thomas High School in Webster at least partway through the 10th grade, but left school before graduating. Her schoolmates and teachers recalled Williams as a "shy and pretty girl, an average student who played in the junior high band, paid attention to her hair and clothes, and who spoke so softly you had to lean toward her to hear her."[2]

At the age of 16, Williams left her home and hitchhiked to Colorado where she earned money by selling crocheted string bikinis.[3][4] Afterwards, she headed for Florida working as a lifeguard and then to Europe, where she worked as a macrobiotic cook in London and as a dancer with a gypsy dance troupe.[5] Around that time, she was arrested on multiple occasions for shoplifting and passing counterfeit money.[1]

In 1976, Williams arrived in New York City, where she saw an ad in the Show Business magazine that lay open on the Port Authority Bus Terminal station floor. It was a casting call for radical artist and Yale University graduate Rod Swenson's experimental "Captain Kink's Theatre." She replied to the ad and began performing in live sex shows.[1] She later appeared in Gail Palmer's adult film, Candy Goes to Hollywood (1979), credited as Wendy Williams. She was featured as a performer on a parody of The Gong Show shooting ping pong balls across the set from her vagina.

1977–83: Plasmatics[edit]

By 1977, Swenson became Williams' manager and recruited her to join his newly formed punk rock band, Plasmatics. They made their debut in July 1978 at the Manhattan music club CBGB.[1] The Plasmatics toured the world, although a concert in London was cancelled by the promoters due to safety reasons, causing the press to dub the band "anarchists." During the shooting of an appearance on SCTV in 1981, studio heads decided they would not air Williams' performance unless she changed out of a costume that revealed her nipples. Williams refused. The show's make-up artists found a compromise and painted her breasts black.

In January 1981, Milwaukee, Wisconsin police arrested Williams for simulating masturbation on stage, and charged with battery to an officer and obscene conduct. She was cleared of all charges. Later that year in Cleveland, Ohio, Williams was acquitted of an obscenity charge for simulating sex on stage wearing only shaving cream; she subsequently covered her nipples with electrical tape to avoid arrest.[6][7] In November, an Illinois judge sentenced her to one year supervision and fined her $35 for attacking a freelance photographer who tried to take her picture as she jogged along the Chicago lakefront.

1984–86: Solo career, WOW and Kommander of Kaos[edit]

Williams recorded a duet of the country hit "Stand by Your Man" with Lemmy of Motörhead in 1982.[8] In 1984, she released the W.O.W. album, produced by Gene Simmons of Kiss. Kiss members Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, Eric Carr, and Vinnie Vincent also perform on the album. Gene Simmons plays bass but is credited as Reginald Van Helsing.[9][10] In 1985 Williams starred in The Rocky Horror Show at the Westport Playhouse in St. Louis. The show played for over six months, but a nationwide tour fell through.

In 1986, she starred in Tom DeSimone's indie-film Reform School Girls. Neither she nor manager Rod Swenson liked the film when it came out, but at this point the producers had heard Kommander of Kaos (her second solo album) and wanted to include three tracks from the album in the movie score. They approached Rod about producing the title track for the film and having Wendy sing it. The band reluctantly agreed to do it. Uncle Brian from the Broc joined Rod as co-producer and also played sax. He also appeared in the video that the film company had asked Rod to produce and direct, playing the sax and wearing a tutu.

1987–90: Reunion with Plasmatics and Deffest! and Baddest![edit]

In 1987, Williams starred as the part-time friend/enemy in the underground spy world to the title character on Fox's The New Adventures of Beans Baxter. The Plasmatics' last tour was in late 1988. Williams appeared in Pucker Up and Bark Like a Dog, directed by Paul S. Parco, in 1990.

In 1988, Wendy put out another solo album, this time a "thrash rap" album called Deffest! and Baddest! under the name "Ultrafly and the Hometown Girls."[11]

Wendy's last known performance of a Plasmatics song occurred due to the prompting of Joey Ramone. She performed "Masterplan" one final time with Richie Stotts, when Richie's band opened for the Ramones on New Year's Eve, 1988.[12]

1991–98: Retirement and final years[edit]

In 1991, Williams moved to Storrs, Connecticut, where she lived with her long-time companion and former manager, Rod Swenson, and worked as an animal rehabilitator and at a food co-op in Willimantic.[13] She explained her move by saying that she "was pretty fed up dealing with people."[14]


Williams first attempted suicide in 1993 by hammering a knife into her chest where it lodged in her sternum. However, she changed her mind and called Rod Swenson to take her to the hospital.[6] She attempted suicide again in 1997 with an overdose of ephedrine.[6]

Williams died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on April 6, 1998, when she was 48. Swenson, her partner for more than 20 years, returned to their home in the area where they had lived since moving to Connecticut from New York City. He found a package she left for him that contained some noodles he liked, a packet of seeds for growing garden greens, some Oriental massage balm, and sealed letters from her.

The suicide letters, which included a "living will" denying life support, a love letter to Swenson and various lists of things to do, caused Swenson to begin searching the woods for her. After about an hour, as dusk fell, he found her body in a wooded area with a pistol lying on the ground nearby. "Wendy's act was not an irrational in-the-moment act," he said; for four years she had contemplated suicide. Swenson reportedly described her as "despondent" at the time of her death.[15] This is what she reportedly wrote[16] in a suicide note regarding her decision:

I don't believe that people should take their own lives without deep and thoughtful reflection over a considerable period of time. I do believe strongly, however, that the right to do so is one of the most fundamental rights that anyone in a free society should have. For me, much of the world makes no sense, but my feelings about what I am doing ring loud and clear to an inner ear and a place where there is no self, only calm.

Joey Ramone and many others issued statements at the time of her death. On Motörhead's 1999 live album Everything Louder Than Everyone Else, before the song "No Class," Motörhead vocalist Lemmy said that he wanted to dedicate the song to her.[17]

A memorial was held at CBGB on May 18.[18] Several of Wendy's former Plasmatics co-members (Chosei Funahara, Richie Stotts, Wes Beech, Stu Deutsch, Jean Beauvoir and TC Tolliver) played a six-song set with four of them handling the vocals.[19][20]



In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Strauss, Neil (April 9, 1998). "Wendy O. Williams, 48, Star Of Explosive Punk Rock Act". The New York Times. Retrieved on March 22, 2015.
  2. ^ Wallace, Carol (July 25, 1983). "Wendy O. Williams", People, Vol. 20, No. 4. Retrieved on March 22, 2015.
  3. ^ Petrucelli, Alan W. (2009). Morbid Curiosity: The Disturbing Demises of the Famous and Infamous. New York: Penguin Group. p. 137. ISBN 9781101140499.
  4. ^ Thomson, Liz, ed. (1982). New Women in Rock. New York: Delilah/Putnam. p. 58. ISBN 9780399410031.
  5. ^ Dauphin, Edouard; Star, Butch (1982). Plasmatics: Your Heart In Your Mouth! (The First Four years). Raging Rhino Entertainment. p. 8. OCLC 836602136.
  6. ^ a b c Williams, Joy (September 1998). "The Love Song of Wendy O. Williams". Spin. 14 (9). pp. 134–138.
  7. ^ Sawyer, Terry (29 May 2007). "Plasmatics: Wendy O. Williams and The Plasmatics: The DVD – Ten Years of Revolutionary Rock and Roll". PopMatters.
  8. ^ "Lemmy & Wendy "Stand By Your Man" + Lyrics". YouTube. Retrieved 2014-08-04.
  9. ^ "Plasmatics and Wendy O, Williams Official Website". Plasmatics.com. Retrieved 2014-08-04.
  10. ^ "Wendy O.Williams (Featuring Ace Frehley) – Bump & Grind". YouTube. Retrieved 2014-08-04.
  11. ^ "Plasmatics and Wendy O. Williams Official Website". Plasmatics.com. Retrieved 2014-08-04.
  12. ^ Thomas S. Orwat, Jr. "The Shock Rock Giant: Interview with Richie Stotts". GlamMetal.com. GlamMetal.com. Archived from the original on 2008-06-24. Retrieved 2012-04-30.
  13. ^ Catlin, Roger. "In Woods, A Shooting Star Finally Burns Out". Hartford Courant.
  14. ^ Keedle, Jayne. "Wendy O., We Hardly Knew You". Hartford Advocate. Archived from the original on 5 December 1998. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  15. ^ "Former Punk-Band Singer Wendy O. Williams Dies". The Columbian. 9 April 1998. Archived from the original on 1 December 2017.
  16. ^ "Obituaries". Plasmatics & Wendy O. Williams Unofficial Website. Retrieved 30 April 2012.
  17. ^ Lemmy Describes Everything Louder. Roughedge.com (2002-08-27). Retrieved on 2012-04-30.
  18. ^ Wendy O. Williams : Memorial For Plasmatics' Wendy O. Williams Held At CBGB's – Rhapsody Music Downloads. VH1.com. Retrieved on 2012-04-30.
  19. ^ Skid, Bill. "Remembering Wendy". Plasmatics & Wendy O. Williams Unofficial Website. Retrieved 30 April 2012.
  20. ^ Catlin, Roger (20 May 1998). "A Fitting Farewell For Williams From The Plasmatics". Hartford Courant.
  21. ^ "How A Mario Character Was Named After Motorhead's Lemmy". kotaku.com. Retrieved 2015-12-29.

External links[edit]