April 6, 1998 – Wendy Orlean Williams was born 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 sun bathing nude. Williams attended R. L. Thomas High School in Webster at least partway through the tenth 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.
After she left home at the age of sixteen, Williams hitchhiked her way to Colorado, earning money by crocheting string bikinis. She later traveled to Florida and Europe landing various jobs such as lifeguard, stripper and server at Dunkin’ Donuts. She also worked as a macrobiotic cook in London and as a dancer with a gypsy dance troupe. Around that time, she got arrested multiple times, for shoplifting and passing counterfeit money.
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. 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.
Dubbed “The Queen of Shock Rock,” widely considered the most controversial and radical female singer of her day. As lead singer with the punk band the Plasmatics, she is known for songs such as “Corruption”, “Living Dead”, and “Butcher Baby”.
In 1984, as a solo artist, 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.
Her stage theatrics included blowing up equipment, near nudity and chain-sawing guitars. and often sported a Mohawk haircut. Wendy was nominated in 1985 for a Grammy in the Best Female Rock Vocal Performance category during the height of her popularity as a solo artist.
In that same year Wendy 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 3 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!
In 1987, she 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.”
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
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. She explained this move by saying that she “was pretty fed up dealing with people.”
Despite her reputation as a fearsome performer, Williams in her personal life was deeply devoted to the welfare of animals, a passion that included a vegetarian diet, working as a wildlife rehabilitator and being a natural foods activist. In one TV talk show appearance on KPIX’s The Morning Show, she accused Debbi Fields (of “Mrs. Fields” cookies) of being “no better than a heroin pusher” for using so much processed white sugar in her products.
Wendy died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on 6 April 1998 in a wooded area near her home. She had first attempted suicide in 1993 by hammering a knife into her chest; the knife lodged in her sternum and she changed her mind; she attempted suicide again in 1997 with an overdose of ephedrine. She was almost 49 years old.
This is what she is said to have written 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.