Wendy Joan Williams
July 18, 1964
Asbury Park, New Jersey, U.S.
|Other names||Wendy Williams Hunter|
(m. 1999; div. 2020)
Wendy Joan Williams (born July 18, 1964) is an American broadcaster, media personality, businesswoman, writer, and actress. Since 2008, she has hosted the nationally syndicated television talk show The Wendy Williams Show.
Prior to television, Williams was a radio DJ and host and quickly became known in New York as a shock jockette. She gained notoriety for her on-air spats with celebrities and was the subject of the 2006 VH1 reality television series The Wendy Williams Experience, which broadcast events surrounding her radio show.
Williams' other endeavors include authoring several books, appearances in various films and television shows, touring her comedy show, and her own product lines, including a fashion line, a jewelry collection and a wig line. Williams was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2009. On her 50th birthday, the council of Asbury Park, New Jersey renamed the street on which she grew up Wendy Williams Way.
Wendy Joan Williams was born on July 18, 1964, in Asbury Park, New Jersey. She is the second of three children born to Shirley (née Skinner), a special education teacher, and Thomas Dwayne Williams, an English teacher and school principal. The couple had a combined three master's degrees and traveled around the world, often buying pieces to decorate their home. In 1970, the family moved to the upper middle class suburban community of Wayside in Ocean Township, New Jersey. As a child, doctors recommended Williams be medicated to control her hyperactivity. She was a Brownie in the Girl Scouts and volunteered as a candy striper.
Williams graduated from Ocean Township High School in 1982 where she was an outcast and one of the few African Americans. A poor student, Williams placed 360th in the class of 363. She has said that growing up she did not listen to hip hop music and instead listened to rock bands like AC/DC, which were popular with her classmates. Williams attended Northeastern University in Boston with the intent of becoming a television anchor. Less than a month after starting, she switched from television communications to radio because she could advance her career faster—a move of which her parents disapproved. Williams graduated in 1986 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication and, to appease her parents, a minor in journalism. She was a disc jockey for the college radio station, WRBB, where rapper LL Cool J was her first celebrity interviewee. As an intern for Matt Siegel at contemporary hit radio station WXKS-FM, Williams recapped the soap operas Dallas and Dynasty on air.
Two weeks after graduating, Williams began her career as a disc jockey working for the small, calypso and reggae-oriented WVIS in Frederiksted, U.S. Virgin Islands, but disliked the role because she did not learn as much about radio from her colleagues as she expected. Due to low pay[b] and isolation from her family, Williams began sending resumes and demo tapes of herself to other radio stations. She left WVIS after eight months and obtained a position at Washington, D.C.'s WOL in 1987, but found its oldies radio format incompatible with her personality. Williams continued sending tapes to other stations and was hired by New York City's WQHT in November 1987 to fill-in on weekends. After the urban contemporary station hired her full-time in 1988 to work overnight shifts, she left WOL.
Williams was fired from WQHT in 1990 and briefly worked overnight shifts at contemporary hit radio station WPLJ before being hired by urban contemporary WRKS later in the year. Initially working as a fill-in, WRKS gave Williams a non-compete clause and permanent morning position in May 1990 after WBLS began poaching its employees. She soon became a radio personality, gossiping about rappers and celebrities. As her popularity grew, Williams was moved to the coveted evening drive time slot in April 1991. By 1993, she was the highest-rated host in her time slot in the New York City market and received a Billboard Radio Award for R&B Major Market Radio Air Personality of the Year. Williams co-hosted American Urban Radio Networks' USA Music Magazine program in 1994, and moved backed to mornings in October that year.
In December 1994, Emmis Broadcasting purchased WRKS and switched Williams to the company's other New York property, hip-hop formatted WQHT ("Hot 97"), as WRKS was reformatted into an urban adult contemporary outlet. She was fired from Hot 97 in 1998. Williams was hired by a Philadelphia urban station, WUSL ("Power 99FM"). Her husband, Kevin Hunter, became her agent. She was very open about her personal life on air, discussing her miscarriages, breast enhancement surgery, and former drug addiction. She helped the station move from 14th place in the ratings to 2nd.
In 2001, Williams returned to the New York airwaves when WBLS hired her full-time for a syndicated 2–6 p.m. time slot. Williams' friend, MC Spice of Boston, offered his voiceover services to the show, often adding short rap verses tailored specifically for Williams' show. The New York Times stated that her "show works best when its elements – confessional paired with snarkiness – are conflated". By 2008, she was syndicated in Redondo Beach, California; Shreveport, Louisiana; Wilmington, Delaware; Toledo, Ohio; Columbia, South Carolina; Emporia, Virginia; Lake Charles, Louisiana; Tyler, Texas; and Alexandria, Louisiana, among other markets. Williams left her radio show in 2009 to focus on her television program and spend more time with her family. She was also inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.
In 2008, Debmar-Mercury offered Williams a six-week television trial of her own talk show. A syndicated daytime talk show hosted by Williams titled Wendy's World was poised to debut in fall 1997, but never aired. On July 14, 2008, Williams debuted her daytime talk show, The Wendy Williams Show, in four cities during the summer of 2008. During the tryout, The New York Times remarked that the show created a "breakthrough in daytime" by introducing the genre of the "backtalk show.". After a successful run, Fox signed a deal with Debmar-Mercury to broadcast the show nationally on their stations beginning in July 2009. In addition, BET picked up cable rights to broadcast the show at night. In 2010, BET started airing the show internationally in 54 countries through BET International. The show attracts 2.4 million daily viewers on average, with Williams trading off daily with Ellen DeGeneres as the number one female host on daytime television.
Williams hosted a game show for GSN called Love Triangle (2011) for which she and her husband Kevin Hunter served as executive producers. Williams played a judge on the Lifetime network show Drop Dead Diva (2011) and served as a guest judge on The Face (2013). She was also a contestant, paired with pro Tony Dovolani on season 12 of Dancing with the Stars (2011); she was eliminated second. Williams appeared in the film adaptation of Steve Harvey's book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, titled Think Like a Man (2012), and its sequel, Think Like a Man Too (2014). In 2012, it was announced Williams would enter into a "production alliance" with producers Suzanne de Passe and Madison Jones to create movies and television shows aimed at multicultural audiences. These projects will appear under the heading "Wendy Williams presents" and their first project will be VH1 adaptation of a Star Jones novel.
In February 2013, it was announced that Williams and her husband and manager, Kevin, were launching a reality television production company, Wendy Williams Productions. that will produce unscripted content, including reality television and game shows. Williams was an executive producer on the show Celebrities Undercover (2014). Williams also executive produced a biopic for Lifetime, Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B, which premiered on November 15, 2014. The film attracted controversy due to its depiction of Aaliyah's relationship with R. Kelly and received predominantly negative reviews from critics. In September 2015, the documentary series Death By Gossip with Wendy Williams premiered on the Investigation Discovery channel, both hosted and produced by Williams. In 2013, Williams was cast to play the role of Matron "Mama" Morton on the Broadway musical Chicago. She began her tenure on July 2 and finished her seven-week run on August 11, 2013. Her preparations for the musical were documented in the TV Guide docuseries Wendy Williams: How You Doin', Broadway?!, which was produced by her own production company, Wendy Williams Productions.
Williams had not missed an episode of her talk show until February 2018, when she took one week off; however, on February 21, 2018, Williams announced that her show would be on three weeks' hiatus due to her complications with Graves' disease and hyperthyroidism. In January 2019, a statement from the Williams Hunter family revealed that Williams had been hospitalized due to complications from Graves' disease and that her return to the show would be delayed indefinitely as a result. Guest hosts such as Nick Cannon filled in for Wendy during her absence; she returned on March 4, 2019. In early March 2020, the show discontinued its live audience for two tapings due to the coronavirus pandemic; Williams's staff filled in the seats. Shortly thereafter, production on the show was halted. The show reemerged as The Wendy Williams Show @ Home, broadcast through video chat from Williams's apartment, and continuing through May 15, when production was halted again due to a flare in Williams's Graves disease. In July 2020, Williams announced that her show would be returning to live broadcasting in-studio on September 21, 2020. In 2020, Williams competed on the fourth season of The Masked Singer as "Lips" where she was mostly sitting due to the weight of the costume. She performed the song "Native New Yorker" by Odyssey and was the first member of Group C to be eliminated and unmasked after her first appearance. Williams signed a deal with the US network Lifetime for a documentary, Wendy Williams: What a Mess! and a TV movie, Wendy Williams: The Movie based on her life.
Williams is the author of three nonfiction books. She released an autobiography co-written with New York Daily News journalist Karen Hunter in August 2003 titled Wendy's Got the Heat. Rather than discussing celebrities—Williams' original motive for writing a book—it focuses on her life, including childhood troubles, drug addiction, and marriages. Published by Atria, it debuted at number nine on The New York Times Best Seller list for nonfiction, and number one on Essence's hardcover nonfiction bestsellers list, which is based on sales at African-American bookstores. Citing the challenges she faces and the risks she describes taking, QBR The Black Book Review's Kecia Palmer-Cousins thought it was more sincere than a typical autobiography and Kym Allison Backer of Black Issues Book Review felt it humanizes Williams. In the New York Amsterdam News, Renee Minus White appreciated that Williams "is as personal about her own dramatic and often complicated life as she asks her [radio] guests to be". The book was reprinted in paperback in August 2004, a month before the debut of Williams' second book, The Wendy Williams Experience, which contains celebrity gossip and interviews. In May 2013, Williams released Ask Wendy.
Williams has also published several fiction books, including a trilogy about the life and career of radio shock jock Ritz Harper. She co-authored the first two novels, Drama Is Her Middle Name (2006) and Is the Bitch Dead, or What? (2007), with Hunter. Zondra Hughes co-wrote the third installment Ritz Harper Goes to Hollywood! (2009). Media outlets considered Ritz Harper similar to Williams. "Determining what is real versus what is fiction" made the character intriguing, according to the Home News Tribune's Ava Gacser. Writing for the Hartford Courant, Carole Goldberg labelled the series semi-autobiographical. In 2014, Williams released a romance novel, Hold Me in Contempt. She said it was co-authored with an English professor ghostwriter.
Music and comedy
Williams interviewed Blu Cantrell in 2003; the conversation was released as a DVD on the singer's album Bittersweet. Williams and Virgin Records released a compilation album, Wendy Williams Brings the Heat: Volume 1, in June 2005 featuring various rap acts, including M.O.P., Jadakiss, and Young Jeezy. It sold 29,000 copies by November of that year according to Nielsen SoundScan.
In 2014, Lipshtick called Williams to participate in their first all-female-based comedy series at the Venetian in Las Vegas. Williams made her sold-out comedy debut on July 11, 2014. Williams' comedy tour was called "The Sit-down Comedy Tour." Williams returned to Lipshtick on October 31, 2014, and November 1, 2014, after she made a sold-out debut in July. Williams hosted her "How You Laughin'" Comedy Series at NJPAC on November 15, 2014, featuring Luenell, Jonathan Martin, Pat Brown, Hadiyah Robinson, and Meme Simpson. In 2015, Williams announced a 12-city comedy tour called "The Wendy Williams Sit Down Tour: Too Real For Stand-Up."
Products and endorsements
While working for WRKS, Williams was a spokesperson for a hip-hop clothing brand. In 2006, she became a spokesperson for George Veselles champagne and Alizé liquers. Williams posed for PETA's "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur" campaign in 2012. She debuted a jewelry and shoe line the same year on shopping channel QVC called "Adorn". The shoe manufacturer's lawyer alleged she never paid the production cost. In 2013, Williams released a wig collection to online retailers. She sold a self-titled clothing line in 2015 on shopping channel HSN and continued the partnership the following year by releasing shoe and winter clothing collections.
In the media
Williams has had breast implants since 1994 and has had liposuction and other cosmetic procedures. She wears wigs because she has stated that her natural hair is thin due to medical conditions. She often refers to herself as a "wiggy" and has names for her wigs, changing length, texture, and color daily to match her on-air outfits and the changing seasons of the year.
Williams was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2009. She was honoured with the 2,677th Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in the Category of Television, on October 17, 2019, in Los Angeles. On her 50th birthday, the council of Asbury Park, New Jersey renamed the street on which she grew up Wendy Williams Way. In 2021, Williams signed a deal with the US network Lifetime for a documentary, Wendy Williams: What a Mess! and a TV movie, Wendy Williams: The Movie based on her life. A wax figure of Williams is located at Madame Tussauds New York.
Williams was involved with The Hunter Foundation, which provided rehabilitation programs and support for people as they transition from addiction to recovery. The foundation closed in 2019 but Williams stated that "she remains committed to helping others in the struggles of life", and that she would be dedicating herself to "other foundations."
Controversies and feuds
Williams has repeatedly feuded with celebrities and faced criticism for her comments. She has been mailed bullets and dead fish. Media outlets have described Williams' 2003 interview with Whitney Houston as her most infamous. After Williams asked Houston about her marriage and breast implants, they began a shouting match and Houston said she would have fought Williams if she were younger. In a later interview with Williams, Houston's confidant Robyn Crawford said they planned to confront her years earlier after she talked about Houston on air. Wu-Tang Clan performer Method Man had a personal and publicized conflict with Williams in 2006 after she revealed details about his wife's cancer diagnosis.
Williams referred to Nicki Minaj's husband Kenneth Petty in 2019 as "a killer and a sex offender" (he was once imprisoned for attempted rape and manslaughter); the rapper responded by bringing up allegations of infidelity by Williams' own husband and said "I didn't know that in our society, you have to be plagued by your past."
Williams was accused of victim blaming singer Kesha in 2016 after questioning why she did not film the alleged sexual abuse by record producer Dr. Luke against her. Williams later apologized for the remarks and explained "unfortunately a lot of people lie about rape so I was just being skeptical". In January 2018, Williams was criticized by activist Tarana Burke after saying an alleged 14-year-old victim of R. Kelly "let it go down" and that she was "sick of this Me Too movement".
In early 2020, Williams was criticized over several remarks she made on her show. In January, while talking about actor Joaquin Phoenix, Williams used her finger to pull up a part of her lip to resemble a cleft palate (a condition which Phoenix has denied having), which many took to believe she was mocking him. Williams apologized on her show. In February, Williams was criticized again for making comments many regarded as homophobic while talking about the fictional holiday "Galentine's Day"; she again apologized, this time in an emotional video posted to her official social channels online. Shortly thereafter, while talking about the death of Amie Harwick, Williams made a joke referring to Harwick's ex-fiancé Drew Carey and his job on The Price Is Right, saying that show's catchphrase, "Come on down!", in response to the news that Harwick had been thrown off a balcony.
Williams has had conflicts with others regarding parenting style. Actress Alyssa Milano criticized Williams' mentality regarding public breastfeeding after she said it made her uncomfortable because breasts are "more sexual than a feeding thing". Williams has been accused of transphobia. In one episode of her show, after stating that trans woman can never be assigned women, she told her audience, "Stop wearing our skirts and our heels!" After explicitly stating that to be a woman, one has to menstruate, she apologized for her remarks. In 2021, Williams came under fire for her controversial coverage of the murder of 19-year-old TikTok star Swavy: "I have no idea who this is. Neither does Norman. Neither does one person in this building."
Williams' first husband was Bert Girigorie. In her 2003 autobiography, she refers to him under a pseudonym and says they separated after five months and divorced about eighteen months later. Williams married her second husband, Kevin Hunter, on November 30, 1999.[a] She suffered multiple miscarriages before giving birth to their son, Kevin Samuel, on August 18, 2000. In April 2019, Williams filed for divorce due to irreconcilable differences after Hunter fathered a baby with a mistress. The divorce was finalized in January 2020.
Due to her suburban upbringing, Williams considers herself "a multicultural woman who happens to be Black". In her childhood, she attended a Baptist church with her family. Williams identifies as Christian but no longer attends church services. She believes "God is everywhere" and prays "every day, several times a day".
Williams has been open about her past addiction to cocaine. Since fainting on her talk show in October 2017 due to dehydration, she has shared other health issues publicly. In February 2018, Williams disclosed that she has Graves' disease which causes hyperthyroidism, conditions she was diagnosed with nearly two decades prior. Due to the increased pressure behind her eyes, they sometimes have a pronounced appearance. Williams accidentally fractured her shoulder in December 2018. In March 2019, Williams said she had been living in a sober house "for some time" and that she has vertigo. Later that year, Williams revealed she had been diagnosed with lymphedema, a condition that causes swelling in her ankles. During the COVID-19 pandemic in September 2021, Williams tested positive for a breakthrough infection of the disease.
Awards and nominations
|Billboard Radio Award||1993||R&B Major Market Radio Air Personality of the Year||Wendy Williams||Won|||
|Daytime Emmy Award||2015||Outstanding Entertainment Talk Show Host||Wendy Williams||Nominated|||
|Outstanding Talk Show Entertainment||The Wendy Williams Show||Nominated|
|2016||Outstanding Entertainment Talk Show Host||Wendy Williams||Nominated|||
|Outstanding Talk Show Entertainment||The Wendy Williams Show||Nominated|
|2017||Outstanding Entertainment Talk Show Host||Wendy Williams||Nominated|||
|2019||Outstanding Entertainment Talk Show Host||Wendy Williams||Nominated|||
|Hollywood Walk of Fame||2019||N/A||Wendy Williams||2,677th star|||
|NAACP Image Award||2012||Outstanding Talk Series||The Wendy Williams Show||Nominated|||
|2015||The Wendy Williams Show||Nominated|||
|2016||The Wendy Williams Show||Nominated|||
|National Radio Hall of Fame||2009||N/A||Wendy Williams||Inducted|||
|People's Choice Award||2016||Favorite Daytime TV Host||Wendy Williams||Nominated|||
|2019||The Daytime Talk Show of 2019||The Wendy Williams Show||Nominated|||
|2020||The Daytime Talk Show of 2020||The Wendy Williams Show||Nominated|||
|Radio & Records Industry Achievement Award||1999||Urban Personality of the Year||Wendy Williams||Won|||
|2002||Urban Personality/Show of the Year||Wendy Williams||Nominated|||
|2006||Urban AC Personality/Show of the Year||Wendy Williams||Won|||
|2004||The Cookout||Reporter No. 2|
|2011||The Cookout 2||Herself|
|2012||Think Like a Man||Gail|
|2013||World War Z||Herself||Opening sequence|
|2014||Think Like a Man Too||Gail|
|2016||Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates||Herself|
|1992||Martin||Herself||Episode: "Radio Days"|
|1995||New York Undercover||WGHT DJ||Episode: "You Get No Respect"|
|2006||The Wendy Williams Experience||Herself|
|2007||Dice: Undisputed||2 episodes|
|2008–2015||The Insider||Guest Host||5 episodes|
|2008–present||The Wendy Williams Show||Host|
|2010–2011||The A-List: New York|
|2011||One Life to Live||Phyllis Rose||Episode: "1.10885"|
|Drop Dead Diva||Judge Mary Rudd||Episode: "Hit and Run"|
|Dancing with the Stars||Contestant||Season 12; partnered with Tony Dovolani|
|Braxton Family Values||Herself||1 episode|
|2011||Love Triangle||Host||Also Executive Producer|
|Mob Wives||Guest Host||2 episodes|
|2012||30 Rock||Herself||Episode: "My Whole Life Is Thunder"|
|Sesame Street||Episode: "The Word of the Day" segment|
|Tamar & Vince||1 episode|
|2013–2020||The Dr. Oz Show||Guest Co-host||8 episodes|
|2013–2017||The Chew||Herself||5 episodes|
|2013||Law & Order: Special Victims Unit||Episode: "Funny Valentine"|
|Belle's||Episode: "Runaway Bride"|
|The Neighbors||Shirley||Episode: "The One with Interspecies F-R-I-E-N-D-S"|
|Good Day L.A.||Guest Co-host||3 episodes|
|2014||Santa Con||Pastor Ruth||Television film|
|2014–2020||The View||Guest Co-host||9 episodes|
|2014–2019||Extra With Billy Bush||Herself||10 episodes|
|2015||American Masters||1 episode|
|Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris||Episode: "It's Neil's mum"|
|2016||Ice Age: The Great Egg-Scapade||Condor Mom||Voice only; television special|
|2017||Nightcap||Herself||Episode: "Go-Fund Yourself"|
|Dish Nation||1 episode|
|Odd Mom Out||Episode: "Blood Bath"|
|Wild 'n Out||Team Captain|
|2019||Surviving R. Kelly||5 episodes|
|Project Runway All Stars||Guest Judge||1 episode|
|2020||The Real Housewives of Atlanta||Herself||2 episodes|
|The Masked Singer||Lips||Eliminated after first appearance|
|2021||Wendy Williams: What a Mess!||Herself||Documentary|
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- Williams, Wendy; Hughes, Zondra (2009). Ritz Harper Goes to Hollywood! (1st ed.). New York City: Pocket Books. ISBN 978-1-4165-9288-4.
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