Wendy Joan Williams (born July 18, 1964) is an American broadcaster, media personality, businesswoman, and writer. Since 2008, she has hosted the nationally syndicated television talk show The Wendy Williams Show.
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 with. 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 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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' other endeavors include authoring several books, appearances in various films and television shows, 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.
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 the Lifetime biopic Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B, which premiered on November 15, 2014. Review aggregator Metacritic assigned the film a score of 32 out of 100 based on seven critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". 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.
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."
In 2014, Williams and two others produced a biopic on the early 2000s R&B artist Aaliyah, entitled Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B. The biopic attracted much controversy as Aaliyah's family neither consented nor authorized the use of Aaliyah's image or her material for the biopic. The film also romanticized the hebephilic relationship and subsequent illegal marriage of the young singer and R. Kelly, who in 2019 was indicted on 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, obstruction of justice, and 18 federal counts, including child pornography, kidnapping and forced labor, as of July 12, 2019. Critical reception to Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B was predominantly negative.
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.
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 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 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 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 has had breast implants since 1994 and has been open about having a liposuction procedure. Williams wears wigs because her natural hair is thin due to her Graves' disease and hyperthyroidism. As the conditions increase pressure behind her eye muscles, they sometimes have a pronounced appearance. Until 2018, Williams wore high heels on air very frequently; she had to discontinue due to her lymphedema condition and vertigo caused by her other two health conditions. Williams has been open on her show about her past with substance abuse, particularly with cocaine. In March 2019, Williams revealed on an episode of her show that she had been living in a sober house for several months. In 2019, Williams also announced she had been diagnosed with lymphedema, a non-fatal condition that causes swelling of the lower extremities. On September 15, 2021, a message on her show's verified Instagram account read: "While continuing her health evaluations, Wendy has tested positive for a breakthrough case of COVID-19. To allow Wendy time to quarantine and fully recover and to ensure that our production fully abides by SAG/AFTRA and DGA Covid protocols, we expect to begin the 13th season of The Wendy Williams Show on Monday, October 4th." However, the season was further delayed, and an Instagram message on October 13 said she was "experiencing serious complications as a direct result of Graves' Disease," and that the show would resume October 18 with guest hosts. Four "hot topic panelists" filled in for the season premiere episode before actor Leah Remini took on guest host duties starting October 19, 2021.
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 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 was described as "mom-shaming" model Ashley Graham for disapproving of her changing her baby's diaper in a store aisle. 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."