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Wendy O. Williams

Wendy Orlean Williams (May 28, 1949April 6, 1998), better known as Wendy O. Williams, was the lead singer for the punk band the Plasmatics, whose stage theatrics included blowing up equipment, near nudity and chain-sawing guitars.

Dubbed "The Queen of Shock Rock," Williams was widely considered the most controversial and radical woman singer of her day. She often sported a Mohawk haircut. Williams was nominated in 1985 for a Grammy in the Best Female Rock Vocal category during the height of her band's popularity.


Williams was born in Webster, New York. She attended R.L. Thomas (public) High School in Webster at least partway through the tenth grade, but apparently left school before graduating. At the age of 16, she hitchhiked her way to Colorado where she earned money selling crocheted string bikinis. She headed for Florida and then to Europe, where she worked as a macro-biotic cook in London and then as a dancer with a gypsy dance troupe. By 1978, she was regularly performing in live sex shows and soon began appearing in pornographic films, among them 1979's Candy Goes to Hollywood, famous for its "ping pong ball scene". In 1976 she arrived at the Port Authority Bus terminal in New York City where she saw an ad in Show Business Magazine that lay open on the bus station floor. It was a casting call for radical anti-artist and Yale MFA graduate Rod Swenson's experimental "Captain Kink's Theatre". She replied to the ad and there was immediate chemistry between Swenson, known as Captain Kink, and Williams, which began a 22 year relationship that would see her launched as lead singer of the punk/metal rock group the Plasmatics some two years later. With their debut in New York City clubs in 1978, Williams and the Plasmatics took the underground scene by storm.

In January 1981 police in Milwaukee arrested her for simulating sex on stage. Also charged with battery to an officer and obscene conduct, she was later cleared. Later that same year in Cleveland, Williams was acquitted of an obscenity charge for simulating sex on stage wearing only shaving cream. Then, in November, an Illinois judge sentenced her to one year supervision and fined her $35 for roughing up a freelance photographer who had attempted to take her picture as she jogged along the Chicago lakefront.

Meanwhile, the Plasmatics toured the world, once getting banned in London, where the press dubbed them "anarchists". During shooting of an appearance on CBC's SCTV comedy program in 1981, studio heads said they would not air Williams unless she changed out of a stage costume that revealed her nipples. Williams refused. The show's make-up artists found a compromise and painted her breasts black.

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. In 1986, she starred in Tom DeSimone's film Reform School Girls. 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.

After the Plasmatics

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 health food store in Manchester, Connecticut.

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 infamous TV talk show appearance on KPIX's The Morning Show, she openly accused Debbi Fields (of "Mrs. Fields" cookie fame) of being "no better than a heroin pusher" for using so much processed white sugar in her products.

Williams died at age 48 in 1998 in a wooded area near her home of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. While some argued she committed suicide rather than compromise her art, Swenson reportedly described her as "despondent" at the time of her death. 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.

On Motörhead's 1999 live album Everything Louder Than Everyone Else, before the song "No Class", Motörhead vocalist and Williams' longtime friend Lemmy said that he wanted to dedicate this song officially to Wendy.


With the Plasmatics






Archival Footage


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