Wendy O. Williams

Class of 2016

Wendy O. Williams (1949-1998) was an American singer, songwriter, and actress who was known as the “Queen of Shock Rock.” While remembered for her stage antics, she is also heralded for her talent, for which she earned a Grammy nomination in 1985 for “Best Female Rock Vocal” for the album WOW (the first of her three solo albums and one in which she collaborated with Gene Simmons and members of KISS and released the hit song “It’s My Life”). Williams first came to national prominence as the lead singer of the punk-rock band The Plasmatics, a controversial group known for wild stage shows that broke countless taboos. They were popular in the underground punk scene in New York City, performing at famed CBGBs, and released five albums that featured the singles “Doom Song,” “Butcher Baby,” “Monkey Suit,” and “Dream Lover.”

The band’s focus was always on Williams, whose infamous stage theatrics included using sledgehammers and chainsaws to destroy television sets, guitars and even a Cadillac, all while wearing eccentric costumes that allowed for partial nudity. She was arrested on obscenity charges for her live performances that went too far, according to local authorities. In 1979, the same year she was asked to front The Plasmatics, she appeared in the adult film Candy Goes to Hollywood. Throughout her life, Williams remained a vocal advocate of her rights to self-expression. “We’re not out to pick fights,” Williams said in a 1981 Rolling Stone interview. “But then the essence of what we do is shaking up the middle class; I think if you don’t do that with your music, you’re just adding to the noise pollution.”

Williams grew up in Webster, N.Y. (full name Wendy Orleans Williams) and died at age 48 from suicide. In her performance career, she also dabbled in film and television acting, with roles in Reform School Girls in 1986 and MacGyver in 1990.