The ‘Shock Jockette’: Wendy Williams Documentary Highlights Challenges, Family, And Fan Love


Feb. 29 2024, Published 1:00 p.m. ET

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Where is Wendy Williams? A four-part Lifetime documentary special, now available for streaming, seeks to answer that exact question, following the talk show host’s absence from the public eye for more than a year. The documentary explores the award-winning author and TV host’s health struggles and raises questions about her legal guardianship.

While there are many polarizing opinions of Williams, there’s no doubt that she’s made a major impact in the world of media. As many learn more about her journey via the documentary, let’s take a look at some of the top moments in her career:

Radio’s “Shock Jockette”

After graduating from Northeastern University in Boston, Williams pursued a career in radio as an on-air DJ, establishing herself as an on-air personality and shock jock who discussed celebrities and pop culture. After working at radio stations in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C., she started working as a weekend fill-in in New York City’s HOT 103.9 in 1988, traveling between DC and NYC every week.

At the time, radio was segregated between the white “general market” stations and the Black “urban” stations, according toThe New Yorker. As the only Black staff member at HOT 103.9, she wrote in her 2003 memoir that she was able to strike a balance between the two worlds.

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After a couple of years, she was hired by KISS-FM in New York City in 1990, where she joined the station’s “Wake-Up Club” to add a woman’s perspective to a male-led morning show, where she hosted a traffic segment and a gossip segment called “Dish the Dirt,” according to The New Yorker. She often received negative responses to her gossip segments, with people like Bill Cosby and Russell Simmons calling for her to be fired.

Despite the backlash, she won a Billboard Radio Award for R&B Major Market Radio Air Personality of the year in 1993 and began to rise to fame in the industry. In 2001, Williams landed her own radio show, the “Wendy Williams Experience” at WBLS in New York, where she started working with Charlamagne Tha God. He served as her co-host on the show until 2008 when he was reportedly let go by Williams’ ex-husband, Kevin Hunter. In 2003, she aired a conversation she recorded with Whitney Houston where the two got into a heated discussion about gossip Williams had shared on air about the Grammy-award winning singer, and the interview is cited as one of her most legendary even today.

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Philanthropic Efforts

Williams leveraged her success at WBLS to help support young Black students who were interested in a career in communications. In 2005, she started funding a $1,000 scholarship for Black female high school students in her hometown of Asbury Park, New Jersey, which also offered an internship opportunity at WBLS.

In 2014, she and her then-husband Kevin Hunter created The Hunter Project, which funded anti-poverty programs and offered resources to people who were transitioning from drug addiction into recovery. The Hunter Foundation partnered with T.R.U.S.T, an organization that helps build bridges from treatment to long-term recovery, to establish a national resource hotline. In 2019, Williams announced she would be dissolving The Hunter Foundation and would focus on working with SNAX-Sational Brands to benefit Operation Backpack, a backpack initiative that collects and distributes backpacks filled with school supplies to New York City children in homeless and domestic violence shelters.

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On To TV With ‘The Wendy Williams Show’

From 2008 to 2021, Williams hosted “The Wendy Williams Show” and built upon the “shock jock” on-air personality she had created. The New York Times referred to the show a “breakthrough in daytime programming,” and she saw wild success from the start, with Fox signing a deal to broadcast the show nationally in 2009 and BET picking up the cable rights to air the show at night, amassing a whopping average of 2.4 million daily viewers.

According to Nielsen ratings, Williams’ show was the only talk show in 2010 to achieve year-over-year national growth among women ages 25 to 54, making her as popular a daytime TV host as Ellen DeGeneres. One of the most memorable interviews Williams conducted on TV was with Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, from “The Apprentice,” where Williams referred to Omarosa as “the stereotype of the angry Black woman.”

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Departure From The Public Eye

“The Wendy Williams” show ended in 2022 after Williams took a medical leave to deal with her Graves’ disease diagnosis. As her health concerns continued, she was placed under financial guardianship, according to The Hollywood Reporter and later under a court-appointed legal guardian. Since that time, questions have been raised about her condition, leading up to the new Lifetime documentary, which promises to address the speculation regarding her health and cognitive abilities.

Last week, she announced that she had been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia in 2023. According to the release, aphasia affects language and communication abilities, and frontotemporal dementia impacts behavior and cognitive functions.

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‘Where Is Wendy Williams?’

Williams is listed as an executive producer on the four-part documentary that explores her court-appointed guardianship, alcohol-abuse issues and declining health. The documentary focuses heavily on the guardianship and her family’s concern that she is being taken advantage of. In the series, her sister tells producers she hasn’t had contact with her guardian in over a year. Her son, Kevin Hunter Jr, told the documentary producers that his mother’s medical team told him her drinking may have contributed to her cognitive decline. “I think they said it was alcohol-induced dementia,” he said. Fans who have watched the documentary have expressed sympathy, concern and support, along with critics expressing theories of “karma.”

On Feb. 23, Williams released a statement via a representative, thanking people for their supportive response to her diagnosis: “I continue to need personal space and peace to thrive,” the statement read. “Please just know that your positivity and encouragement are deeply appreciated.

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By: Gillian Smith

Gillian Smith is a professional communicator by day and night, leveraging more than a decade in the news industry to share stories that have a positive impact on society. Gillian believes everyone has a story worth telling, and she has made it her professional mission to tell those stories in a responsible way. Gillian received a BA in journalism from Ithaca College and a Master's in Journalism Innovation from Syracuse University. She is currently the director of external communication and media relations at Suffolk University.

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