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Wendy O. Williams

Suicide/Gunshot

April 7, 1998

Age 48
 

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Oh, Wendy
  by EMMA TAYLOR
 
No matter your take on country music, you couldn't avoid hearing "Stand By Your Man" last week, as the news of Tammy Wynette's death spread. We were reminded of how, in 1992, Hillary Clinton told a 60 Minutes interviewer (in response to a question about Bill's extracurricular love life): "I"m not sitting here like some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette." You know the rest: Tammy got mad and made some jibe about Hillary's ride to the White House, Hillary called to apologize, and they all played nice. And then last Monday night, April 6, Tammy Wynette died while napping on her couch.

You probably didn't hear queen of shock rock Wendy O. Williams' speed-metal version of the same song. Last Monday night, April 6, Wendy O. Williams died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Hillary is fortunate she chose to offend Tammy Wynette, and not Wendy O., on 60 Minutes: Though a five-times-married lady who insists on standing by her man (which one?) is scary in her own way, who knows how the mohawked, chainsaw-wielding rocker would have sought revenge on the First Lady?

Wendy O., ninth-grade dropout and former stripper, was founder and lead singer of the punk band, The Plasmatics. She was arrested for punching a paparazzi (ah, a lady before her time!), simulating sex on stage, performing naked (if you don't count the shaving foam covering her naughty bits), and beating an officer. She was a riot grrl before that meant crushes on Web celebs and baby Tees (Wendy O. preferred duct tape on her nipples) and she is surely the only person in history to be featured on the covers of both Vegetarian Times and Cream Shot (she was a raunchy vegetarian, got it?).

"All she did was eat carrots!" said filmmaker Kristine Peterson in a Tripod interview last year. (Peterson worked with Wendy O. on the film Reform School Girls.) "She did one scene where she's driving a bus and she is supposed to kick the window out and jump on top of the bus wearing stiletto boots, a G-string, and a little black leather bra. The first thing she says is, as she's driving the bus going 40 miles an hour, 'Do I have to use my feet? Can I knock the window out with my head?'"

In recent years Wendy O. lived in Connecticut and worked as an animal rehabilitator quite a tame day-to-day for someone once wild enough to be banned from London. I guess you can't blow up cars in the studio of the Tomorrow Show forever. Is there a lesson in her life? Besides the rather depressing one that if you wrestle alligators in your twenties, feeding squirrels in your forties might be something of a comedown? (Or the faintly amusing one that not all vegetarians lead long, healthy lives.) Maybe not, but it's worth taking time to honor a woman who rioted so hard she burned out. "I don't believe that people should take their own lives without deep and thoughtful reflection over a considerable period of time," Wendy O. wrote in her suicide note. "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."

As Jill "The Diva" Stempel writes in her tribute to Wendy O., "I guess old punks never die, they just choose to blow their brains out with a shotgun." 

Emma Taylor is the editor of Tripod's Women's Zone. Her e-mail is emma@tripod.com.

 

 

Punk Rock Pioneer Commits Suicide

by Joal Ryan
April 7, 1998

Wendy O. Williams was the Queen of Shock Rock. The chainsaw-wielding lead singer of the Plasmatics. The outrageous punker who once blew up a car on a TV show.

When the stunts stopped, when the shows ended, Williams, in the words of her lover, "found it difficult to lead a normal life."

So, yesterday, in the woods near her Connecticut home, Williams shot herself to death. She was 48.

"She felt she was past her peak...," Rod Swenson, her ex-manager and longtime companion, told the New York Post. "This [suicide] was something she had planned; it was no spur-of-the moment thing."

Williams--a 1985 Grammy nominee--most recently worked in animal care, Swenson said.

It was a not-so-odd job in a life filled with them: macrobiotic cook, lifeguard, sex-show dominatrix.

Rock singer proved to be her most lucrative career.

In 1978, the Williams-fronted Plasmatics burst onto the New York City punk scene. Williams was hard to ignore--her chainsaw (used to slice and dice guitars) as sharp as her trademark Mohawk.

Then there was the matter of her stage wear: sometimes not much more than electrical tape to cover her nipples.

The Plasmatics' cult status owed as much to Williams' stunts as its defiant, radio-unfriendly music. There was the Playboy spread, the blown-up car incident (on Tom Snyder's Tomorrow), the 1981 arrest for making obscene gestures with...a sledgehammer. (The charges were dropped.)

The Plasmatics' recording life lasted until 1987--the last album being Maggots.

Perhaps Williams' most memorable pure music moment was a 1982 duet with Motorhead rocker Lemmy Kilmister--their cover of Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man." (Wynette, coincidentally, died in her sleep Monday at age 55.)

She also did rap--recording under the name Ultrafly and the Hometown Girls.

Funeral services were not planned. Williams, Swenson said, wanted to cremated. 


 
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