Obituary: Wendy O. Williams

SCHLOCK and rock go hand in hand. Long before the antics of Marilyn Manson and Motley Crue dominated the tabloids, Wendy O. Williams and her band the Plasmatics outraged audiences on both sides of the Atlantic and, for a brief period in the late Seventies and early Eighties, took on Alice Cooper's mantle as shock-rockers extraordinaires.

They were banned by the Greater London Council, arrested for obscene behaviour in the United States and achieved a modicum of notoriety on Stiff Records with the "Butcher Baby" single and New Hope for the Wretched album (both were available in garish pink vinyl and reached the Top Sixty in 1980). Yet, despite associations with Motorhead and Kiss, Wendy O. Williams never quite made the transition to the big league, though her extremely politically incorrect act undoubtedly inspired the next generation of demented rockers.

Born in Rochester, New York, in 1949, Wendy Orlean Williams (take the initials and they spell WOW!) was always a bit of a show-off. She took dancing lessons and tapdanced on a local television show when she was only six. As a teenager, she won a scholarship to the Eastman School of Music but didn't last the course. She dropped out, came to Europe, bummed around the US and eventually settled in New York. By 1978, she had found herself a niche as a dominatrix in a live sex show.

Her rather unusual job led to an encounter with the manager Rod Swenson and they became an item. The couple soon hit upon the idea of combining Williams's exhibitionist tendencies with the punk sound of the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. Just as the theatrical rockers the Tubes were charting with the risque "White Punks on Dope" (1978), the Plasmatics were formed.

With their distinctive Mohican hairstyles and raucous music, the band shook New York by the throat. At 6ft 7in, the guitarist Richie Stotts was an impressive foil for Williams who often ran on stage in a see-through top or with black sticky tape or whipped cream strategically placed over her embonpoint. She then proceeded to demolish guitars and television sets with a chainsaw when not blowing up a police car while the group performed trashy songs like "A Pig is a Pig", "Sex Junkie" and "Living Dead".

Always on the look-out for a cunning stunt, the Stiff Records supremo Dave Robinson signed the Plasmatics to the label and brought them to the UK on a wave of publicity and frontpages just as the "Butcher Baby" single entered the charts. In 1980, the GLC still had to approve the staging of concerts and the councillors didn't like the pyrotechnics element of Williams's performance and banned them from every London venue. The following year, Williams was arrested in Milwaukee and Cleveland for lewd antics on stage but won her case on both occasions. However, music press interest in her antics began to wane and Williams never quite got the chance to fulfil every spotty teenager's fantasy.

The Plasmatics subsequently concentrated on their hardcore following with albums such as Beyond the Valley of 1984 and Coup d'Etat (released by Capitol in 1982). Williams duetted with Motorhead's Lemmy on an hilarious version of Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man" and then went solo, recording WOW under the guidance of the Kiss bassist Gene Simmons.

In the mid-Eighties, Williams was still notorious enough to feature on the frontpage of Kerrang! magazine (required reading for British metalheads) and was nominated for a Grammy (in the best Female Rock Vocal category), but record sales never matched the numbers ogling the singer at live shows and she subsequently explored other avenues. Yet she always found time to speak out against censorship on television debates.

In 1986, she appeared in Reform School Girls and contributed four songs to the soundtrack of this exploitation movie directed by Tom DeSimone and produced by Roger Corman's New World Pictures company. Four years later, she played a biker-chick in an episode of the television series MacGyver.

Metal fans may be surprised to learn that, in spite of her kinky image, Wendy O. Williams was a longtime vegetarian. Lately, she had settled in Connecticut and worked with animals and in a natural foods co-op.

According to her partner Rod Swenson, before she took her own life the singer had been "despondent for some time". Her explosive brand of entertainment deserves to be more than just a footnote in the annals of theatrical rock.

Wendy Orlean Williams; singer, musician, songwriter, actress; born Rochester, New York 1949; died Storrs, Connecticut 6 April 1998.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Sport
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Sport
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam