Loud, messy and shameless: farewell Wendy Williams, “queen of all media”

Friday’s farewell edition of The Wendy Williams Show hit all the right notes.

A shout out to viewers for their fierce support drew a standing ovation from the studio audience. Vanessa Williams, the show’s first guest, returned to celebrate the 57-year-old chat host as a true media trailblazer. And to close the show, comedian Sherri Shepherd kicked off a reel of Williams’ greatest hits – including promising to eat real crow if Kanye and Kim got married.

All that was missing was, well, the actual host.

Of course, that’s why The Wendy Williams Show is retiring, after more than 1,500 episodes. In total, the program ran for 14 years and probably could have lasted longer if Williams’ health crises and personal and financial turmoil had seemingly dampened his enthusiasm for daring traffic in celebrity gossip without worrying about whether what she said was true or not, or if it offended anyone.

Even though she hasn’t hosted the show in person since 2020, her start of the day is from a play with a wider turnaround and not because Williams failed to keep pace. If anything, the former radio shock jock was ahead of the curve, changing the tone and pace of rumors as gossip spread from tabloids and TV newsmagazines to social media.

“It’s the best show ever,” she said at one point in the highlight reel. “I swear if I wasn’t here doing it, I’d be home watching.” One of the last shots on the reel was his empty chair. And in that void lingers a delicate legacy that has made gossip journalism shine as much as tarnish it.

Amid the cacophony of daytime TV sirens, the 5-foot-10 Williams rang the loudest. If his dramatic physical presence didn’t stop casual viewers in their tracks, his big mouth almost certainly would. While Ellen Degeneres played well with guests and The View got into tough talk, Williams went all the way — embellishing tabloid gossip, throwing shade at celebrity guests and otherwise being messy for the pure pleasure. The harder she slapped her false eyelashes and sipped her tea, the more viewers ate it. Williams was not only a hit with the typical crowd of the day, her audience was young and diverse.

Wendy Williams unveils her wax figure at Madame Tussauds, New York, in 2021. Photography: Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Madame Tussauds New York

Its most outspoken champions were unlikely types like John Oliver, who once devoted a Last Week Tonight segment to Williams eating a lamb chop in his kitchen while filming at home during Covid. “The more you watch Wendy, the more you realize chaos isn’t a problem with the show, it’s what makes it work,” Oliver intoned, before channeling that same energy and eating a sandwich in front of the camera. as the credits roll. “If that makes you uncomfortable, maybe you should fuck off and watch something else.” And when that clip found its way back into the Williams show, Wendy Being Wendy, laughed.

Even as her profile rose and her fashion budget grew, Williams never presented herself as anything other than a homebody Jersey girl who would rather walk the red carpet than present herself. Spending an hour with her was like being within earshot of your mother’s loose-lipped hairdresser, never knowing what bombshell would drop next.

Williams’ sharp tongue was cut on hip-hop radio, where she became one of the first women besides actor-performer Angie Martinez. An appearance on Fox Martin’s hit ’90s sitcom — her first TV credit, by the way — was confirmation of the immense respect Williams commanded in a male-dominated industry. A morning driving personality in the early 90s, Williams was plugged into a satellite role as a traffic reporter, sprinkling the latest dirt into her rush hour reports, telling so many stories about black celebrities that They were calling into her station and trying to get her sacked. During one show, she raised sexual misconduct allegations against Bill Cosby only to be carried into her boss’s office and forced to apologize to the American dad, over loudspeaker. Past fan mail has included bullets and dead fish.

His audacity on air endeared him to legions of fans and, in a short time, earned him No. 1 and a hard-earned reputation as a ratings-turning artist with a tireless work ethic. But that success hasn’t made her any kinder to the rich and famous.

Wendy Williams during an interview with host Seth Meyers.
Wendy Williams during an interview with host Seth Meyers. Photography: NBC Photo Bank/NBCU/Getty Images

During a 2003 on-air exchange with Whitney Houston, Williams didn’t shy away from questioning the legendary singer over allegations of drug addiction, domestic violence and financial troubles, and Houston didn’t back down from the fight. . (It’s still the most talked about interview Williams has ever done.) But Williams wasn’t shy about talking about her own struggles with drug addiction or her conception issues or her plastic surgeries or her alliances with neither did well-known types in the music industry, even as his radio shows went national.

Throughout this time, she mentored Charlamagne tha God, who rose to prominence as Williams’ sidekick. A controversial post-trial interview with OJ Simpson in the studio was one of the few times Williams somewhat suspended his innate skepticism and alienated his loyal supporters. “Damn, I like you,” she said, after falling for the looks and polish of the former football great. “Shit, OJ Simpson, you’re lovely.”

Yet no one saw this sneaky agitator who greeted callers with a purr of “How are you” carving out a niche for himself on daytime television. On July 14, 2008, four days before her 44th birthday, The Wendy Williams Show debuted. Within a year, viewers across the country tuned in in droves to revel in her fights with Omarosa or pull random accessories from her wigs and cleavage. But she might as well set the public back with her casual recklessness, like when she dismissed TikTok idol Swavy’s murder and said Beyoncé “looks like she’s got a fifth-grade education.”

But many of Williams’ targets were big fans too. Some took masochistic pleasure in sitting in the hot seat next to his, others simply reveled in having an audience with the “queen of all media”; at the very least, both groups were guaranteed equal time to flash their fresh leather on Williams’ shoe camera.

The cracks only really started to show in 2017, when Williams passed out on live TV while dressed as the Statue of Liberty for Halloween. It was shortly after she revealed a longtime diagnosis of Graves’ disease (an immune disorder that triggers hyperthyroidism) and her marriage to Kevin Hunter, her manager and talk show producer, publicly collapsed. Just before the pandemic, she revealed she was living in a sober house. Earlier this year, Williams’ bank, Wells Fargo, froze her accounts and requested a New York Supreme Court hearing to determine whether she needed conservatorship.

The more gossip Williams’ personal life became, it seems, the harder it became for her to show up for work. And yet, for years, its trusty production team has kept the show going with a rotation of guest hosts that have included actor Michael Rapaport, a legendary provocateur; hip-hop mogul Nick Cannon, who landed his own daytime talk show on top of that; and Sherri Shepherd, who is set to take over Williams’ timeslot. Williams isn’t happy about this, but a few months ago her TV bosses said they were leaving the door open if Williams wanted to return.

What she does next is anyone’s guess. She played herself in feature films, made a gonzo TV movie and an even wilder documentary about his life, and guest on Drag Race (much to the dismay of a queer community that resents him for his past misdemeanors and zeal to date gay celebrities); it looks like she could appear in Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise, as she’s already part of the extended family. But any loyal viewer knows that would be settling for less. Williams at his best is a master soloist; it doesn’t matter if she chews the fat or bites into the real leftovers. A pre-recorded farewell tribute could never sum up a remarkable TV series that never should have ended and may never be matched.


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