Wendy Williams Tells All in Heartbreaking Documentary

By Terrance Turner

Jan. 30, 2021

I have a career for over three decades talking about people, and now I’m being talked about. I’m doing Hot Topics, and now I’m a Hot Topic.”

Tonight, talk show host Wendy Williams did with herself what she does with everyone else — she spilled the tea.

Tonight, in a two-hour Lifetime documentary, Williams revealed long-held secrets about her addiction, her health, and the collapse of her two-decade marriage. She coughed. She cursed. She cried no less than eight times. In fact, Williams broke down within less than a minute of filming.

“I’m an emotional person, and I’m not afraid of sharing my vulnerability,” she said, through her tears. And share she did — from her childhood growing up in New Jersey to her very real problems in adulthood.

There were issues even from the beginning. Born in July 1964, Williams grew up in New Jersey, the middle child of three children. She struggled with her weight from a young age. “Wendy was overweight,” her parents say bluntly in the documentary. “I was weighed constantly,” Williams reveals. Her father told her, “Wendy, you’ve got such a pretty face — if you could just lose the weight.” To do so, Williams went on strict diets and even became bulimic. Her brother found out but did nothing. But the purging stopped when Wendy learned that bulimia could lead to tooth decay.

Wendy found that out from a gossip rag. “I loved the tabloids — the National Enquirer, the Globe, the Star magazine,” she enthuses. It was those tabloids from which young Wendy learned about plastic surgery — which would soon become a major part of her adult life.

At 24, Williams’ passion for gossip and tabloids led to a career opportunity. She was hired by Hot 103.5, a New York radio station, in 1988. She was fired — because, she says, a fellow jock was kissing up to everyone in the station. She got hired by Kiss 98.7 and became a “shock jock”, famous for salacious gossip and invasive personal questions. In the documentary, we hear clips of her asking Mariah Carey intrusive questions about her sex life. We hear that she secretly recorded an off-air interview with Whitney Houston, asking about Houston’s drug use and whether she discussed it with her daughter Bobbi Kristina.

But that go-there, say-anything attitude would come back to haunt her.

In the meantime, Wendy Williams would contend with her own #MeToo moment. In the late 1980s, Williams interviewed a rising R&B singer. He invited her to a party — and then back to his hotel room. Williams joined him. “I was just gaga over this man,” she told reporters while promoting the film, “and he asked me to go to an opening party, an album release party, with him that night.” 

He told her he was going to go change before the party, and then emerged with “nothing on — just a pair of boxers.” She didn’t know what was going on, but Williams wasn’t down with it. “I didn’t want to have the sex,” she says. “He forced himself on me,” Williams reveals, “and he date-raped me.”

After the rape, “I went home, scrubbed my skin off, cried,” she says. She didn’t tell anyone, Williams says. She does not name the singer in the film. But in a recent interview, Williams revealed that her assailant was R&B singer Sherrick. (He died in 1999.)

As she dealt with the after-effects of her assault, Williams escalated an addiction that befell so many in the 1980s. “I started doing a lot of coke,” she confesses in the doc. “I got high like, five days a week.” Her cocaine habit went on for years, even as she worked to conceal the drug abuse from employers and co-workers. But the documentary intimates that her using wound down around the same time that she met the man who would change her life forever.

“I met Kevin on April 6, 1994, and we met at a kiddie skating rink where DJ Mister Cee was doing the music,” Williams says. “Kevin” was Kevin Hunter, a debonair hoodlum from Brownsville. He asked for her number through someone else. Wendy fell for him — hard. “He smelled good; he looked good,” she recalls in the doc. “We liked the same music. He had a great sense of humor.”

In Hunter, Williams found a lover, protector, and diehard supporter: “He made me feel loved. Comforted. And supported.” Kevin supported her in her career goals. He supported her when she decided to have plastic surgery — liposuction and breast implants. Kevin even saved her from an attack by R&B group Total. (Williams had been disparaging Total on the radio, claiming they were broke and that their manager Puffy didn’t pay his workers. Total jumped out of a bus to come beat Wendy up; Kevin swooped in and prevented her the attack.) It was the start of a protective attitude that would pervade their relationship.

“By the first traffic light, I knew I liked him,” Williams reveals. She was so taken with him that they continued the relationship even after she left New York. A tumultuous relationship with Hot 97 led to her departure from the station. A non-compete clause prevented her from going to a station within a certain radius of Hot 97. She began working at a Philadelphia radio station.

Williams credits herself with the success of the station. “When I got to Philly, Power 99 was No. 14 in the ratings, and I took it to No. 1,” she says. Her career took a backseat to motherhood — or at least an attempt at it. Williams got pregnant twice — but suffered two miscarriages at the five-month mark. She also had to deliver a stillborn child.

The tragic losses actually solidified the couple’s bond. Hunter decided that their child should be in wedlock this time. He and Williams married in 1997. Then Williams conceived again. This time, she was able to carry to term. On August 18, 2000, she gave birth to her only child, Kevin Hunter, Jr. Motherhood, she says, was everything she wanted it to be.

But Wendy Williams’ joy was short-lived. Just two months after Kevin Jr’s birth, Williams went to the nursery and overheard “Big Kev” talking on the phone. She knew he was talking to a girl, Williams says. But he swore it was over. And Wendy wasn’t ready to cut the cord. “I didn’t know how to be a mother,” she explains in the film. And she didn’t want to raise the infant by herself. So she decided to stick it out. “I said, ‘Alright. Well, this is love. We’ll not get divorced’,” she says.

Instead, Williams made a high-profile return to New York. She met with Vinny Brown, her New York program director, and negotiated a new deal. She let Hunter think he had brokered the deal when he called Brown to discuss salary and hours. “Kevin doesn’t know that,” Williams said. “I’m telling this story for the first time publicly.”

By then, Hunter had become Williams’ manager. As Williams’ star rose, Kevin Hunter became more widely known — and more intimidating. “When Kevin was nice, he’s lovely,” Williams says. “But when he’s mad or mean, or things don’t go his way, he’s the worst.” This impression is further bolstered by former co-worker Arthur J. Brown, who says that Hunter “was bullying station managers” and that he witnessed tense moments between the couple. “I didn’t see anybody get their head bashed,” Brown says, “but it would get very tense […] It never affected her when the mic was on. But when the mic was off…”

Co-workers interviewed in the film paint a troubling picture. When Wendy landed her own talk show in 2008, Hunter was a menacing presence on set. A stage manager says that “Kevin would literally grab her off the floor if he was unpleased.” But according to Williams, that was the extent of the physicality. Hunter’s mother alleged last year that she witnessed her son choking and kicking Wendy. But Wendy denies that in the documentary.

“Kevin’s not a woman-beater,” Williams says. “I wasn’t a battered woman…Kevin never beat me.” She adds: “I was an emotionally abused woman, and I was taken advantage of horrifically.” But she maintains that Kevin never abused her physically.

What affected her more than anything, however, was the infidelity. Kevin owned a New Jersey condo of his own, which Williams regarded as a “party house” to spend time with his friends. Williams knew Hunter and his friends were partaking: “They’d drink brown liquor and smoke blunts!” Williams didn’t want that in their house, around their child. So Kevin Hunter having his own condo was no big deal…at first. What Williams didn’t know was that Hunter was entertaining more than just his friends.

One day, she came over to the condo and found incriminating evidence. “I opened up a night table drawer and saw a Rolex watch,” Williams tells the camera. “He said, ‘I was buying that for you.’ I said, ‘You’re lying. Who’s the bitch?'” Hunter denied the accusation of cheating. But Williams knew better: “There were underwear that didn’t fit me in the bed, and the bedsheets were nasty.”

“And whenever I went around Kevin’s people, they could never look me in the eye, and I knew it was always out of guilt,” Williams charges. She says she’d demand, “Look me in the eye. You don’t think I know? Look me in the eye.”

Things got worse. So Williams put her snooping skills to the test. “Kevin had gone to LA for ‘business’. I hired a PA — yes, I did,” Williams says. “I found a whole lot of stuff.” The results were startling: Kevin Hunter was not only sleeping with but living with another woman. Wendy’s former employee Charlamagne was from South Carolina, like the other woman, and had introduced her to Hunter.

Charlamagne introduced Hunter to massage therapist Sharina Hudson. “Charlamagne didn’t introduce Sharina to Kevin for the purpose of getting that close,” Williams says. “And Kevin’s so stupid — what a stupid gorilla. The PI was taking pictures of them going to the gym, going to dinner, her with Gucci, Pucci and Lucci,” Williams says.

Williams’ voice drips with disdain as she talks about Hudson being “in the passenger seat of my Rolls-Royce Ferrari. And my son’s in Miami.” She seethes at Kevin Hunter for buying a house — mere miles from the Hunter residence — “to share with that backwoods bitch.”

“You planned dates for dinner with another woman. You planned to sit down on that beach in Miami with that other woman,” Williams says. And eventually, Hunter had a baby with this other woman. In March 2019, Hudson gave birth to a baby girl — reportedly fathered by Hunter. Williams was shattered by the news.

That betrayal was the last straw — and the nail in the coffin of a 22-year marriage.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Historic Wave of Black Actors Score Emmy Nominations

Photo via Collider.

By Terrance Turner

The Primetime Emmy Award nominations were announced today. According to Variety, 35 of the 102 acting nominees are Black — the most ever. Black actors make up 34.3% of the nominees, which is substantially higher than last year’s 19.8%. (In 2018, the percentage was 27.7%, which was a record at the time.) Frank Scherma, CEO of the Television Academy, pointed to the racial unrest sweeping America as a reason for the noticeable change in representation. “2020 isn’t just about the global health crisis. This year, we are also bearing witness to one of the greatest fights for social justice in history, and it is our duty to use this medium for change,” he said today.

Billy Porter is nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series for his work on “Pose”. Last year, Porter became the first openly gay black actor to win that award. This year, he’s nominated again, amidst a crowded field that includes actor Sterling K. Brown (for “This is Us”). Brown won in 2017, and in his acceptance speech he honored Andre Braugher — the last black actor to win that award (in 1998). Ironically, both are competing in the same category this year.

Braugher is nominated this year for best supporting comedy actor for his role as Detective Pendleton on the Fox comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”. Brown is also nominated for best supporting actor in a comedy, for his portrayal of Reggie in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”. (Deadline reported Brown as saying that he would be happy to return as Reggie next season.)

Singer and actress Zendaya scored a best drama actress nomination for her performance as a teenager recovering from drug addiction in the HBO series “Euphoria”. She, too, is in a crowded field that includes Jennifer Aniston, Laura Linney, and Sandra Oh. (Zendaya’s father is African-American; her mother has Irish, German, English and Scottish ancestry.)

Don Cheadle scored an Emmy nod for best actor in a comedy for the Wall Street-themed Showtime series “Black Monday”. Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross are nominated for best comedy actor and actress, respectively, for “Black-ish”. Ross is nominated alongside actress and writer Issa Rae, nominated for her work on “Insecure”. Her co-star Yvonne Orji, who plays Issa’s (ex?)-best friend Molly, is also nominated for best supporting comedy actress.

It was the supporting and limited/guest actor categories, in fact, where black actors shined. Black and Italian actor Giancarlo Esposito scored three nominations, including best guest actor in a drama for “The Mandalorian”. He is also nominated twice for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series — for playing the kingpin Gus Fring. (He played the role in AMC’s “Better Call Saul” and its legendary predecessor “Breaking Bad”.)

In the category of best actress in a limited series, three Black actresses are nominated: Regina King, (“Watchmen”), Octavia Spencer, (“Self Made”) and Kerry Washington (“Little Fires Everywhere“). Washington is cast opposite Reese Witherspoon in “Little Fires”, based on the novel by Celeste Ng. The Hulu series depicts two women grappling with class differences in Cleveland. Spencer portrays legendary Black businesswoman Madame C.J. Walker in “Self Made”. Walker built an empire of hair and beauty products to become the first self-made female millionaire. She plays a detective fighting white supremacy on “Watchmen”. King reacted to the news on Twitter:

“Watchmen” scored a stunning 26 nominations, leading the pack among all other series. (Oscar winner Lou Gossett, Jr. is up for best supporting actor in a limited series.) The HBO series is based on a graphic novel. Set in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the show depicts a town where white supremacists have threatened the police — who must wear masks to protect themselves.

But Watchmen wasn’t the only HBO show to make an impression. In fact, “Insecure” received eight nominations, including its first-ever nod for best comedy series. The half-hour series will compete with seven other nominees, including The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Good Place. Remarkably, Insecure was also nominated twice for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (Half-Hour). Ava Berkosky is nominated for “Lowkey Lost”; Kira Kelly is nominated for her work on “Lowkey Happy”, which Berkovsky directed.

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Lawrence and Issa on an art exhibit in “Lowkey Happy”, which scored an Emmy nomination for cinematography. (Photo via Twitter @InsecureHBO.)

The episode “Lowkey Happy” was written by “Insecure” actress Natasha Rothwell. (You can read my rapturous review of that episode — and of Kelly’s luminous cinematography — here.)

In an interesting twist, the former President and First Lady were also in the running for awards this season. According to The Hill, President Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company earned seven Emmy nominations this year with two acclaimed documentaries. “American Factory” and “Becoming” were both were recognized for directing.

“American Factory,” which follows the story of a factory in Ohio after it’s reopened by a Chinese billionaire, was nominated for three categories: outstanding picture editing for a nonfiction program, outstanding cinematography for a nonfiction program and outstanding directing for a documentary/nonfiction program. “Becoming”, which follows Mrs. Obama on a book tour involving her memoir, is a contender for best documentary.

A Meditation on Happiness, And A Passionate Reunion, on “Insecure”

Photo from GoldDerby.com.

By Terrance Turner

June 1, 2020

Lawrence (Jay Ellis) and Issa (Issa Rae) at an art exhibition on tonight’s episode of “Insecure”. Photo courtesy of Twitter.

This recap contains spoilers.

On “Lowkey Happy”, last night’s episode of Insecure, Lawrence (Jay Ellis) meets up with his ex Issa (Issa Rae) for drinks. He nervously waits for her to show up, anxiously popping a breath mint. Issa arrives and quickly takes a nasty fall onto the club floor. Once she recovers, she joins him at the bar, and Lawrence orders what he thinks is her favorite drink — prosecco with a splash of whiskey.

“That’s actually not my drink anymore,” Issa corrects him. Now it’s prosecco with a splash of vodka. “Let the record show, I’ve changed,” she tells Lawrence. (She has.) Lawrence apologizes for missing the block party that Issa organized and tells Issa he was in San Francisco for job interviews. “I just don’t wanna be afraid to move on,” he tells her.

“I heard about you and Condola,” Issa says, referencing his recent breakup. “I’m sorry.”

“We don’t gotta talk about that,” Lawrence interjects. He quickly changes the subject. “You know, I ran into Molly at the airport,” Lawrence says. “It was awkward.”

“That’s probably because we’re not friends anymore,” Issa says flatly.

At first, Lawrence laughs, taking the comment as a joke. It slowly dawns on him that Issa isn’t kidding. “For real?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Issa confirms. “We don’t speak.”

“Wow. I can’t imagine you and Molly not [being friends],” Lawrence says, as Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” begins playing. More people start to crowd into the bar and dance.

“What happened?” Lawrence asks.

“We don’t have to get into it,” Issa says tersely. “But you had something you wanted to talk to me about? What is it?”

The answer doesn’t come — they’re interrupted by a man ordering drinks in the increasingly crowded bar. They instead decide to meet at another place. Their Uber driver mistakes them for a couple, asking if they’re married.

“I tried,” Lawrence says. “I bought a ring.” Issa is caught off guard by this revelation, which she didn’t know about. Nor does she know what Lawrence needs to talk to her about. She tries to get answers at the Latin restaurant they go to next. But Lawrence stonewalls.

While they wait for a table, Lawrence sets a no-holds-barred agenda for the night: no walking on eggshells. No tiptoeing around sore subjects. “No eggshells,” he orders. “We know each other too well for that.” Issa accepts and presses Lawrence to say what he wanted to tell her. But his hesitance, and the arrival of the waiter, delay the big reveal.

They are further delayed by Lawrence’s difficulty deciding what to order. Issa grows impatient and takes charge, ordering the meal for them. Issa adds a whiskey neat for Lawrence (she knows his preferred drink). Issa effortlessly rattles off the order with what Lawrence calls “impressive” skill.

“Impress me with what you want to tell me,” Issa quips.

“I’ve been thinking about us,” Lawrence confesses, “and what would’ve happened if we stayed together. Sometimes I wonder, like, do I give up too easily on things?”

“It might be obvious,” Issa says, “but I do wish you hadn’t given up on us.”

They talk candidly about Lawrence’s slide into depression and unemployment towards the end of their five-year relationship. And Lawrence gets some clarity on Issa’s infidelity: her Season One affair with Daniel (Y’lan Noel) torpedoed the relationship for good. “Why Daniel?” he asks pointedly. “Or could it have been anyone?”

“No, not anyone,” Issa answers. She explains: “He just popped up and gave me attention, during a time when you weren’t. And it’s not an excuse, but… it just felt good to feel wanted, I guess.”

“Things were that bad between us?” Lawrence asks. (Obviously, yes.)

“Sometimes I used to drive around after work just to avoid coming home,” Issa reveals. “But I still wanted to be with you, not him. I just had a moment of weakness.” She later adds: “For an entire year, nothing I did could snap you out of what you were going through. You didn’t want to talk; you didn’t want to go out; you didn’t want to have sex. You didn’t want me, Lawrence.”

“It’s not that I didn’t want you,” Lawrence replies. “Just watching you get up and go to work was this daily reminder that I [had] nowhere to go. Nothing to do. And I thought about moving back home, but I know that would have just made me feel worse.” It’s a raw, honest, adult conversation that answers lingering questions.

The rest of the night unfolds like a date — witty banter and warm ribbing, unforced chemistry and easy conversation. The two visit the Art Walk in downtown L.A., and Issa reveals that she’s working on creating happiness for herself. “I’ve been waiting around, waiting for other stuff to make me happy,” she explains, “and I think that s–t is a choice.” She turns to Lawrence. “What about you? Are you happy?”

“Yeah, I think I’m getting there,” Lawrence answers. “I would say I’m pretty happy right now.”

Lawrence gets a call from Condola, who’s been calling/texting him all night. But he ignores it. “We’ve been talking, but I don’t know,” he tells Issa. “I’m not really sure what’s gonna happen between us.” That future becomes even more uncertain once Issa learns that Lawrence lives nearby.

Lawrence decides to show Issa his new apartment. Inside, she realizes that he still has their old couch. Issa asks if she can use the bathroom before she returns to the Lyft still waiting outside. While she’s gone, Lawrence goes outside and discreetly calls Condola back. “Sorry I didn’t get back to you,” he tells her. “I can still try to make it tonight. I’ll keep you posted.” But when Issa emerges from the bathroom, she realizes instantly what’s up.

“She wants to talk,” Lawrence explains. Issa takes the hint and starts to leave. But she stops at the door.

“What if I wanted to stay?” she asks. “I’m not ready for the night to end yet.”

“Tonight made me happy,” Lawrence admits.

You make me happy,” Issa confesses.

“So…stay.”

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Where do Issa and Lawrence go from here? (Photo via Twitter.)

This episode comes after what’s been a brutal week, especially for black people. Protests of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Derek Chauvin continue to rock the country. In L.A., where the show is set and filmed, a weekend of protests turned violent. California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in the city and county of Los Angeles just before midnight Saturday, amid looting and freeway closures.

Nearly 1,200 protesters were arrested in Los Angeles County on Sunday. Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told KTLA-TV that 700 people were arrested in the city of L.A. on Sunday. Los Angeles’ 6 pm curfew will last until 6 am Tuesday. According to the Los Angeles Times, “More than 400 people were arrested in Santa Monica on suspicion of crimes that included looting, burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, assault on a police officer and curfew violations.”

Insecure actor Kendrick Sampson, who plays Nathan on the show, was hit by seven rubber bullets yesterday while protesting in L.A.

Cast member Natasha Rothwell, who wrote the episode and plays Kelli on the series, acknowledged the unrest across the country. She wrote on Twitter:

For this black man — angered by the killing of George Floyd, weary of both police violence and its news coverage — last night’s episode was like manna.

Cinematographer Ava Berkofsky, who directed, presents magical visuals — the cloud exhibit, that stunning blue/red light display — that immerse us in the scene. Natasha Rothwell’s masterful screenplay presents bracingly real reminders of why the couple failed: Issa’s infidelity, Lawrence’s stagnation. But her layered script also reminds us why these two worked in the first place: a shared sense of humor, natural conversation, lots of laughs. Jay Ellis and Issa Rae’s beautifully naturalistic performances make everything feel achingly real. In a season of good episodes, this may be Insecure‘s all-time best.

June 3, 2020

I do not make the above statement lightly. For months, I have felt that the Season Two finale, “Hella Perspective”, was a high-water mark that the show couldn’t possibly top. After weeks of distance (and a bitter fight outside a restaurant in the previous episode), Issa and Lawrence finally had the bracing, vulnerable, heart-tugging conversation that they’d needed to have all season. It was raw. It was real. It was glorious.

But “Lowkey Happy”, I think, is even better. From the screenplay to the cinematography, even down to Rae and Ellis’ terrific performances, this episode stood head and shoulders above many of its predecessors. And it came at a time when its dreamy, romantic vibes were desperately needed.

Throughout last weekend, I tried to unplug, to disconnect from the headlines that I’d lived in and written about throughout the week. But I still found myself drained and demoralized. Insecure brought me back to life. To see these two characters who obviously belong together (DON’T @ ME) FINALLY reconnect was great. But to see black people freely walking and talking, enjoying each other’s company, slowly falling in love all over again — in the age of coronavirus and virulent racism — was sensational.

One of the actors apparently thought so, too. Ellis told Vulture: “I read this script the night before the table read, and it felt like closure. It felt like love. It felt like friendship. It felt like soul mates. It felt like our show is so universal. There were just so many things about it that were absolutely amazing. I remember turning to Natasha and telling her, ‘I think you just wrote the most beautiful episode of this show ever’.”

He’s not wrong.