Ten years after her cult shock-punk band’s last tour,
Plasmatics’ lead singer Wendy O.
Williams has died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Williams’ longtime companion and onetime manager found her body in
the woods just outside of their Storrs, Conn., home on Monday.
Williams was 48.
Williams, who pursued a solo career after the Plasmatics’s 1982
swansong Coup d’Etat, was nominated for a Grammy in 1985
for best Female Rock Vocal. She had also dabbled in both film and
television acting (Reform School Girls in 1986 and
McGyver in 1990), but had dropped out of the public eye in
recent years and had been working as an animal rehabilitator. In an
Associated Press report, manager Rod
Swenson said that Williams had found it difficult to live
a normal life past her peak and had been despondent for a long
“This was something she had planned,” Swenson said. “It was no
The Plasmatics debuted their hybrid of punkish heavy metal and
performance art at New York’s infamous CBGB in
1978. Swenson, a Yale grad who dubbed himself “Captain Kink” and
produced live sex shows in the ’70s as well as videos for
Patti Smith and the Ramones,
dreamed of starting his own band and picked Williams, one of his
stars, to front it.
From the beginning, the focus of the Plasmatics’ act was on
Williams, who would use sledgehammers and chainsaws to wreak
genuine havoc on television sets, guitars and, most memorably,
Cadillac Coupe de Villes. Williams’ simulated sex acts and
provocative partial nudity — as well as the band’s mohawks, hair
dyes, nurses’ outfits, ballet tutus and songs about sex, violence
and fast food — rounded out the Plasmatics experience. The package
garnered a healthy dose of media attention, a cult following,
modest album sales and the title “queen of shock rock” for
Predictably, the no-holds barred stage antics also drew multiple
obscenity charges for Williams, who was arrested on January 18,
1981 in Milwaukee and the following night in Cleveland. Williams
and Swenson were also charged with battery and resisting arrest the
first night, when, according to witnesses, Williams slapped an
officer after she was grabbed in a sexually abusive way. Williams
and Swenson were taken to a hospital after the resulting fracas
(both claimed to have been abused by the arresting officers.)
Williams and Swenson later sued but lost their case.
In the aftermath of the arrests, Williams remained a vocal
advocate of her rights to self expression.
“Using sex to create the law is so stupid, and I’m not the kind
of person who walks the middle of the line,” Williams said in a
1981 Rolling Stone interview. “We’re not out to pick
fights. But then the essence of what we do is shaking up the middle
class; I think if you don’t do that with your music, you’re just
adding to the noise pollution.”
Williams, who was raised on a farm in Upstate New York and ran
away from home at 16, is survived by her mother and two sisters.