From her early days as a radio DJ, Wendy Williams stood out for her ability to say the things that other people only thought. That candid streak has taken her far: Her syndicated daytime talker, The Wendy Williams Show, a potent mix of gossip, entertainment and advice, has been renewed for its 13th season. “I had my whole life planned out when I was 10 years old. And you know what? It’s pretty much worked out the exact way, if not better than I planned,” Wendy, 56, exclusively tells Closer.
Of course, there have also been experiences Wendy could have never imagined and would never have wished for. As a young woman, she was date-raped and felt too ashamed and afraid to report it to the police. She suffered more recent heartbreak in 2019, when she divorced her husband of more than two decades, accusing him of serial adultery, and underwent treatment for substance abuse.
“I’m highly successful because I’ve been through a lot, and most of it I’ve had to figure out by myself,” says Wendy, who is allowing her candid, warts-and-all story to be told in two new features on Lifetime. Wendy Williams: The Movie, in which actress Ciera Payton plays Wendy, and the documentary Wendy Williams… What a Mess.
Keep scrolling below for Closer‘s exclusive Q&A interview with Wendy Williams!
How did your Lifetime biopic come about?
Lifetime actually came to me. I wrote my autobiography back in 2003. It was as transparent as this movie is, except that I’ve been through quite a lot more since then. But Lifetime and I were very pleased with the outcome. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry.
Did you offer the actress who plays you, Ciera Payton, advice?
She would ask me for little tips on scenes and things like that. We forged a relationship.
What was your childhood in New Jersey like? Did you always want to be famous?
I wasn’t really a student in the classroom. I did not like school, but I was always very creative. I would get lost reading books and listening to the radio. When I would listen to the disc jockeys talking about their glamorous lives and the celebrities they met, I said, “You know what? I could do that!”
What was your family life like?
Very middle-class. My parents liked the best of the best, even if they couldn’t afford it. [Thanks to] Reaganomics, the banks were loaning money to everybody. I grew up with a housekeeper to help my working mom. It was normal in the town that I grew up in. I was one of only four Black people in my graduating class.
Did your mom share any of her thoughts about making your own way in life?
She taught me to always have your own money. Never tell your husband or the man you are dating what money you have on the side. Never! If he’s good to you, you can share it when the time comes. If he’s bad to you, then you’ve got your escape route.
What was your parents’ marriage like?
My mother and father — I never saw them in a big fight. My dad never slept on the couch. Really, they had an ideal marriage. When my mother passed [last December], I realized I have more in common with my parents now than I ever have in my life.
Your 2019 divorce from Kevin Hunter, the father of your son, is a pivotal part of your new biopic.
The honest truth is that I don’t regret meeting Kevin. We had feelings for each other from our first date. We were married for 21 years and went through a lot together. But he is a serial cheater. And even if there wasn’t a mistress with a baby, I would have still divorced Kevin because I outgrew him.
Would you ever marry again?
I would love to get married again, but it would be a marriage under different terms. I’m one of those girls. I have a strong career. I can do without a man emotionally, financially and even physically, but I love having a man in my life. I want just one.
What are you looking for in a partner?
I need a mature man, at least 45 years old. He has to have been married and divorced before and he has to have had his children. We can’t live together because he is not moving into my apartment and I don’t want to live at his. There will be a prenuptial agreement [that says] what’s yours is yours, what’s mine is mine.
Another sensitive topic that your movie addresses is your experience with date rape.
I never planned on telling a soul. I kept asking myself, What did I do wrong? I was a young girl in my early 20s and he was a singer with a number-one on the R&B charts. The lesson to learn is to watch your surroundings. And say something. I didn’t because I was scared and didn’t think anyone would believe me. The one thing about the times we live in now is that we can speak up about things like that and our voices will be heard.
You have been living with Graves’ disease for many years. How are you feeling?
I feel fine. Graves’ is not really a feeling thing, it’s more of a look thing. It creates pressure behind your eyeballs. I do get a scary stare every once in a while when I get really excited, but everything is manageable. I’m thankful for the health that I have.
Your son, Kevin Jr., is 20. What do you love most about being his mom?
The best thing is what we have in common. He and I can look at each other and it’s a smiling moment or a crying moment or a just-give-me-a-hug moment. Even at 20, he will emoji me a kissy face…. My son loves me.
Has it been hard to coparent him?
I feel as though we are very good coparents. When my son and I are together, we don’t talk about his father unless I bring it up. His relationship with his father is whatever it’s going to be. I don’t get in the way of it.
What advice have you given Kevin Jr. about being a success?
Success comes in many forms. It’s an individual thing. [I think] you’re successful because you’re spiritually right with God and can pay your rent or your mortgage every month. Am I successful? Yes, highly successful.
— Reporting by Natalie Posner