[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at
1998's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Wednesday, Apr. 8.]
Chainsaw-wielding punk singer Wendy O. Williams, leader of the 1970s and
'80s shock-punk group the Plasmatics, has committed suicide. She was 48.
"It really shook me up," said Joey Ramone, singer for punk pioneers the
Ramones and a peer of Williams', shortly after hearing of her death. "She
was never that type of person [to take her own life]. She was a
vegetarian, she was really into health. She was vivacious, someone who
really goes for the gusto."
Rod Swenson, the Plasmatics' former manager and Williams' companion of many
years, said he found Williams' body Monday in the woods near their Storrs,
Conn., home, according to a report from the Associated Press. The
singer, described as despondent by Swenson, had shot herself.
The Plasmatics rose to prominence in the late '70s with an outrageous stage
show that carried the shock tactics of predecessor Alice Cooper to new
heights and presaged current bands such as Marilyn Manson. Their concerts
included visual effects ranging from guitars sliced by chainsaws to
exploding vehicles, and Williams' stage costumes often incorporated bondage
gear as well as electrical tape and whipped cream.
"It was sex, it was violence, it was rock 'n' roll, it was explosives -- it
was great, it was pure insanity," Ramone said. "They would
always push the envelope. That's when rock 'n' roll was free and loose,
exciting and loaded with character."
A 1981 Creem magazine feature on the Plasmatics described the band
as "the most visually bizarre and exciting group since Attila the Hun ...
"During the two-hour performance, she will systematically take a
sledgehammer to a television set (made some nice sparks), annihilate an
electric guitar and explode the Milwaukee cop car, reducing it to a pile of
rubble," the magazine wrote of one of Williams' shows.
Williams was arrested numerous times on obscenity charges stemming from
alleged simulated sex acts onstage as well as for performing in various
states of undress.
In 1982, Williams re-recorded Tammy Wynette's country anthem "Stand By Your
Man" with Motorhead leader Lemmy Kilmister. Wynette, 55, died on Monday. In 1985, Williams was
nominated for a Grammy in the "Female Rock Vocal" category. Williams also
issued several solo albums in the second half of the '80s and toured with
various Plasmatics incarnations until 1988.
In addition to her career as a singer, Williams also dabbled in acting.
She appeared in the 1979 porn film "Candy Goes To Hollywood," as well
as in the more mainstream release "Reform School Girls" (1986), for
which she recorded four songs. Since the Plasmatics' heyday, Williams had
taken roles in an episode of the "McGyver" TV show and in a stage
production of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
Williams most recently worked as an animal rehabilitator, according to
AP. She is survived by her mother and two sisters.