Wendy Williams Documentary Producers Say They Were Unaware of Her Dementia While Filming Most Scenes

Wendy Williams Documentary Producers Say They Were Unaware of Her Dementia While Filming Most Scenes

If you watched Lifetime’s Wendy Williams docuseries that premiered over the weekend and felt uncomfortable, you weren’t alone.

“Where is Wendy Williams?” premiered over the weekend and featured numerous scenes of the former talk show host unsteady, belligerent, confused and also drunk. Her manager would regularly find liquor bottles hidden throughout her apartment, behavior that producers say unnerved them while filming. But they say they didn’t know at the time that Williams had dementia, which the public learned late last week.

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“We all became very concerned for her safety. To be honest, I was so concerned she would fall down the stairs and for numerous different reasons,” said Erica Hanson, an executive producer who can be seen and heard speaking to Williams at certain moments in the series.

Hanson said soon after she and the filmmakers were told Williams had dementia by her son, they turned the cameras off.

“We decided to stop filming as a team. We kept hoping that she was going to get better but it became apparent to us that she was not and that she really needed help,” Hanson said.

“Where is Wendy Williams?” debuted Saturday, two days after her care team released a statement saying she has been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia, the same disease Bruce Willis has. Its two episodes aired after attorneys for Lifetime successfully fended off an effort by Williams’ guardian to stop the broadcasts.

Read More: What It’s Like Living With Aphasia—and How to Support a Loved One With the Condition

In a review, Variety called the series “an exploitive display of her cognitive decline and emotional well-being.” Danie Buchanan, a radio DJ in Atlanta posted a video reaction on Instagram saying, “I couldn’t finish it … It was so hard to watch, it was so hard to see her like that,” she said.

Throughout the documentary, Williams appears unsteady on her feet and she has trouble walking without assistance. Her emotions fluctuate between sweet to suddenly irritable to belligerent to weepy or frustrated. Many times the former talk show host admits to drinking. “I love vodka,” Williams, 59, says in the first episode.

She has been public about her cocaine addiction and lived in a “sober house” in 2019. Each time someone brings up her drinking on camera, Williams ends the conversation.

In April 2023, the film crew followed Williams to Miami to visit her son Kevin, Jr. and other family. During the trip, Williams’ son told the filmmakers that his mother suffers from a form of dementia caused by alcohol.

“We didn’t find out the diagnosis until Kevin Jr. shared that with us,” said Brie Bryant, Lifetime’s senior vice president of non-scripted programming.

Read More: State Driver’s License Laws Could Lead to Underdiagnosis of Dementia, According to New Research

After returning from Miami, the crew arrived at Williams’ apartment to find her sobbing in her bed, seemingly inebriated. This was the tipping point — Hanson was filmed speaking with Williams’ manager, Will Selby, about her condition, before they stopped filming Williams altogether. Shortly after she was placed in a treatment facility by her guardianship.

“We questioned all the time, ‘Should we be here? Should we not? How can we tell this story sensitively?’ It touched all of us deeply. It really did,” Hanson said.

The project was intended to be a follow-up to Lifetime’s 2021 “Wendy Williams: What a Mess!” documentary and biopic “Wendy Williams: The Movie.” Bryant said both the network and Williams enjoyed their partnership and agreed to film Williams’ next chapter.

The objective, said Hanson, was to document a woman making changes in her life, facing obstacles, and coming out the other side. Williams’ self-titled daytime talk show ended in 2022 because of ongoing health issues with Graves’ disease that kept her from filming. Sherri Shepherd, a guest host for Williams, was given her own show.

“We thought we were going to film a woman at a real turning point in her life, embarking on a new career with Wendy doing a podcast … recovering from a very difficult divorce,” said Hanson. “Once we started filming, it really went into a very different direction.”

Read More: Air Pollution May Be Increasing the Risk of Dementia, Study Says

Producers say ultimately what was filmed and aired is honest and unfiltered, like Williams herself.

“It is a painful truth, and it’s a very sad truth,” added executive producer Mark Ford, “but Wendy is one of the most radically honest storytellers in the history of media. Why would this documentary not echo that incredible legacy of of openness?”

Bryant says there is “no conversation” about filming more with Williams in the future. “The only thing that we care about at Lifetime is that she had a platform to tell her story, and that we feel we did so responsibly, and that she gets well and hopefully gets to be with her family.”

The filmmakers say they hope the series makes people take a closer look at guardianships. Because Williams’ finances and medical care are managed by a third party, her family says they are unable to see her and have a say in her treatment.

“We hope that people can see why we aired it, and produced it, and that the intention is to shine a light on the difficulties and the secrecies in these guardianships,” Ford said.

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