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What happened to Wendy Williams? Her Lifetime doc tries to answer

The four-part documentary shows the former talk show host struggling with memory loss and alcohol use.

What happened to Wendy Williams? It’s the question that fuels most of Lifetime’s four-episode special, “Where Is Wendy Williams?” and the one that viewers have wondered, likely since they saw the former daytime talk show host faint on live TV in 2017.

“What actually happened?” DJ Boof, a former DJ on “The Wendy Williams Show,” says in the documentary of the day Williams fainted on set. “That was on everybody’s mind.”

Williams was diagnosed with progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia in 2023, according to a Feb. 22 statement released by her medical team.

“Over the past few years, questions have been raised at times about Wendy’s ability to process information and many have speculated about Wendy’s condition, particularly when she began to lose words, act erratically at times, and have difficulty understanding financial transactions,” the release stated. “Receiving a diagnosis has enabled Wendy to receive the medical care she requires.”

The “Wendy Williams Show” host’s health has been in the spotlight since the end of her 14-year show. She was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune condition that leads to an overproduction of thyroid hormones, in 2018. Williams took time off her show in 2018, then again in 2019 and again in 2020 to manage Graves’ disease.

Williams also has been open about her alcohol and drug use, which unfolds in the documentary. She revealed, on a 2019 episode of her show, that she was living in a sober house. “You know I’ve had a struggle with cocaine in my past, and I never went to a place to get the treatment,” Williams said during an episode of her show.

Williams’ lymphedema plays into the documentary, as she shows the effect the condition had on her feet. Williams says in the documentary that she can only feel 2% of her feet, and struggles to stand.

“The Wendy Williams Show” ended in 2022 following Williams’ prolonged health-related absences. Her niece, Alex Finnie, says in the documentary she broke the news to her aunt, and it took “weeks, months” for her aunt to accept.

Here’s what we learned from the documentary about what happened to Williams, in her own words and in the words of relatives like her son, Kevin Hunter Jr., niece Alex Finnie, sister Wanda Finnie and manager Will Selby.

Wendy Williams is credited as an executive producer of the documentary, as are Selby and Williams' son, Kevin Hunter Jr. She has no comment on the documentary at the time of publication.

Her family links Williams’ decline to her divorce

Williams and her husband, Kevin Hunter, split in 2019 after 20 years of marriage. That same year, she revealed to New York Times Magazine that she left her ex-husband because he fathered a child with another woman.

Williams and Hunter share a son, Kevin Hunter Jr., who was born in 2000.

Regina Shell, a friend of the former talk show host, said Williams was “devastated” by the end of her marriage. Williams’ nephew, Travis Finnie, who lived with her at the time of the split, says he thinks his aunt “had a problem” with drinking.

“If you look at the decline of my aunt, it happened after the divorce,” Travis Finnie says. “I’m not the biggest fan of my uncle, but he made sure she showed up on time, sober and ready to work.”

In the documentary, when asked about her divorce, she says it “wasn’t difficult at all.”

“Women need to grow up ... and not get married so quickly,” she says.

DJ Boof says Williams' ex-husband’s infidelity impacted her. “He was the protector. He was making sure she was doing what’s right and taking care of herself,” she says. DJ Boof says he took on that role and “became that person.”

Kevin Hunter is not in the documentary. In in a statement released at the time of their divorce, he said he is “not proud” of his recent actions.

“I take full accountability and apologize to my wife, my family and her amazing fans. I am going through a time of self-reflection and am trying to right some wrongs,” he said.

The documentary spotlights Williams’ alcohol use

Alcohol is a running theme of the documentary, with Williams’ inner circle commenting on her alcohol use and access.

“I love Wanda (Finnie), but she hates that I love alcohol,” Williams says in the first scene of the documentary, referring to her sister’s perception of her alcohol use.

DJ Boof and Travis Finnie, Williams' nephew, recall a time when Williams had to be hospitalized. After her divorce, DJ Boof says he would often check in on Williams unannounced. According to Travis Finnie, DJ Boof called him and Williams’ son, saying, “She’s going to die and she needs help.” Kevin Hunter Jr., her medical proxy at the time, called an ambulance. She had two life-saving blood transfusions.

When asked what caused Williams' decline, Travis Finnie says, “Alcohol. Sitting in bed and letting her drink liquor.”

In the documentary, Williams’ manager Will Selby monitors her alcohol use. He intervenes at a restaurant and insists she is given a virgin drink, citing her son’s wishes.

“Kevin has a no-alcohol policy. He doesn’t want her drinking a drop of liquor,” he says.

Williams later calls a hotel front desk in Miami to ensure “no alcohol” is sent to Williams’ room while she is in Florida visiting her family.

When Shawn Zanotti, Williams’ publicist at the time, takes her on a trip to California, she allows Williams to drink alcohol. “I feel that she’s OK. She’s bouncing back. She’s on the bounce back right now,” Zanotti says.

Williams’ court-appointed guardian comes under scrutiny

The documentary, which was filmed between August 2022 and April 2023, gets into the circumstances that led to Williams being put under court-appointed guardianship in January 2022.

Before the guardianship was instated, Williams was living in Florida with her family under her son's care. She was summoned back to New York for a court case and was given a guardian.

The family believes her condition declined when she left Florida. “When she went back to New York, things took a turn for the worse,” Williams’ sister, Wanda Finnie, says.

Williams’ manager, Will Selby, says the guardianship case was prompted due to finances. Wells Fargo froze Williams’ accounts and in its filing wrote that the bank has “strong reason to believe that (Williams) is the victim of undue influence and financial exploitation.” 

“It looked as if someone was nefarious, close to her. Who was the person taking advantage of Wendy?” Regina Shell, Williams’ friend, asks.

An attorney representing Wells Fargo requested that the company’s petition be filed under a seal, according to a letter dated Feb. 9 obtained by NBC News.

However, Travis Finnie says the questionable charge was Williams’ son spending $100,000 — which he notes wasn’t unusual, considering her son’s birthday party, thrown by his mother, was $120,000, and his rent was $80,000 a year. Kevin Hunter Jr. says he “never” took money from his mother’s account “without her consent” in the documentary.

Williams’ family expressed their concerns with the guardianship set-up. When asked if he thinks his mother should have a guardian, Kevin Hunter Jr. says, “I think my mother should have a family.”

Wanda Finnie, Williams’ sister, says she was contacted by the court and volunteered to be a guardian. “Then all of a sudden a wall came down and there was nothing,” she says. She calls the guardianship system "broken."

Under the guardianship, Williams’ relatives are unable to contact her directly, her sister and niece told People. She calls them from a blocked number.

On Feb. 22, three days before the documentary premiered, Williams’ court-appointed guardian filed a sealed lawsuit against A&E Television Networks, Lifetime’s parent company.

In a statement given to TODAY, the network confirmed the documentary would air as planned.

She tried to restart her media career

The documentary begins with Williams attempting to launch a new podcast. When asked why she was trying out a new venture, she told her niece her motivations came down to "monday."

In the third episode, Williams and her publicist Shawn Zanotti travel to Los Angeles and pitch a show to NBC. This surprise trip was unsanctioned.

Williams was overwhelmed by the feeling that the network would greenlight the show. Following a meeting, which was not televised, the network did not appear to move forward. NBC declined to comment on the documentary. NBC is owned by NBCUniversal, TODAY’s parent company.

Her son and nephew question Williams’ efforts to get back on TV. “Why are they still looking for work for her? Right now she needs to recover,” Travis Finnie says.

Dementia is mentioned in the final episode

Williams’ progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia diagnosis doesn’t figure into the documentary.

However, dementia is mentioned in the last episode. “(Doctors) basically said that because she was drinking so much, it was starting to affect her headspace and her brain,” Kevin Hunter Jr. says. “So, I think they said it was alcohol-induced dementia.”

Alex Finnie believes three factors led to her aunt’s mental state.

“When it comes to my aunt’s dementia, there are three things that didn’t help. The divorce, the pandemic, and then losing my grandmother.”

“It brings me to tears when she checks out and doesn’t want to take the love, care, and concern that is coming her way,” she says.

Today, she is in a health care facility

Williams is receiving treatment for cognitive functioning at a facility. Alex Finnie told People her aunt’s condition has improved.

“She sounds really great. To hear my aunt now in terms of just how clear she is, just how focused she is on the importance of family and the reality in terms of facing and understanding where she’s at physically and mentally and emotionally, it is like a 180,” she said.

In a statement released ahead of the documentary premiere but following the announcement about her diagnosis on Feb. 23, Williams thanked fans for their support.

“I want to say I have immense gratitude for the love and kind words I have received after sharing my diagnosis of Aphasia and Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD),” she said in a statement. “Let me say, wow! Your response has been overwhelming. The messages shared with me have touched me, reminding me of the power of unity and the need for compassion.”

Williams added that she hopes others with the same condition “benefit from my story.”

“I continue to need personal space and peace to thrive,” she concluded. “Please just know that your positivity and encouragement are deeply appreciated.”