Long before Madonna
and Courtney Love flaunted their blonde ambition, there was Wendy O. Williams, lead singer of the '80s punk band the Plasmatics. But beneath her platinum Mohawk and taped-over nipples lurked a tamer soul. "When people met her offstage, they couldn't believe it," says her longtime boyfriend and manager Rod Swenson, 52. "She was sweet and shy...very vulnerable and so sensitive." Too sensitive, perhaps. On April 6, Swenson discovered the 48-year-old singer's body, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, near their Storrs, Conn., home. The onetime Queen of Shock Rock, who, Swenson says, had attempted suicide twice before, left behind a cryptic note that read, in part, "For me, much of the world makes no sense, but my feelings about what I am doing ring loud and clear to an inner ear and a place where there is no self, only calm."
Life was rarely calm for Williams, a Rochester, N.Y., native who was booted out of the Brownies for flirting with boys. As a teen, she hitchhiked to Colorado with $50 she'd saved working at Dunkin' Donuts. She found her iconoclastic calling in 1978 when Swenson created the Plasmatics around her. Known for such wild onstage antics as shredding cars with chain saws, she recorded four albums with the group and earned a 1985 Grammy nomination before quitting in 1988. Williams later received a license as a wildlife animal rehabilitator but remained unfulfilled. "She tried to hang on," says Swenson. "I was constantly telling her to please not go. Finally, she would say, 'I just need to go. It's better for me to go now.' "