Wendy Williams' health issues unpacked in new documentary: Here's what to know

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Two years after canceling her hit talk show, Wendy Williams’ health remains in the spotlight, especially in light of a new documentary that explores the star's recent struggles.

The four-part documentary aired on Lifetime on Feb. 24 and 25 and followed the former talk show host and her family as they try to get a handle on her life and wellbeing in the wake of her stepping away from the beloved "The Wendy Williams Show." Williams is an executive producer on the project.

Wendy Williams (YouTube)
Wendy Williams (YouTube)

Williams' health becomes a main focus of the documentary, in particular her alcohol use and her cognitive issues. The 59-year-old has since been diagnosed with frontotemporaral dementia, her care team announced in a press release ahead of the documentary's premiere.

Here’s everything to know about Williams’ health:

Williams was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia and aphasia in 2023

"After undergoing a batter of medical tests," Williams was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia in 2023, according to a Feb. 22 statement.

“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."

Primary progressive aphasia, or PPA, impacts speech, reading, writing and the ability to understand what others are saying to you. It’s a subtype of frontotemporal dementia, or FTD, which affects communication, including speech, writing and the ability to understand language.

FTD is caused by shrinking in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which control personality, behavior and language. Depending on which parts of the brain are affected, someone might experience personality changes, such as behaving erratically, inappropriately, or becoming distant, according to Mayo Clinic.

FTD is sometimes misdiagnosed as a mental health condition or Alzheimer’s disease, but it typically occurs at a younger age, between 40 and 65, than other types of dementia.

“Most people, when they think of the word dementia, they think problems with memory and Alzheimer’s disease, but FTD doesn’t really show up as problems with memory. ... It affects how people behave, how they interact with others and how they speak,” Dr. Sami Barmada, director of Michigan Brain Bank and associate professor of neurology at University of Michigan Medicine, previously told TODAY.com about Bruce Willis, who was diagnosed with the same conditions.

In a statement on Feb. 23, Williams thanked fans for their support amid her diagnosis.

“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 to TODAY.com. “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.”

There are questions around her cognitive state

Even prior to Williams revealing her FTD diagnosis, many people were speculating that the star was having cognitive issues.

“Her care team is sharing this very personal update with her cherished fans, friends, and supporters to correct inaccurate and hurtful rumors about her health,” the statement explained.

“Unfortunately, many individuals diagnosed with aphasia and frontotemporal dementia face stigma and misunderstanding, particularly when they begin to exhibit behavioral changes but have not yet received a diagnosis.”

In the new Lifetime documentary, Williams often appears to have cognitive difficulty when she speaks to her loved ones. Her son, Kevin Hunter Jr., and manager Will Selby both suggest at points that these issues are associated with her alcohol use.

Williams currently has a court-appointed legal guardian who oversees her money and her health to avoid the potential for her to be exploited due to her cognitive issues, People reported.

Williams’ sister, Wanda Finnie, also told People in a story published Feb. 21, 2024, that the star is now in a wellness facility that specializes in treating cognitive issues.

"She’s being treated for some of her mental deficiencies, some of the cognitive issues," Williams' niece, Alex Finnie, said in the documentary. "They’re getting to the root of the problem in terms of what causes maybe some of the drinking and other irrational decisions."

Williams revealed she was diagnosed with Graves’ disease in 2018

In February 2018, the talk show host announced she’d be taking a three-week break from "The Wendy Williams Show" because she had been diagnosed with Graves' disease. About a week before, she'd canceled several shows due to experiencing flu-like symptoms. At the time, a rep for her show told TODAY.com in a statement that she'd had Graves' disease for "many years."

“Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition that stimulates the receptors on the thyroid gland to make more thyroid hormones,” Dr. Deena Gupta-Adimoolam, a specialist in endocrinology and primary care prevention, tells TODAY.com. This overproduction of thyroid hormones, or hyperthyroidism, can lead to an increased heart rate, sweating, weight loss, anxiety, hair loss, difficulty sleeping and bulging eyes, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Williams noted that her fans had pointed out changes in her eyes when she revealed her diagnosis. “Graves’ disease squeezes the muscles behind the eyeballs,” she explained, adding that it’s caused her eyeballs to twitch.

Williams returned to her show, but she had to take time off in 2019 and again in 2020 to cope with her illness.

“If hyperthyroidism is untreated, it can be life-threatening,” Adimoolam says. While there are treatments, such as medication, surgery and therapy, Graves’ disease looks different for every person, she adds. Even with treatment, it might remain debilitating for some.

Williams fainted on live TV in 2017

In October 2017, Williams passed out during the Halloween episode of her talk show. Dressed as the Statue of Liberty, she was talking to the camera and then started to shake and struggle to speak before falling on the ground. The show cut to a commercial, and when it returned, she told viewers, "That was not a stunt. I overheated in my costume. I passed out."

The next day, she explained that prior to fainting, she felt “hot and a little dizzy.” She said the paramedics later told her she was low on electrolytes.

“It was scary,” she recalled. “It was really scary. It was so scary, all I could think of in the middle of the scare was, ‘Don’t pull the podium over on you, because that’ll make it worse.’”

Williams has struggled with alcohol and cocaine use

In 2013, Williams told NPR she used be a “real fiend” when it came to drugs. “I was addicted to cocaine,” she said. “Crack cocaine — cooking it, getting it up in the Bronx. ... Thank God I never got stopped by the cops to shame my family and myself and lose my job."

In 2019, Williams revealed 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.

The documentary and a recent People cover story also reference her alcohol use. The documentary's executive producer Mark Ford told People: “She was already battling so much physically, and then it became clear that there were mental and addiction issues she was also battling.”

Throughout the documentary, multiple family members and Selby share their efforts to prevent Williams from drinking. Empty glasses and alcohol bottles are often shown around her apartment. In the final episode, Hunter also says that his mother was diagnosed with “alcohol-induced dementia.”

She fractured her shoulder in 2018

In 2019, Variety reported that Williams fractured her shoulder in December of 2018, delaying her return to the show following the holidays. Williams was originally scheduled to return to the show on Jan. 7 but had to delay her return by a week to focus on recovery.

She has lymphedema, especially in her feet

In the documentary, Williams' lymphedema in her feet takes center stage at certain points. In one scene, she cries out and says she can't stand anymore. In another, she refuses to do exercises with a personal trainer to improve her stability out of fear of falling down.

Lymphedema is a condition where the limbs — in Williams' case, her feet and legs — swell because the lymphatic system doesn't drain properly. Most often, it develops over a person's lifetime. It's not curable, and can be painful and lead to dangerous complications.

Wendy Williams has been living with lymphedema, a chronic condition that can be highly uncomfortable, for several years. (Lifetime)
Wendy Williams has been living with lymphedema, a chronic condition that can be highly uncomfortable, for several years. (Lifetime)

“This is lymphedema,” Williams says in the documentary as the camera shows her swollen feet. “And I can only feel now 2% (of my feet). Do you see what this looks like?”

She first revealed her diagnosis in 2019 on her talk show. She gave a closer look at her condition during a 2022 segment with TMZ Live,

“Normally I would be in a wheelchair," she said, a sentiment she later echoed in the documentary.

What is Wendy Williams doing today?

Williams is staying in a wellness facility, her sister and niece said in the documentary and told People. They said that because of her court-appointed guardian, they cannot contact Williams, but Williams can reach out to them.

“I spoke with her yesterday, and I speak with her very regularly when she reaches out to me. She is, from what I understand, in a wellness, healing type of environment,” Wanda Finnie said.

"She is in a healing place emotionally," she added. "She’s not the person that you see in (the documentary).”

How to watch "Where is Wendy Williams?" documentary

The 2024 documentary "Where is Wendy Williams?" aired on Lifetime at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Feb. 24 and 25. You can stream it MyLifetime.com.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com