Wendy Williams dropped a major personal bomb on her show Tuesday. Tearing up, she revealed she’s currently in recovery for substance abuse, spending each day after work in group therapy before going home to a sober house with other New Yorkers “in the struggle.” Her on-air admission, where she also shared that she has a 24-hour sobriety coach that drives her around, was the first time her parents and friends heard the news as well. Williams didn't specify what substance she's recovering from now, but mentioned her former addiction to cocaine. The raw segment was a rare moment for an on-air celebrity, and shattered the veil hosts usually have around the “embarrassing” secrets of their private lives.
“When you see me come to work, glammed up, after the show I go across the street, I do my pilates,” she said. “After I go to pilates I go to several meetings all around town in the Tri-state area and I see my brothers and sisters caught up in near addiction, looking for help. They don’t know I’m Wendy. They don’t care I’m Wendy.” After her meetings and “breaking bread” with people in recovery, her sober coach drives her to a sober house that’s “lights out” at 10 PM. There, she lives “with a bunch of smelly boys who’ve become my family,” she said.
The news is coming at an especially chaotic time for Williams. She recently took a two month break from her show to focus on treating her Graves disease, letting Nick Cannon fill in for part of that break. There were divorce rumors swirling around her in December after her husband Kevin Hunter, who is rumored to have a second family, allegedly impregnated another woman. And it’s still hard to forget the image of Williams fainting on air in 2017, which she said at the time was from overheating in the Statue of Liberty costume she was wearing.
Beyond the other complicating factors in Williams’ life, the segment highlighted how different it is for public figures to tackle their addiction. The average person might be familiar with the concept of sober houses and group therapy meetings, but what exactly are 24-hour sober coaches? Douglas Caine, founder of Sober Champion, a company that has provided coaches for celebrities, explains they can do anything from keeping an eye on their patient from a distance to providing therapy, helping them make friends in a healthier community, or—in extreme cases—confiscating their wallet, shoes, and confronting people that sell substances to the patient. (They can also cost anywhere from $750 to $2,400 a day, Caine said.)
But these round-the-clock sober companions are often operating on the down low, which could help explain how Williams’ strategy for sobriety was a mystery even to her parents and inner circle. “There are times when a sober companion will wear a suit with an executive to a board meeting,” Caine said. “They can be presented not as a sober companion but a business partner or a friend at, let’s say, a wedding or another stressful social situation.”
Celebrities are especially private with any disorders from substance abuse down to high blood pressure, Caine explained, because the more perceived issues they bring to a given project, the harder it is to get producers and insurance companies on board. But that secrecy works against their recovery.
“Unfortunately with many of these diseases like substance use, diabetes, depression, schizophrenia, when you keep it quiet, no one who truly cares about you can help you recover from it. So it places the coach in a very difficult dilemma,” Caine said. “The more transparency a person with an illness has the better their chances are for recovery. And the more hiding that goes on, the greater your chances are for relapse.” Add to that the pressures of partying and nearly on-the-clock turn ups in Hollywood, and you’ve got a tough environment for anyone struggling with addiction.
Williams’ admission that she’s living in a sober house and using a personal coach was extremely rare for a working celebrity, or really anyone with that level of intensive care. But it’s also possible that her openness itself could help her recovery. And from the sounds of it, she’s got a pretty tight-knit group of New Yorkers holding her down behind the scenes.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.