Childhood & Early Life
Vanessa L Williams was born on March 18, 1963 to Helen L and Milton Augustine Williams Jr in Milwood New York. She was the eldest of the two children born to the couple. Her parents worked as music teachers.
Inspired by her parents, young Williams took to music at an early age. She learned how to play the piano and French horn. She also developed an interest for singing and songwriting.
She completed her education from Horace Greenley High School and later on attained a scholarship to enrol at the Syracuse University. Therein she majored in Musical Theatre Arts.
It was while at university that she was first bit by the modelling bug. She participated and won the Miss Syracuse title after which she gained the Miss New York crown. Upon winning the same, she contested for the Miss America title.
In September 1983, she became the first African-American to be crowned Miss America. The title realized her parents’ birth announcement when they called her Miss America. The crown did not come easy to her as she became the first beauty pageant to be the victim of death threats and hate mails. She resigned from her position in September 1984.
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In 1988, she started her career with the release of her debut album, ‘The Right Stuff’. The first self-titled single from the album, ‘The Right Stuff’ met with commercial success on the R&B charts.
She followed this up with couple of other singles such as ‘He’s Got the Look’ and ‘Dreamin’. ‘Dreamin’ went on to peak at number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 thus becoming her first number one single on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The album went on to achieve gold status in the US.
The success of the first album led her to release her second album, ‘The Comfort Zone’. Its single, ‘Running Back To You’ reached the top twenty status on the Hot 100 charts. She followed this up with ‘The Comfort Zone’, ‘Just for Tonight’, ‘Freedom Dance’.
‘Save the Best for Last’ became the most successful single from ‘The Comfort Zone’. The song peaked at number 1 in the US, Australia, Netherlands and Canada. In Japan, Ireland and UK, it reached the top 5 status. Worldwide, the song recorded 2.2 million copies.
In 1994, she came up with her third album, ‘The Sweetest Days’, which included singles ‘Betcha Never’, ‘You Can’t Run’, ‘The Way That You Love’ and ‘The Sweetest Days’. The album met with great commercial response and was certified platinum in the US.
She followed this up with other albums such as ‘Star Bright’ in 1996, ‘Next’ in 1997, a greatest hit compilation album in 1998, ‘Silver & Gold’ in 2004 and ‘Everlasting Love’ in 2005. In 2009, she released her eighth studio album, ‘The Real Thing’, with its title song peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart. In total, she sold more than six million records.
While her music career was on-going, she made a plunge into acting. Her first ever acting project included the Broadway production, ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’. She next starred as the Witch in Stephen Sondheim's ‘Into the Woods’.
She then featured in the off-Broadway productions, ‘One Man Band and Checkmates’and the New York City Center's ‘Encores! Great American Musicals’. Other Broadway productions include ‘Sondheim on Sondheim’ and ‘The Trip to Bountiful’.
In 1991, she made her debut on the big screen with the classic cult film, ‘Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man’. Next she starred with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie ‘Eraser’ and in the film ‘Dance with Me’, opposite Chayanne.
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In 1997, she starred in the film ‘Soul Food’. Her role play won her NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in Motion Picture. Other films that she was a part of include ‘My Brother’, ‘And Then Came Love’, ‘Hannah Montana: The Movie’ and ‘Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counsellor’.
In addition to her music and film career, she tried her hand at television and made an appearance in the 1984 show, ‘The Love Boat’ as herself. She followed this up with a couple of guest performances in the ‘T.J. Hooker’, ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’, ‘Saturday Night Live’, ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’, ‘LateLine’, ‘MADtv’, ‘Ally McBeal’ and ‘Boomtown’
Her other appearances in television include, ‘Perry Mason: The Case of the Silenced Singer’, ‘The Jacksons: An American Dream as Suzanne de Passe’, ‘Bye Bye Birdie’, ‘The Odyssey’, ‘A Diva’s Christmas Carol’, ‘The Courage to Love’, ‘South Beach’, ‘Ugly Betty’ and so on.
From 2010 to 2012, she starred in ‘Desperate Housewives’ as spoiled rich woman Renee Perry. She also starred in the supernatural drama series ‘666 Park Avenue’ in 2012.
Television, films and theatre apart, she made appearances in several advertisements for RadioShack, Lo’real cosmetics and Crest Rejuvenating Effects Toothpaste. She even appeared on the reality show, ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ as a contestant.
Personal Life & Legacy
She has married twice. The first was to Ramon Hervey in 1987. The couple was blessed with two daughters and a son. However, they separated in 1997.
She then married NBA Basketball player Rick Fox. The two married in 1999 and were blessed with a daughter in 2000. This marriage too did not work and hit the rocks in 2004.
She is an avid believer of Roman Catholic faith.
She strongly supports gay rights and same sex marriage.
In 2012, along with her mother Helen, she co-authored the memoir, ‘You Have No Idea’. In the book, she gave detailed account of her childhood, rise to fame, and personal struggles
In September 2014, she announced her engagement to Jim Skrip, a retired accountant.