Wendy Williams Apologizes for Mocking Joaquin Phoenix’s Cleft Lip

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 19: Wendy Williams speaks onstage at Vulture Festival Presented By AT&T: ASK WENDY WILLIAMS at Milk Studios on May 19, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Vulture Festival)
Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Vulture Festival

Daytime talk show host Wendy Williams has apologized after she faced backlash for appearing to mock cleft lips while discussing Joker star Joaquin Phoenix’s facial scar.

In her round-up of the Golden Globes awards earlier this month, where Phoenix won the Award for Best Actor for his performance as Arthur Fleck, Williams said she found him “oddly attractive.”

“When he shaves off his mustache, he’s got a hairline fracture,” said Williams. “He’s got one of those, what do you call it, cleft lip, cleft palate,” she added, before pulling up her lip to demonstrate the condition.

Williams was heavily criticized for the remark. Canadian football player Adam Bighill, whose son Beau recently underwent surgery to correct the disformity, was among several people who called on her to apologize.

“Today is Beau’s big day. He is getting his lip repaired today in Winnipeg by the fantastic Dr. Ross,” Bighill wrote on Wednesday ahead of his son’s operation. “Thanks to everyone who has reached out, and in advance, thanks for any of your well wishes for Beau. He is so loved!”

Williams responded to the tweet to wish Beau good luck and pledged to make donations to charities supporting children with the facial defect.

“We’re thinking about Beau today as he is in surgery,” she wrote in response. “I want to apologize to the cleft community and in Beau’s honor, our show is donating to [Operation Smile] and the [American Cleft Palate Association] to encourage our Wendy Watchers to learn more and help support the cleft community.”

“Thank you [Wendy Williams] for your apology, your donation, and for thinking of Beau today for his surgery,” Bighill responded. “I forgive you, and I encourage others to as well. I wish you all the best.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, a “cleft lip and cleft palate are openings or splits in the upper lip, the roof of the mouth (palate) or both,” and are the “result when facial structures that are developing in an unborn baby don’t close completely.” They are among the most common of birth defects.

Phoenix has never said he has a cleft palate. In a Vanity Fair profile published last October, it was reported that the scar on his lip was “not a surgically fixed cleft, he says, but a nonsurgical scar he was born with.”

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