Radio Legend Fez Whatley Passes Away After Suffering Massive Heart Attack
The radio world was dealt a tragic blow this past weekend when reports surfaced that on air radio personality Fez Marie Whatley had passed away at just 57-years old.
Whatley, whose real name was Todd Hillier, suddenly passed on August 14th from a major heart attack after undergoing a minor surgical procedure. The American comedian remained on a ventilator for several days before his death on Saturday morning.
Those who knew Whatley personally, or through his long running radio show the Ron and Fez Show, were privy to his many health issues that included problems with his heart, diabetes, and depression.
All the years that Whatley struggled with his health and wellness became a big part of the show which he co-hosted with Ron Bennington. He consistently showed up for work as he grappled with his health issues and helped fans connect to the show for how real and human it was.
From Florida to Washington D.C. and even New York City, the Ron and Fez Show had found a home among millions of fans for nearly two decades. Whatley co-hosted the show from 1998 until April Fool’s Day of 2015, when he suddenly announced his retirement from radio and cited his health for stepping down.
Many close friends and fans believed Whatley’s announcement was a joke and called it a long running prank even months after it was made. The show had been known for making listeners wonder whether bits were real or a gag.
It was only when Ron’s daughter Gail Bennington was announced to take his place that reality finally sank in. The show then became The Bennington show, which can now be found on Sirius XM Faction Talk.
Whatley started his radio career in 1990 when he was in his mid-thirties. He became a regular contributor on Tampa’s The Ron and Ron show after Bennington met him at his comedy club.
When the Ron and Ron Show ended, Whatley and Bennington created the Ron and Fez Show, which would have multiple lives on several platforms. First titled Ron and Fez Dot Com. the show premiered on New York City radio station WNEW FM on April 17, 2000.
On both shows, Whatley played an over-the-top flamboyant gay character named Fez Whatley. This was a bit that he would play for over 20 years. In 2012, when Whatley came out of the closet as a gay man, he recalled that the character became uncomfortable to play after he recognized his own sexual orientation. This was the same year that the radio host would take part in the New York LGBT Pride March for the first time.
Though Whatley shared the truth of his sexuality with his co-host Ron three years prior, he didn’t feel comfortable to say it explicitly until the one-year anniversary of his father’s death. He would use the show to speak openly about his issues as a closeted homosexual man.
On coming out as gay, Whatley said “Coming to this realization was devastating. After all those years of denying it, it was true. Fez Whatley was no longer a character that I played on the air. He was me. And now it wasn’t funny anymore. I was now everything that I had joked about. I got depressed…I couldn’t make myself be Fez Whatley anymore. I was terrified about being really gay.”
He added, “There are too many important issues out there facing gay Americans for me to just be yelling out the occasional protest from the closet. I see comedians like Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, Mo Rocca, and most recently Todd Glass, and they haven’t lost their sense of humor. They’re entertaining and still make a difference in the community… I can’t be part of ‘It Gets Better’ until I make sure things are going to get better for me. And that’s what I intend on doing. So that the next time I’m asked by someone ‘Are you really gay?’ I can finally answer, ’24 hours a day.'”
Whatley suffered his first heart attack in November 2005 but did not recognize what it was and hosted The Ron and Fez Show the next day. After consulting with his doctor, he learned he had suffered a mild heart attack and was also diagnosed with diabetes. Unfortunately, this heart attack would be the first of many for the radio host, who suffered incidents in 2006 as well as 2010 too.
He had also suffered a massive heart attack in March of this year but was brought back to life after flatlining. Fans were optimistic that Whatley would be okay, as he even appeared on the Bennington Show to address his near-death experience and to celebrate his 57th birthday. He was a proud supporter of the father and daughter show and admitted that he had listened every day for the last six years.
Ron Bennington announced the sad news of Whatley’s passing on his Instagram and wrote, “We lost our sweet Fez Whatley last night. His heart finally gave out. We are devastated, but we will always remember the laughter through our tears. Our thoughts are with his family, who loved him the most, and with the people who knew him as a voice on the radio. #fezwhatley.””