When homeless army vet and former DJ Ted Williams approached cameras during January 2011, he had no idea what would happen next. However, what followed was amazing. The cameraman requested that Williams give a demonstration of the voice that he called “God given,” and Williams obliged. What’s more, as soon as the video went viral, Williams’ life was turned upside down.
Williams hadn’t always lived in hardship, though. The Brooklyn, New York, native – named after the famous Boston Red Sox player – had wanted to be a radio announcer from the age of 14, when he went on a school trip to a radio station and was entranced by what he saw. As soon as he graduated from high school, however, he joined the U.S. Army. Williams subsequently received an honorable discharge after three years of service.
After leaving the army, Williams went to voice-acting classes and then earned a job as a radio announcer. Unfortunately, though, his life went downhill from there. Specifically, Williams began indulging in substance abuse – a common problem among army veterans. And while in 1990 he served three months behind bars for stealing, that would only be the tip of the iceberg. His criminal behavior and drug use subsequently escalated to the point that by 1997 he’d lost his job.
In fact, mugshot after mugshot was added to Williams’ record over the next decade, and it seemed as though he would never escape his life of petty crime. Police reports stated that he lived mostly on the streets, with occasional stints staying in shelters or with friends. They also revealed that his crimes included trespassing, begging and public urination. All the while, however, he was trying to get clean.
By the end of 2010, meanwhile, Williams was at a very low ebb. Indeed, he had taken to walking the streets of Columbus holding a sign that read, “I have a God given gift of voice. I’m an ex-radio announcer who has fallen on hard times. Please, any help will be gratefully appreciated. Thank you and God bless you.” And it was this sign that caught the attention of a reporter from The Columbus Dispatch.
Doral Chenoweth III noticed Williams panhandling near the lights that his car had stopped at. They spoke briefly, and Chenoweth gave him a dollar. However, the journalist was intrigued by Williams’ story and a week later returned to take a video of him. He asked Williams to do his radio announcer voice, and Williams obliged. Furthermore, what he’d written on his sign hadn’t been wrong: he had a wonderful voice.
However, assuming that there would be little interest in a video of a homeless man, Chenoweth didn’t post his short video until three months later, in January 2011. He didn’t even put his own name on the piece. Nonetheless, Chenoweth would soon discover that his assumptions were wrong. Instead, people were intrigued by Williams, his delightful voice and his blunt honesty about his drug use. As a result, it didn’t take long for the clip to go viral.
Within days, the video had racked up more than 11 million views on YouTube – and it was seen by some people who had the capacity to help Williams out. Indeed, The Columbus Dispatch suddenly found itself overwhelmed with hundreds of calls asking after Williams. Incredibly, these calls included job offers from the likes of the NFL, Kraft and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Williams – now with a haircut and a suit – subsequently did the talk show circuit. He revealed that in the space of a few days he’d become one of the most sought-after men in America. In fact, by January 7, 2011, he’d been officially hired by both MSNBC and Kraft Foods. Even details of Williams’ past crimes being unveiled in the media didn’t do anything to end the surge of public goodwill.
Williams even had a reunion with his 90-year-old mother, Julia Williams, whom he hadn’t seen for two decades. The meeting between the pair was shown on both The Today Show and The Early Show, and it brought a tear to many an eye. “I prayed that I would live to see this time when he would do well,” Julia said on The Early Show.
But it gradually became clear that even though efforts were being made to help Williams, there would be no quick fix to get his life straightened out again. A week after his video first went viral, for example, Williams appeared on The Dr. Phil Show for help with his drug addictions. He subsequently decided to enter a rehab facility but quit it after less than two weeks.
And although people still retained a tremendous amount of affection for Williams, they were becoming doubtful of his ability to make it even in the “real world” – let alone the highly pressurized environment of the entertainment industry. “The premise that Ted Williams is going to live happily ever after is far from a foregone conclusion,” Today producer Jim Bell told the Los Angeles Times.
What’s more, it began to look as though Bell was right. Though Williams moved to a sober house in LA and began working on an autobiography while pitching a reality TV series, drug addiction still had a hold on him. At one point he even became involved in such a fierce verbal disagreement with his daughter that the police were called to the scene. His daughter subsequently claimed that Williams had been drinking – an accusation he denied.
Eventually, Williams went back into rehab. By this time, most of his high-profile deals had either been canceled or put on hold. However, the people who had catapulted him to fame in the first place hadn’t quite given up on him yet. Indeed, by May 2012 Williams was back on Today, plugging his new book, A Golden Voice: How Faith, Hard Work, and Humility Brought Me from the Streets to Salvation.
He claimed that he’d managed to stay sober for the past year, even though it had been difficult. Williams also said that he’d gotten himself a new lawyer, was working on improving his relationships with his children and had moved in with his fiancée. Plus, he revealed that he’d done paid voiceover work for Kraft and other corporations, finally putting his “golden voice” to good use.
However, despite still getting work and being paid a six-figure sum for his book, he still hadn’t managed to banish his demons. In October 2014, for example, The Columbus Dispatch released a “catch-up” interview with Williams. In it, he revealed that he was broke and living in a house with no furniture. Yet he was, nonetheless, still sober and finding help within the Christian community.
Come 2015, meanwhile, things had changed a little. Ted Williams announced in June of that year, via radio station WWGH-FM, that he planned to run for President in 2016! However, within months the idea was dead in the water. Williams dropped by Facebook to denounce Donald Trump, then the Republican frontrunner, and tell his fans that actually he wouldn’t be running after all.
However, even though that particular ambition had been quashed, Williams still found himself doing better and better in life. He performed a voiceover for a Pepsi advert, reciting the tagline, “We put the AHHH in cola.” Furthermore, in January 2016 – five years after that first video of him had gone viral – he was hired by WVKO-AM. That was the same radio station where he had begun his career, pre-drug addiction. And, understandably, the development left him absolutely overjoyed.
Come October of that year, however, Oprah invited him onto her show for a “Where Are They Now?” feature. During the segment, Williams credited God and his faith with helping him get so far. “When people see me, they see an act of God,” he said. Williams also stated that one of his primary goals now was to help people who had once been in his position – living on the streets with nothing.
And while Ted Williams’ current life isn’t perfect – his mother sadly died in January 2017 – he remains sober and clean. What’s more, he’s never forgotten his time on the streets; currently, he has an ongoing project that sees him dispense socks to homeless people. Furthermore, he also has a new ambition: to one day do voiceover work for a Disney or Pixar production. Fortunately, then, it looks like he got a happy ending after all.