A black stretch limo idles in the parking lot of The Dr. Phil House, engine purring. Producers hurry through the crowded loft, talking on BlackBerries, as the camera crew packs up boom mics and steadicams. Dr. Phil, casual now in a pair of jeans and sneakers, records soundbites for an upcoming show.
In the center of this swirl of activity ” and the reason for it ” is Ted Williams. A little over a week ago, he was just another homeless person with a cardboard sign standing on the side of the road. Tonight, the man known as the Golden Voice has just wrapped upan interview with Dr. Phil,
followed by another one with Kevin Frazier, weekend anchor and correspondent of Entertainment Tonight
Williams, 53, stands in the upstairs hallway of The Dr. Phil House, chatting with his posse, Al Battle and Eric Harding. His once disheveled locks have been shorn, his camouflage jacket replaced by a leather one. His week-long media blitz is starting to take its toll. The bling is fading from his platinum pipes, but he gives a fatigued smile as he reflects on meeting Dr. Phil.
“That just meant the world to me,” he tells DrPhil.com. “He gave me a prescription for a new life.”
That prescription didn’t come in pill form but as a warning for Williams not to let fame become an obstacle to his recovery. A former radio announcer, he battled an alcohol and crack cocaine addiction during his life on the streets. He maintains that he has been sober for the past two and a half years. “If anybody is not for the right thing in my life, they don’t need to be there,” he says, mulling over Dr. Phil’s advice to him: “God first, family and health.”
Williams is a true underdog for the Internet age. His seemingly overnight success rides on the proliferation of viral videos and the public’s eternal thirst for the next feel-good news item. He went from panhandling at an intersection in Columbus, Ohio to recording commercials for Kraft. He’s been offered jobs by MSNBC and the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as a house, and the deals keep pouring in.
Williams acknowledges the debt he owes to Doral Chenoweth III, the Columbus Dispatch reporter who helped catapult him to stardom. Yet, had Chenoweth never pulled over at the intersection and filmed that now famous velvety delivery, Williams still believes he would have eventually found his way back to radio.
“If you’re going to help the homeless, help them
from your heart.”
” Ted Williams
“Hats off to Alfred Battle,” he says with a grateful nod in the direction of the man he calls his manager and confidant. “There were a lot of people who would call me from time to time to do their voiceovers and so forth. But Battle, prior to all this success, he always kept me involved in radio. He would give concerts and various production pieces. He wouldn’t pick nobody else but me, the homeless guy with the bad smile and all. He’d pick me up, even if he had to pick me up off a street corner, to record a 60-second spot for an upcoming concert. [The success] wouldn’t have been to this magnitude, of course, but Al Battle believed in me when a few people had given up on me.”
During his interview with Dr. Phil, Williams revealed that while he may have a few more dollars in his pocket now than he did a few weeks ago, he still struggles with homelessness. He says that if people take away anything from his journey, it’s not that a former vagrant can rack up more YouTube hits than a Beyoncé video, but that the homeless are human too.
“Every homeless person has their own plight and their own problems, and don’t judge a book by its cover. Judge by the content of the heart,” he says, the vigor returning to his velvety voice. “If you’re going to help the homeless, help them from your heart, and don’t wonder what they’re going to do with their money and how they spend it. That’s something they have to worry about. Once you give, give from the heart.”
Then the man, who a few weeks ago was soliciting change from the open windows of passing cars, heads outside to the open door of his waiting limo.
Nicole D. Sconiers is a Los Angeles-based writer who recently received her M.F.A. from Antioch University Los Angeles. She enjoys skydiving and international travel.