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Video: Homeless man with golden voice ‘thankful to be here’

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    >>> turnaround for ted williams . as we said, we will duke him about his rough life, his golden moment thanks to his golden voice in just a moment, but first, nbc's kevin tibbles has his story.

    >> reporter: he was just another beggar by the highway, but his sign said "i have a god-given gift of voice." so the reporter from the " columbus dispatch " took a chance.

    >> say something with that great radio voice.

    >> when our yes listening to nothing but the best of oldies, you are listening to magic 98.9.

    >> reporter: within hours that video went viral, way viral, millions of hits on youtube alone.

    >> nothing has quite stuck like this has.

    >> reporter: his name is ted williams , 53, from brook listen as team, he fell in love with broadcasting after a chance meeting with a local dejail.

    >> he said to me, listen, radio is the theater of mind.

    >> reporter: but --

    >> alcohol and drugs and a few other things became a part of my life.

    >> reporter: he says he is clean now, but spent the last decade on the streets.

    >> every weekday morning.

    >> perfect, man.

    >> reporter: from the side of the road to inside the studios of local radio , where many callers offered williams employment, even a mortgage.

    >> i just didn't know anything like that could have happened.

    >> reporter: nba's cleveland cavaliers offered him a job.

    >> we loved his voice. we loved his story. and our biggest priority right now is just to get him in here.

    >> reporter: but before ted williams did anything else, he paid the "today" show a visit first thing this morning and helped get our day started in the voice booth. now, that's set of pipes. for "today," kevin tibbles, nbc news.

    >> live from studio 1a in rockefeller plaza .

    >> ted williams , good morning, sir.

    >> how are you?

    >> great to have you.

    >> it is great to be here. this is a dream come true. i'm telling you. honestly.

    >> second chance.

    >> yes, ma'am.

    >> yeah. can you begin to even sum up what these last 48 hours or so have been like?

    >> outrageous. outrageous. 23 it is just phenomenal no way in the world that i could have ever imagined that, that i would be -- just have all of this just all of a sudden just come into this portion of my life.

    >> you were panhandling?

    >> yeah.

    >> two days ago three, days ago?

    >> yeah. yeah w.

    >> on the streets of columbus ohio , your nee new york city now and on national television.

    >> isn't that something? i'm still just -- i'm telling you --

    >> it's got to be a little --

    >> unbelievable.

    >> process it even?

    >> yes. yes, ma'am.

    >> you almost didn't make it here, right? you had problems?

    >> some how the flight got delayed and everything and then, you know --

    >> didn't you need papers to prove who.

    >> i had to get an i.d., the i.d. situation, yes, ma'am we had to go all the way downtown and get a proof of residency. i had to go to a couple homeless shelters to get that filled out. and then i had to get a court injunction to prove who i was, you know, date of birth and all, 'cause i didn't have any i.d. or nothing.

    >> right.

    >> you mentioned new york is your home?

    >> brooklyn, new york .

    >> brooklyn, new york ?

    >> yeah, bedford styvesant area, born and raised.

    >> how long has it been since you have been here and been in contact with some family members?

    >> 1986 is the last time i actually set foot right here. i watched the ball come down. i took my -- the mother of my two boys and we came and this was the first time she had ever been here and that was -- i was doing fairly well then. you know, i was working in radio and all, but she never been here.

    >> so, what happened, ted? you say in '86 you were doing well, working in radio.

    >> and in 1993 -- ms. meredith --

    >> that's okay.

    >> trucks and alcohol, i started snorting cane and then i started smoking it crack and all that and then drinking. alcohol has always been a part of my life. my parents used to travel down to st. thomas, so i did have an alcohol problem at an early -- but i was a functional alcoholic, at that point, i thought.

    >> how bad did it get?

    >> pretty bad i was drinking like a fifth a day. but i was working. you know, i was doing well. i was really doing well. at least i thought, you know?

    >> was it the drugs then that took you down?

    >> yes, ma'am. yes, ma'am.

    >> when did you lose your home? i mean, when did you --

    >> in '93, that wasn't pits -- my life just went to the pits, i was at the homeless shelters in columbus and then i was going to -- i was introduced to program of recovery.

    >> you know, i noticed something in that video that we have all now seen so many times that was on the internet and went reporter for the " columbus dispatch " comes up to you and starts asking you about your voice, despite your hard times there is this civility to you, ted there is this kindness. there is this grace about you. thank you, sir, god bless you, where does that come from?

    >> hey, moo my mom. my mom has raised me that way, to always be polite, treat people as you would want them to treat you, you snow do unto others as you would want them to do unto you. the golden rule , as she always put it.

    >> you mentioned your mom repeatedly.

    >> love my mom and i -- here comes maybe some tears, but i always used to pray to god, i'm telling you, religiously, say, lord, please let my mom live to see another year, maybe this will be the year that somebody would, you know, say, hey, man, do you want a job or anything. but -- and i always used to say, god, you never seen fit to take my voice, in spite of all the flames and everything that went down my throat, the voice still maintains some type of resonance. and so, when i got out there with the sign, it gave me a chance to, you know, the public passing. good morning, thank you. and people would roll their windows down. then it became a situation where the same people that would give me money, they would just come by just to see if i was still there so they could hear me say, you know, listen to more of the best music , and i started using local talent.

    >> so your mom has lived long enough to see what is going to be, we hope, redemption.

    >> yeah.

    >> i hope you understand what i say. meredith and i were talking before the show and we both worry a little that a lot is happening very quickly.

    >> he yes. yes.

    >> and some people might find that hard to deal with. and so are you emotionally ready to accept this second chance, to do the right things with this had second chance?

    >> this time around, matt, i have god, god of my understanding in my life. acknowledging him on a daily basis, which i've been doing this past year, because i was ready to mark 2010 as another year wasted, until i realized that in 2010 , i found a new sense of spirituality. now, i'm not saying i have become, you know, born again-type person to where i'm going around but i do want to say that the difference between my successes of years gone by, i didn't acknowledge the lord or thank him for anything before, you know? and i have had some great opportunities of emsig various ven news and having a great time with all the perks that radio had, you know? but i never not once said, oh, lord, thank you for this or thank you for another day or forgive me for this you about this time around, i'm acknowledging him in all my ways.

    >> so that you can make it?

    >> yes, sir. yes, sir.

    >> i think we would be remiss if we didn't ask you about reports that beyond the drugs and alcohol, there were run-ins with the law?

    >> yes. yes.

    >> can you tell us about that? we heard about robbery, forgery?

    >> yes. yes. well, the robberies and all have been broken down and anything, i have never stuck -- no violent crimes at all, it was all theft and fraud-type things and that was just to afford the drug habits and so forth. but i ended up -- the judges have been lenient, you know, because my -- you know, like, okay, let's do this to him. and i never got anything of any serious time or anything, but i did go behind -- you know, bench fences with baushd wire and so forth. have you had a chance, ted to stop and think about what is being offered to you now people want you to do voiceovers for them? the cleveland cavaliers have offered you a job, films and --

    >> maybe you can help us now.

    >> they said they are going to give me lebron's old house.

    >> you are really working them, man.

    >> how about --

    >> no.

    >> have you had a chance to even think about what you would like to do?

    >> they are coming in so fast but i do want to say that i did have one with offer here in new york , the fine people at kraft macropeny and cheese have offered me to be their official voice of their product. so when i leave here today, i will be doing some voices for the fine people of kraft .

    >> how would you pitch their product?

    >> when you're looking for a cheesy product, a very delicious macaroni and cheese , choose kraft . but i do just want to say one more thing that this is -- man, you two guys and the lovely ann curry and al rocker and all that man, i'm telling you, i watch "today" show religiously, ever since office kid, gene shalit , brian gumble , jane pauley and that and you guys replaced those people the best, the best.

    >> thank you. thank you.

    >> i'm glad i got that, got that out.

    >> let in with one question w.

    >> yes.

    >> we sit down with you, ted, five years from today --

    >> mm-hmm.

    >> what are you going to be doing?

    >> homely a program director somewhere or -- i will have my own apartment, i will say that. and you know, my kids will have love from me. you know, i'll say, hey, meredith and matt, you know, the kids are over here and this, that i do want to say hello to my children in columbus.

    >> how many kid?

    >> i have seven garmsd two boys.

    >> seven girls and two boys?

    >> yes. yes and they are all adults. and i have grandchildren. way and the to say hi -- can i say hello?

    >> yeah.

    >> mark henderson , very instrumental in helping me he with a place to live and i want to say hi to jimmy, jimmy cotrell, my girlfriend, katie, and my children, julie, general neigh, tricia, tan gel la, keshia and my son, desmond and tyrell and my mom, where with ever she is at, you know, i miss her so much, i just want to.

    >> i'm sure you will get see her?

    >> yes, ma'am.

    >> you also have a greater appreciation for the homeless as well?

    >> truly, truly, please.

    >> anything we need to understand?

    >> please, please, don't judge a book by its cover. everybody has their own little story, you know? and the next -- if you are going to give if you are going to give to any homeless person , give from the heart and said, oh, i know they are not going to do nothing but give this from drugs and alcohol. and i want to say hi to al battle, the gentleman standing hind the camera, he is the one handling -- fielding all the calls coming in like you said, matt, they are coming in by the dozens, i don't know which one to choose, which one is the right one, which one is bogus or anything and i'm thankful to be here and taking one step at a time.

    >> well, you should.

    >> "today" show, take advantage of all of this. thanks, ted, so much.

    >> thank you so much.

    >> good luck.

    >> god bless .

    >> congratulations.

    >> see you in five years, right? program director ?

    >> yes, ma'am.

    >> we are working for you remember us.

    >> yes, i will. yes, i will.

    >> say let's get a check of the weather now from al. guy head.

    >> now, it's time to get a check of the weather with al.

    >> you know, i want him to do the sunday night

TODAY contributor
updated 1/6/2011 10:48:12 AM ET 2011-01-06T15:48:12

Only three days earlier, the man with the golden voice had been panhandling along an Ohio highway, bearing a ragged cardboard sign that touted his “God-given” gift.

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Millions of YouTube views, many job offers and one hastily arranged plane flight later, Ted Williams was opening Thursday’s TODAY show in New York, displaying the mellifluous vocal talent that had taken him to a major career in radio before drugs and alcohol dragged him down into a life of petty crime and living in shelters. Then a chance meeting with a local reporter made him an overnight sensation.

Video: Homeless man’s golden voice kicks off TODAY (on this page)

Clearly still trying to comprehend his stunning reversal of fortune, Williams revealed his riches-to-rags-to-redemption story to anchors Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira. “It’s outrageous, it’s just phenomenal,” the 53-year-old Williams said. “There’s no way in the world I could ever have imagined to have all of this, all of a sudden, just come into this portion of my life.”

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‘Fallen on hard times’
Williams’ stroke of good fortune came late last month when, while begging for money from passing motorists off Interstate 71 in Columbus, he caught the eye of Doral Chenoweth III, a videographer for the Columbus Dispatch. Chenoweth was intrigued by Williams’ sign, which read “I’m an ex-radio announcer who has fallen on hard times,” and asked for a sample. Williams smiled and responded with a silky voice-over that could have come straight from a major-market AM station.

Video: Homeless man with golden voice ‘thankful to be here’ (on this page)

The Dispatch posted a video of Williams on its website, and then the power of the Internet came into play: The video went viral on YouTube, garnering nearly 12 million views as of Thursday morning. Williams went on local radio to tell his story, and then the job offers began pouring in.

The Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association offered him an announcing job, and the National Football League’s film production office also sought him out. “My boss said to me, ‘If you don’t get him hired, you’re fired,’ ” NFL Films’ Kevin McLoughlin told the Dispatch. Local TV offers followed, and the Ohio Credit Union League put a $10,000 offer for voice-over work on the table.

Msnbc cable said Thursday that Williams was recording voiceovers for its Lean Forward promotional campaign, which were to begin airing Thursday evening.

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But Williams seemed even more amazed about being flown to his native New York City for his TODAY appearance — though he quickly learned that for a homeless man, getting on a plane isn’t a simple matter.

“We had to go downtown and get a proof of residency,” he told Lauer and Vieira. “I had to go to a couple of homeless shelters to get that filled, and then I had to get a court injunction to prove who I was, because I didn’t have an ID, nothing.”

A colorful life
His formerly unkempt hair now tamed to a stylish coif, Williams told the TODAY anchors his tale. He was born and raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn and fell in love with radio as a teen after visiting a station where an announcer told him that the medium was “theater of mind.” He went to school for training and got on-air work.

The last time he’d been in New York, he revealed, was in 1986, watching the New Year’s Eve ball-drop in Times Square with his then-girlfriend. “I was doing fairly well then; I was working in radio,” he said.

He led a colorful life, fathering nine children — seven girls and two boys — but also succumbed to what he says was a long predisposition for drugs and alcohol. He said he drank a fifth of liquor a day while continuing to work.

allDAY: Ted Williams’ pipes kick off TODAY

“Alcohol had always been a part of my life; I did have an alcohol problem at an early age,” Williams said. But it wasn’t until he added drugs to the mix in 1993 that his radio career came to an end. “I started snorting cocaine and then I started smoking it, the crack and all of that,” he explained.

Williams wound up on the streets and skipping around homeless shelters in Columbus, the city of his last gainful employment. His mother tried to help him, as did his children; they would take him in only to find him too hard to handle. “During my detox stages, I had a tendency to eat up everybody’s food,” Williams told The Associated Press. “I’m a grandfather, too, and I was eating what should have gone to their kids.”

Video: Listen to Ted Williams' golden voice (on this page)

To fuel his drug habit, Williams turned to crime: Website The Smoking Gun reported Williams’  arrest record includes robbery, theft, forgery and drug possession. He told Lauer and Vieira his arrests were “all thefts and fraud-type things, no violent crime at all,” and that the criminal activity “was to just afford the drug habit.”

Mom and media
Lauer noted that despite Williams’ rough 17 years on the street, “there is this civility to you, this kindness, this grace about you.” Williams chalked it up to his upbringing: “My mom had raised me that way, to treat people the way you would want them to treat you; the Golden Rule, as she always put it.”

Williams broke down in tears as he spoke about his now 90-year-old mother, still alive in New York City, who he hasn't seen for about 20 years.

“I always used to pray to God, ‘Lord, let my mom live to see another year; maybe this will be the year that somebody will say, ‘Hey man, do you want a job?’”

The two reunited Thursday afternoon.

Watch: Man with golden voice reunites with his mother

Despite the crack, the alcohol and the many years on the streets, Williams retains his golden voice, and gave thanks for it. “I always said, ‘God, you’ve never seen fit to take my voice in spite of all the flames and everything that went down my throat.’ The voice still maintains some type of resonance.”

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That may be an understatement. Media outlets, sports teams and product companies are so enamored with Williams’ vocal talent and dramatic story that he is fielding offers right and left. For one: “The fine people at Kraft Macaroni and Cheese have offered me to be their official voice of their product, so when I leave here today I will be doing some voices for the fine people at Kraft.”

And speaking later on TODAY with Ann Curry and Al Roker, Williams listed even more engagements that have come flooding in: voice-over spots for Ryan Seacrest’s radio show and TV’s “Access Hollywood”; a Thursday appearance on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” and an offer of an all-expense paid trip to Honolulu to do voice-over work for a radio station there.

Video: Homeless man headed to Hawaiian airwaves? (on this page)

The thrill of it all was so intense for Williams that he was glad to have happened to meet psychologist Dale Atkins backstage, who was appearing on another segment of TODAY Thursday. “She gave me this little exercise of breathing,” Williams told Curry and Roker. “I told her, ‘This is so crazy, being the recovering alcoholic and addict that I am.’ She says, ‘Meditate before medicate,’ because I told her I could use a nerve pill right now.”

Roker read Williams a statement from his mother, whom he hadn’t seen in 20 years: “This will be my day to see my son get up and help himself ... he came from a nice family and then he went poor-poor. Let him see that there’s more to life than hanging around with the wrong crowd and taking drugs.” Williams smiled and said, “That sounds like Mom.”

Video: Golden-voiced Williams reacts to mother’s words (on this page)

Clearly still stunned, he added, “It’s just outrageous how this has all come to be. I thought God blessed in increments, and he just gave me one big deluge of blessings. I feel like a million-dollar lottery winner, or Dorothy landing in Oz, or Susan Boyle; she must have felt the same way.”

Williams also gave thanks to his higher power in his earlier segment with Lauer and Vieira: “The difference between my successes of years gone by is that I didn’t acknowledge the Lord or thank him for anything before,” he told them. “This time around, I have God in my life, acknowledging him on a daily basis. I’ve found a new sense of spirituality now.”

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