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Image: Ted Williams
Ted Williams, the formerly homeless man with the "golden voice," left rehab Monday after less than two weeks in treatment.
updated 1/27/2011 12:45:58 PM ET 2011-01-27T17:45:58

Psychologist Dale Atkins met Ted Williams, the formerly homeless man who became an overnight sensation with his "golden voice," when they both appeared on TODAY earlier this month. After the two spoke backstage, Williams said of Atkins, “I think I’m going to use her as somewhat of a sponsor and a therapist, because I feel I’m going to need it.” Atkins wrote the following piece in reaction to the news that Williams abruptly left rehab Monday against medical advice:

Some people’s acts or bravery, or newly discovered talent, can catapult them to instant celebrity status.

Whenever it happens, people delight — but there is significant cause for concern.

Ted Williams, for example, is a man who, until he was "discovered," lived on the streets, without a home. He has a magnificent voice and his story caused the world to take notice after an Ohio videographer posted a video of Williams online. Within a couple of days, this homeless man with a difficult history of drug, alcohol and relationship issues became a sought-after "star."

His overnight celebrity included appearances earlier this month on the TV show “Dr. Phil,” where he admitted to Dr. Phil McGraw that he was drinking. Dr. Phil convinced him to enter a rehab facility in Texas, but Williams checked himself back out after only 12 days.

His 90-year-old mother Julia, with whom he’d had a widely televised reunion after years of separation, told People magazine she was “very upset” her son had left the rehab. She warned that “he doesn’t stick at things for long” and said she wanted him to go back to rehab because “he needs help.”

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Indeed, sudden stardom is overwhelming in every sense of the word. Williams never had a moment to take it all in, process what was happening, and reflect, revitalize and restore himself.

He was suddenly faced with televised reunions with family members, appearance after appearance after appearance, contemplation of various job offers, little or no sleep. In these situations, parties and celebrations become the norm. How does someone adjust to all of these changes when all around him are lights, cameras and too much action? The public watches and worries that this man — or any instant celebrity — will spiral down into a situation that could cause his or her demise.

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

Any person (and particularly someone without a strong and dependable foundation) can be thrown off course by the sudden fame and attention. Who is making decisions and looking out for the person's interests as he or she is getting caught up in the whirlwind? Who is profiting from the person's sudden fame? And who is looking out for the person's emotional, financial, physical and mental-health interests?

Many who are thrust into sudden fame suffer from what appears to be shock. They say, "I can't believe this" — and that is because it is unbelievable. Nothing is familiar. Everything is confusing and coming at them very fast. Yes, they may be achieving their dreams — recognition of their talents, job offers, contracts — but are they ready to handle all that comes along with it?

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It seems that everyone wants a piece of these people. Where is their support system? How do they discover and hopefully monitor their internal resources? What coping mechanisms are in place — external and internal — to guide them through the craziness?  Whom can they trust? Are all of the people who are suddenly attracted to them going to be there for them when needed, or just during this roller-coaster ride? How can the person in the spotlight become healthy and learn how to handle the high stress and constant attention?

Everyone wants to see a good "show." People want to see a positive outcome. But instant fame doesn't usually come with the ingredients to ensure that will happen. Privacy, respect, preservation of dignity and concern for the person's welfare seem to be less important than making the most of the moment.

The big problem is that there is a real person whose life is being lived way too large and way too fast. They can feel exploited and alone. They can, within days, spiral out of control. And that is not such a great show.

Dale Atkins is a psychologist, author and a frequent guest expert on TODAY.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Video: ‘Golden-voiced’ man heads to rehab

  1. Closed captioning of: ‘Golden-voiced’ man heads to rehab

    >> let' begin with our trip to rehab for internet sensation, ted williams , the homeless man plucked out of obscurity for that amazing voice. george lewis is in los angeles with more. george, good morning.

    >> reporter: good morning, meredith. ted williams checked in with friends and said he's headed to rehab at an undisclosed location and talked about being clean and sober and decided to take a time out.

    >> don't forget tomorrow morning is your chance to win a pair of tickets from this man, live in concert .

    >> reporter: ted williams , golden voice and tarnished history.

    >> alcohol and drugs became a part of my life.

    >> reporter: he wound up homeless until a " columbus dispatch " newspaper in ohio put up this web video that went viral in days.

    >> thank you so much.

    >> reporter: one week ago, williams went from the streets of columbus to the "today" show.

    >> great to be here. a dream come true, i'm telling you.

    >> reporter: commercial contracts followed. instant celebrity, who this week reunited with his children on the dr. phil show in hollywood.

    >> my wife and daughters and my son, too much, man.

    >> reporte

    >> from a very short time he goes from one intense reality to another reality, money and famous and talk shows .

    >> reporter: an alcoholic can't handle that kind of extreme reality.

    >> reporter: the family reunion on dr. phil didn't quite turn out as planned.

    >> who ordered the vodka? who ordered the gray goose vodka last night.

    >> reporter: his daughter said he started drinking at this holiday hotel and began arguing with her.

    >> none of it was mine.

    >> he touched me on my jaw.

    >> i got scratched on my face.

    >> reporter: police were called but didn't charge him with a crime. for now, williams says he is going into rehab. he has hired a publicist who released this statement. after consulting with several psychologists and doctors, we all agree it's time to allow private healing to take place.

    >> i think him taking a time-out would be a wonderful thing for him to do. the reality is not many people can handle fame and fortune .

    >> reporter: and for an addict, this roller coaster ride from homelessness to hollywood can be what people in recovery groups call a slippery place. so now ted williams , whose remarkable journey played out in the spotlight has a chance to work on sobriety away from the cameras.

    >> thank you. bill atkins , a psychologist and dr. judy, addiction specialist. good morning to you both. let me start with you. last week, when ted williams was on this show, you were here for another segment.

    >> yes, i was. you did speak to him off-camera and had several phone conversations with him since. i know you cannot share those phone conversation, for somebody like ted, susan boyle, for example who goes from obscurity to instant fame and notoriety, what does that do to somebody already fragile?

    >> that's the point. from somebody alreadyna gill, you're starting with a place that has no foundation. what you really need to do is understand, it can explode and all this happened so quickly and so many people trying to pay attention , perhaps not really to what was best for him. there wasn't really a balance what the opportunities were that were being presented to him of what was good for him for the short and long run. there's a risk and the direct answer to your question is, it's pretty risky business .

    >> there's a slippery place.

    >> there's a very slippery slope . what you're looking at what happened is the big quipicture of fame and fortune but not paying attention to where he came from for him to get to the place he can handle some of this, not all of it. how many people could handle it if they didn't have his background?

    >> he says he had told us he had been clean for the past two years, his daughter what what -- you're shaking your head?

    >> i'm skeptical. i'm often skeptical in situations like this. this is a man with a lifetime of substance abuse and choirms and criminal behavior, theft, forgery, robbery, he may not be telling the truth about many things. it's part of his personality is that he's not necessarily going to be honest.

    >> because of the fact that he's an addict?

    >> because of the fact he's an addict. addiction doesn't happen in a vacuum. he has personality problems and has alienated with his family and mother and you can see in theseventi ventiinterventions when he go t together with his mother they're not really willing to give him a second chance?

    >> his mother was on and was angry with him.

    >> he's burned a lot of bridges.

    >> how important is it for him to mend those fences to lead a life going forward?

    >> it's very important to mend fences and deal with issues that caused some of this disillusion of his relationship. it's not which comes first, the chicken or the egg ? it's all part of the process of trying to get out of the limelight and be able to heal and begin to deal with his own personal issues, some of which have played out with his relationships, so that if you're in a private and personal, protected and safe environment, you can talk about issues that have to do with counseling and your own issues having to deal with addiction and then deal with them. the whole thing being played out in front of the whole world is not really a healthy way to approach this.

    >> did the limelight trigger trigger -- let's say he is being honest, hasn't had a drink in two years, did the limelight trigger drinking his daughter talks about?

    >> addicts relapse when things are going well for them, afraid of failing or being found out a fraud, not comfortable with success, comfortable with chaos and things falling apart . success can trigger a relapse.

    >> there's an opportunity to go-go go-go, without an opportunity to stop and just relax. in this situation, as in many situations, other people are running your life, other people are making decisions for you. you're not even involved in the decision-making process. on the one hand, you feel as though you have control of your life, on the other hand, you have no control of your life. you are trying to make decisions that may be right for you but you don't have the objectivity, you don't have the distance, you don't have any opportunity to take a breath.

    >> literally.

    >> and figure out what's best.

    >> what happens when he gets out of this facility, that's the question?

    >> that's a very important element. when anyone is in recovery, they need to have follow-up, support, a program they can rely on and go to. this is a huge area.

    >> a sponsor, needs a therapist. i don't know if this is his first rehab, may need individual therapy, family therapy , has a lot of work to do. he needs to patch up a lot of relationships and get his life back on track.

    >> the best thing is he will be doing it out of the sot ligpotlight.

    >> we hope.

    >> it is important for this man to build the life he deserves and do what is right for him.

    >> thank you.


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