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.”
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.
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