A “dream” is how both Ted Williams, the golden-voiced homeless man who has become an overnight sensation, and his 90-year-old mother, Julia Williams, described their tearful reunion after many years apart, during which Williams spiraled down from successful radio personality to drug-addicted panhandler.
“The dream finally came true,” Williams told Meredith Vieira on TODAY Friday.
“It seemed like a dream,” his mother, sitting next to him, agreed.
When Williams first approached his mother in a New York City hotel room Thursday afternoon before a battery of TV cameras, he repeated “Hi, Mommy!” He then kneeled down and embraced her as she cried in his arms. “I’m home, Mommy,” he told her.
“I love you,” she replied, looking into his eyes. “Please don’t disappoint me.”
Julia struck a similar note on TODAY Friday, telling Vieira that although she’s happy for her son’s sudden explosion of fame and impending fortune, she is more concerned about his staying on the straight and narrow. Williams fell into drug and alcohol abuse in 1993 and found himself sleeping on the streets and in homeless shelters until a Columbus Dispatch reporter videotaped him alongside an Ohio freeway ramp begging for money only days ago.
How many Christmases?
“I always wished him well, but he would always brush me off,” the remarkably well-preserved Julia said. “He pushed me out of his life, and it made me feel very bad.”
In their infrequent phone calls during their years apart (Williams estimated that it had been 20 years since they’d seen each other), “The only thing I ever got was promises: ‘I’m going to come be with you for Christmastime,’ ” Julia recalled. “I said, ‘How many Christmases have you been saying that?’ ”
Williams told Vieira that it was largely shame that kept him away. “I felt like my addiction, I had brought so much disgrace to this woman,” he said. “There wasn’t much I could say. The one thing she would always ask in our phone calls was, ‘Are you working?’ She would have even settled for McDonald’s, if they had hired me; she would have been happy with that.”
But Williams’ job prospects today are much brighter than that. He has already done a voice-over for a Kraft Macaroni & Cheese commercial, and has been hired by MSNBC to record voice-overs for the network’s “Lean Forward” campaign. Loads of other offers are on the table, including one from the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team to do announcing.
On Friday Williams called the Cavaliers job “a secondary choice” amid many other offers coming in, including a radio job in Honolulu, working with the NFL, and doing radio and commercial work back in Columbus. “I want to pick one particular situation, and I think I can handle it,” he said. “But all these other irons in the fire, it’s so overwhelming.”
Indeed, it’s mom Julia’s biggest worry that her son will be so overcome with his newfound celebrity that it may imperil his two years of sobriety. But Williams said he recognizes the danger, and met with therapist and TODAY contributor Dale Atkins off-camera Thursday to discuss his newfound fame. “She’s a sweetheart,” he 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.”
Williams’ ascent has indeed been meteoric. It was only late last month that the Columbus Dispatch’s Doral Chenoweth III spotted him on the street holding a sign saying he had a “God-given voice,” and that he was “an ex-radio announcer who had fallen on hard times.” Julia Williams told Vieira she was contacted after the video of her son holding his sign became a subject of nationwide fascination, and thought, “Oh, it couldn’t be my son.
“To think of my son, my family, putting up a sign?” she told Vieira Friday, shaking her head.
But while his mother seemed cautious about his newfound fame, Williams was clearly enjoying it Friday. On “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” the previous night, he had described his excitement at meeting Matt Lauer, and confessed to something of a man-crush. “Matt Lauer brings out the female in me!” he told Fallon, who broke down laughing.
Vieira chided Williams Friday: “If you want a job on this show, you’re sucking up to the wrong person — Matt Lauer is not the right one.”
Laughing and looking a bit sheepish, Williams replied, “Just meeting Matt Lauer was the greatest thing that could have happened to me. I know I had arrived to New York, meeting you guys.”
Michael Inbar contributed to this report.