Homeless man with radio voice has offer
CLEVELAND -- With a deep, refined voice, one that had been sadly misplaced, Ted Williams simply asked for help to get him off the streets.
He's been heard.
Left homeless after his life and career were ruined by drugs and alcohol, Williams has been offered a job by the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers and is being pursued by NFL Films for possible work after he and his tale became an online curiosity.
"This has been totally, totally amazing," Williams said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, his voice choking with emotion. "I'm just so thankful. God has blessed me so deeply. I'm getting a second chance. Amazing."
Williams was contacted Wednesday by the Cavaliers, who have offered him a position that could include announcing work at Quicken Loans Arena, the team's downtown arena. Williams said the team has offered him a two-year contract and said it would pay his living expenses.
"I can't believe what's going on," said Williams, a father of nine, adding he feels like Susan Boyle, the Scottish singing sensation who became an overnight star. "God gave me a million-dollar voice, and I just hope I can do right by him."
Cavaliers spokesman Tad Carper said exact details of the team's offer and its plans to help Williams with housing were still being worked out.
The Cavaliers did not know much about him, but were touched by Williams' ordeal.
"When you know something's right, you just have to launch," said Tracy Marek, the team's senior vice president of marketing. "One of the big things that we talk about here, with our organization, is how important urgency is -- when you see something that feels good and seems right. The important thing that we wanted to do is to let Ted know that we have something here for him."
During a timeout in the first quarter of Wednesday night's game against Toronto, the Cavaliers put a picture of Williams on their giant scoreboard and urged fans to send him messages at www.wewanttedwilliams.com.
"We hope Ted accepts our offer," said Cavaliers announcer Olivia Sedra.
NFL Films, which has chronicled pro football for nearly 50 years, also wants to contact Williams.
"It's that voice," Kevin McLoughlin, director of post-production films for the NFL, told The Associated Press. "When I heard him tell his story, I said, 'That's what we do. This guy can tell a story.' Somehow, someway, I need to get a demo with him."
"The man deserves a second chance," said McLoughlin, who has not yet been able to contact Williams.
Williams appeared on NBC's "Today" show Thursday morning and has been offered jobs by the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers and others. He was reunited in a New York hotel room Thursday with his mother, who saw him for the first time in about 20 years and said "my prodigal son has finally come home."
"She has always been my best friend," he said, crying. "When I was a kid, she would take me down to Radio City Music Hall and on the subway. I'm just glad that she is still around. I prayed that she would live long enough that I could make her proud and see could her son do something other than stand along the side of the road with a sign asking for money."
At the reunion, he wore a camouflage jacket over clothes that he told his mother are all that he owns and said he just finished doing a commercial for Kraft Macaroni & Cheese that is to air Sunday during the Fight Hunger Bowl on ESPN.
God gave me a million-dollar voice and I just hope I can do right by him.” -- Ted Williams
Williams also recorded voiceover promos Thursday for MSNBC's Lean Forward campaign, and the spots were to begin running immediately, network spokeswoman Tanya Hayre said. He was being paid for the spots, Hayre said, but she declined to say how much.
On NBC's "Today" show Thursday, he said he'll be helped by a "new sense of spirituality." He predicted that five years from now he'll be working as a radio program director and have his own apartment.
It's been a whirlwind for the golden-voiced man, who was recently living in a tent and whose past includes a lengthy list of arrests. He has served time in prison for theft and forgery and has been cited with numerous misdemeanors, including drug abuse.
Williams was most recently arrested on May 14. He pleaded guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor theft charge. In court records, his address is listed as "Streets of Columbus."
Upon learning of Williams' criminal history, the Cavaliers said their offer still stands.
"We believe in second chances and second opportunities," Marek said. "The gentleman deserves an opportunity to explain certain situations. We're not jumping to conclusions. It's not fair."
Julia Williams is thrilled her only child is turning his life around, and she can't wait to see him.
"This will be my day to see my son get up and do something to help himself," she said. "He has so much talent. I hope this will be the thing for him. He came from a nice family. And then he went poor, poor. So, maybe this will build him up and let him see that there's more in life than hanging around with the wrong people, and taking drugs."
Williams' life began spiraling in 1996 when he began drinking alcohol "pretty bad." He used marijuana and cocaine and lost interest in his radio career. Williams said his last job was with a station in Columbus. He eventually wound up on the streets, despite the best efforts of his children -- seven daughters and two sons who all live in the Columbus area.
"They have mixed emotions about what is going on," Williams said. "During my detox stages, I had a tendency to eat up everybody's food. I'm a grandfather, too, and I was eating what should have gone to their kids."
Williams said he celebrated two years of sobriety "around Thanksgiving. I just hope everyone will pray for me."
The Columbus Dispatch reports that video of Williams posted this week on its website has commanded millions of views and drawn inquiries from numerous media entities and a talent agency.
In the clip, Williams stands near a Columbus highway ramp demonstrating his smooth, deep speaking voice. He holds a sign that asks motorists for help and says, "I'm an ex-radio announcer who has fallen on hard times."
A Dispatch videographer by chance decided to film Williams, who sometimes panhandles off Interstate 71.
"We run into these guys at the exit ramps and we pretty much ignore them," the videographer, Doral Chenoweth III, said on the Dispatch website. "This guy was using his talent."
On the Dispatch's video clip, Williams said he was 14 and on a field trip when he became fascinated by the world of radio after talking with an announcer.
"He said to me: 'Radio is defined [as] theater of mind,'" Williams said on the video. "I can't be an actor; I can't be an on-air [television] personality. The voice became something of a development."
Williams' story should be an inspiration for other homeless people, Bob Ater, executive director of the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless, told the AP.
"One of the problems with a lot of homeless people is that they have some rich talent, but don't have the confidence to exploit that talent," Ater said, adding he was unfamiliar with Williams before the video hit. "He's fabulous. The Cavaliers could use a boost of some kind."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.