The Grio — What do you call a homeless black man who has a history of drug and alcohol abuse, a police record that includes arrests and serving prison time for theft and forgery, and an ex-wife and nine children he’s unable to support?
America’s sweetheart, apparently.
I’m referring, of course, to Ted Williams, the man with the startlingly smooth radio voice who was “discovered” a week ago living on the streets of Columbus, Ohio, and has since become a national celebrity.
Despite his somewhat colorful past, Williams was quick to garner both sympathy and awe from almost everyone who has come into contact with his charming YouTube debut, including myself.
In that video, he appeared polite, humble, and perhaps most importantly, talented, actively challenging our collective stereotypical notion of what a homeless man in America should be. It seemed all he needed was a second chance in order to pick himself up and live out the unlikely but feel-good success story we’ve all become accustomed to seeing in Disney movies: A man has passion and talent, falls on hard times and is unable to pursue said passion and talent. He’s “discovered” and is thus finally able to realize his ever-important and miraculously in-tact passion and talent.
And just like that, Williams’ earnest narrative, gentle smile, and “golden” radio voice prompted an outpouring of sympathy and job offers from across the country. Let’s face it — we were all rooting for him.
That he had been chosen by us, “the people”, made it even more compelling, turning him into the kind of exciting modern day celebrity whose very existence would not have been possible mere years ago, before the era of YouTube and viral video. Imagine: if it was our very attention that was catapulting him to fame, in some sense we had helped someone on the road to a new and better life, simply by clicking on a YouTube video. We were all do-gooders now.
And then, slowly but surely, the inconveniently messy details began to leak out.
Sure, we had known about the history of drug and alcohol abuse from watching the original interview. But it had seemed a brief blip on the screen of our love for Ted Williams. And when we found out about a few nonviolent crimes on his police record a day or so later, we took all that in stride, too. But that wasn’t the end of it.
Monday night, Williams was detained by the LAPD after he and his daughter got into a heated argument that reportedly turned physical. Yikes. And it’s becoming harder and harder to rep #TeamWilliams as his mother, ex-wife, and children each take turns stepping forward to offer their version of why they feel Williams is ill-equipped to handle his sudden fame. Maybe we could still let this all slide in the name of holding on to that warm fuzzy feeling we felt when we watched the original video and heard Williams’ story.
But the most recent detail threatens to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back: Yesterday, Williams, 53, reportedly admitted to Dr. Phil that he’s been drinking again, and needs to check into rehab, despite having previously insisted that he’s been sober for at least two years.
As these new details emerge that complicate Williams’ rosy public image, we can’t help but feel a bit culpable for the media frenzy we helped create around a man whose capacity to handle it is questionable at best.