Thursday, January 06, 2011

"Golden Voice" Ted Williams' Biggest Test Is Still to Come

Unless you've been in a coma or completely insulated from media this week, you're familiar with the story of Ted Williams, the one-time radio announcer, gifted with a "bottomless" golden voice, whose submission to alcohol, cocaine, crack and the wrong crowd led him to abandon his family and career for a "life" on the streets of Columbus, Ohio.

On a Sunday a few weeks ago, a man and his family on their way to church stopped at the intersection where Williams was panhandling and pressed a $20 bill into his hand. That got Ted's attention in a big way, just as his astonishing "pipes" got theirs. The man who stopped happens to work for the Columbia Dispatch, and he was curious to learn more about the man with the big voice. So he asked for and received Ted's permission to record video and sound of him soliciting donations at the exit ramp.

The video went viral. When I saw it on Facebook, thanks to a couple of friends in voiceover and radio, it had had a few hundred views. A day or two later, over five million others had seen it.

Suddenly, Ted Williams is an international celebrity. Appearances on GMA, Today, Fallon, Leno. A station in Hawaii wants to fly him there, all expenses paid, to do a few drop-ins. The Cleveland Cavaliers want him to be their stadium announcer. Job offers are coming out of the woodwork.

And therein lies Ted Williams' biggest challenge, and it's a monster.

How will he handle the pressures of fame and fortune being thrust upon him after having spent years on the streets, not by chance but by choice.

Yes, it's a hard thing to say: "choice." But, like all of us, Ted Williams has volition. Free will. He was free to choose and made bad choices, destructive choices. His children and mother say they tried to help, but he refused it.

I'm not condemning him. Nor am I claiming to understand his situation. I've not walked in his shoes, nor have I slept where he's slept, nor have I shared a meal with him. Like you, I only know what I've seen and heard in the media.

But it's hardly a stretch to say that Ted Williams' downward spiral into substance abuse, family abandonment, and homelessness was largely of his own making.

The Bible informs us that a tendency toward sin and evil is a common characteristic of the human race (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:23, 6:23), no exceptions save One.

And yet, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are a functioning conscience and the personal freedom to respond to its dictates, no man is forced to act contrary to his own best interests.

I believe God has given Ted Williams another chance. By his own admission and the statements of others close to him, his redemption from life on the streets is the result of divine intervention and an answer to many prayers.

But as enviable as his new-found fortune may seem, it's fraught with dangers. Men inclined to self-destructive behavior find it so much easier to indulge themselves under prosperity than under adversity.

Williams himself has likened his good fortune to hitting the lottery. Ironically, in the same week, two people who live within 150 miles of me split a Mega Millions jackpot worth nearly $400 million. One hopes they have the capacity to handle the tsunami of green, having read the stories of lottery winners coming into tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, squandering their lives and fortune through dissipation.

In fact, our history is full of stories of millionaires, moguls and movie stars who've come to tragic ends and premature deaths, solely because they couldn't handle extreme prosperity, power, or popularity.

I believe that what Ted Williams is going to need most of all is prayer and the love of family and friends who aren't attracted to his money or fame, but who simply want to see him become the man God wants him to be.

I wish him well.


  1. Anonymous9:58 AM

    Rod-- I agree that the big test is still to come. I worry that the overwhelm of a life literally changed overnight will outdo the good that has been done for this man. The lottery analogy is so apt; many of those folks statistically regret having ever won the money as it brought grief and hardship and scavengers, and changed their otherwise "normal" lives (even those who were truly struggling). It will be interesting to watch how it plays out but I hope that Mr. Williams can in turn "pay it forward" as should we all.
    Keep up the great work,
    Perry Norton

  2. Perry,

    I had a meeting this morning with a client who's a financial planner, and I asked him what he expected would unfold in the lives of Washington State's newest multimillionaires, the folks in Ephrata who took the cash option—a $90,000,000 windfall. Predictably, the first wave of "well-wishers" will be all the unscrupulous parasites out there, the con men and scam artists who prey on the naive. (When it comes to handling that kind of instant wealth, most recipients are going to be naive.) Ted Williams is going to have to make fundamental changes in his thinking and behavior (character is probably more accurate) if he's going to survive. I truly believe he's jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Will he manage to rise to the occasion? That, of course, remains to be seen—but I truly hope so.

    Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts, Perry.

  3. I was wondering the exact same thing, Rod. God's taken me through the fire to make me who I am today. I expect that He won't give me more than I can handle.

    I'll be watching Ted's story. If he handles everything well, staying grounded, this could be a testing fire that causes lots of growth.


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