The first major entertainment story of 2011 was undoubtedly that of Ted Williams, also known as “the homeless guy with the golden voice.” Down on his luck and left panhandling to various passersby, Williams demonstrated his incredible silky smooth voice, which was subsequently recorded and uploaded to YouTube. Literally hours later, the video had received millions of views, and Ted Williams was catapulted into superstardom. He was featured on CNN, Good Morning America, and radio stations across the United States. Then came the offers: a 30-second TV commercial for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, a voice-over position for the Cleveland Cavaliers (which also included a free house, mortgage paid), and numerous morning news gigs. What a feel-good story it was: a man, through the grace of God and the generosity of America’s wealthiest corporations, was going to pick himself up by his bootstraps and finally get the second chance he deserved. But it was all too good to be true.
The first problem with this story is the so-called generosity of these companies. For Kraft Foods, offering Ted Williams a commercial spot was marketing gold. Sure, the commercial would play his unique voice on television, but the real value was the message that they would be helping a homeless man get back on his feet. Not only would the public be glad to see Ted land a job, they’d also be talking about the selfless humanitarianism of Kraft Foods. The small commission Kraft would pay Ted for his commercial was nothing compared to the enormous PR dividends sure to follow.
None of us could have seen such a sensational story coming, but in the back of our minds we all saw where this was going. Williams’s ugly past caught up with him, and the stories of drug abuse, alcoholism, theft, and child neglect hit major news outlets. Later that week, police were dispatched to Williams’s hotel room to break up an allegedly drunken verbal altercation with his daughter. In a further act of disingenuous charity, TV personality Dr. Phil extended his helping hand. He would give Ted all the help and guidance he needed—as long as their session was broadcast live on daytime television.
Now it’s February, and Ted Williams has vanished back into obscurity as quickly as he emerged. Will this rags-to-riches story come true in the end? It seems unlikely. After all, money doesn’t solve every problem. In Ted’s case, given his admitted drug problems, it seems foolish to assume that he was able to immediately put his troubled past behind him in the face of a media blitz and high-paying job offers.
Blame Ted for letting the fame go to his head or blame the sponsors for their shameless opportunism; in the end we’re left with a news sensation that was discovered, exploited, and forgotten in record time.