Two years after a viral video transformed him from a homeless drug addict to a media sensation, Ted Williams has a steady job -- and a willingness to give back to those struggling as he did.
In a segment that appeared on TODAY Friday, Williams spoke with NBC’s Stephanie Gosk about his new job doing voiceovers for Kraft Macaroni & Cheese -- the latest peak in a life that has had more than its share of highs and lows. After becoming the No. 1 drive-time DJ in Columbus, Ohio, in the 1980s, Williams spent 17 years on the streets because of addictions to crack cocaine and alcohol.
But then came a YouTube video that went viral. Shot by Columbus Dispatch videographer Doral Chenoweth III in January 2011, it showed a bedraggled Williams performing a silky voiceover while panhandling off Interstate 71 in Columbus. In it Williams holds a sign that reads, “I’m an ex-radio announcer who has fallen on hard times.”
Within a matter of days, Williams served as a guest announcer on TODAY. Now, two years later, Williams has the job with Kraft and an apartment he calls home. He also has had an emotional reunion with his mother, but admits that his relationships with his seven children remain strained.
Williams has also been working hard to maintain his sobriety after two stints in rehab. In May, he admitted to Matt Lauer on TODAY that he had relapsed on drugs and alcohol twice since his rise to fame.
“Matt Lauer was very scared for me at one point,’’ Williams told Gosk in the report that aired Friday. “He mentioned on the air, ‘You know Ted, I hope things work out for you.’’’
Helping him stay on a positive track has been a nonprofit foundation he started with Kraft, The Ted Williams Project, which raises money to help the poor in Columbus.
“Some people, they really look at me with admiration, and they’re like, ‘God if you can do it, I can do it,’’’ Williams said. “I feel like if I fail, what is that person going to do?’’
Williams can empathize with the plight of the homeless in Columbus, many of whom are still his friends, as he remembers what it was like to stand on a highway median and ask people for money.
“I thought it was the most degrading thing,’’ he said. “I thought it was the lowest form of homelessness.’’
Williams was able to escape that hard life thanks to his golden voice and a viral video. While his circumstances have dramatically changed, his mellifluous voice remains the same. He even helped show Gosk how it’s done, signing off the segment with a richly-toned, “Stephanie Gosk, NBC News, New York.’’