A Golden Voice: How Faith, Hard Work, and Humility Brought Me from the Streets to Salvation

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YouTube sensation Ted William's memoir of addiction, homelessness, and unlikely redemption, cowritten by #1 New York Times bestselling author Bret Witter

Ted Williams was panhandling in December 2010 when a passerby taped him and posted a clip of his gorgeous radio voice on YouTube. The video went viral, and overnight, launched him—the homeless man with a golden voice—into the hearts of millions.

Since then, millions have heard pieces of his ...

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A Golden Voice: How Faith, Hard Work, and Humility Brought Me from the Streets to Salvation

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Overview

YouTube sensation Ted William's memoir of addiction, homelessness, and unlikely redemption, cowritten by #1 New York Times bestselling author Bret Witter

Ted Williams was panhandling in December 2010 when a passerby taped him and posted a clip of his gorgeous radio voice on YouTube. The video went viral, and overnight, launched him—the homeless man with a golden voice—into the hearts of millions.

Since then, millions have heard pieces of his story: his successful radio career, his crack addiction, his multiple arrests, and his heartbreaking relationship with his ninety-year-old mother. But in A Golden Voice, Ted Williams finally puts all the pieces together to give an unforgettable, searingly honest account of life on the streets. Nothing is held back, as Williams takes the reader through prostitution, theft, crack houses, and homeless shelters in a search, ultimately, for redemption and hope. Along the way, we see his relationship with his long-term girlfriend, Kathy, grow into an unlikely and inspiring love story, and we hear the Golden Voice of God lead Ted from the selfishness of crime to the humility of the street corner—almost a year before he was “discovered” on that highway entrance ramp.

But this memoir isn’t just an exploration of wrongs and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to give homelessness a voice. It is a deeply American, from-the-heart comeback story about the power of hope, faith, and personal responsibility. With the innate charisma that has won him millions of fans, Ted Williams proves that no one, no matter how degraded, is too lost for a second chance.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Homeless in 2011, ex–radio announcer Williams, aka “The Man with the Golden Voice,” found overnight fame when a video of him holding a cardboard sign and panhandling on a street corner went viral. Within days, Williams was a guest on major network talk shows and juggling job offers, with the original video scoring more than 40 million hits in the months that followed. But during the 20 years that crack cocaine was Williams’s “constant companion,” his life was a raw wound. Teaming with bestselling author Witter (Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched a Nation), he documents peaks, pitfalls, wild ways, a failed marriage, self-destruction, depression, drugs, thefts, arrests, backsliding, and rehab. Born and raised in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, the Army was his ticket out of the projects. On Columbus, Ohio, radio stations in the 1980s, he used his voice “to make it feel like a nonstop party for a million people” and became the area’s charismatic popular DJ despite heavy drinking. Going into a downward spiral, he lived in shelters, crack houses, and the street. In the woods behind a grocery store, his home was a tent he made by taping children’s raincoats together. The notion of a “second chance at life” generated a huge interest in Williams, and those who followed last year’s media accounts of his struggles will appreciate the insights and brutal honesty expressed in this powerful career comeback story. (June)
Kirkus Reviews
A captivating memoir about a man's life of drug addiction and homelessness. With the assistance of veteran co-author Witter (co-author: Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him, 2011, etc.), Williams tells the story of how he reached his childhood dream of becoming a radio voice and subsequently lost it through his addiction to crack. The author's obsession with becoming a radio voice started at age 10 when his mother bought him a radio. He idolized Hank Spann and learned the voice-inflection techniques from the on-air personalities of the time. Williams knew he had the gift of a "golden voice" from childhood, but he enlisted in the Army after graduation. When he was dishonorably discharged for black-marketing electronic equipment, he found a job as a DJ at a radio station in Chadbourn, N.C. He later became a radio personality and town celebrity in Columbus, Ohio, until he became addicted to crack and quit his job to spend all day smoking. The rest of the memoir follows his life as an addict, homeless person and absentee father. The grimy details of crack houses and harsh aspects of homeless life add color to the story, as do the pages written in the voice of his girlfriend Kathy. The writing style is fast-paced and easy to follow despite the whirlwind of events, and Williams does not shy away from self-criticism. Religion becomes a main theme toward the end of the book, as the author claims it was God who ultimately led to his freedom and sobriety. The story ends just before his rise to fame and does not explore his life after he became a national sensation. Disturbing and hard to put down.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781592407149
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/10/2012
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.12 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

Ted Williams grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and served in the army before becoming the #1 drive-time DJ in Columbus, Ohio. Addicted to crack, he eventually lost his job and spent seventeen years homeless on the streets of Columbus. He left long-term rehab in the fall of 2011 and currently lives in a Columbus suburb.

Bret Witter is a five-time New York Times bestselling author with more than two million books in print, including #1 New York Times bestseller Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. He lives with his wife and two children in Louisville, Kentucky.

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Read an Excerpt

Prologue

It’s hard for me to watch the famous minute-long clip on YouTube, the one of me standing on the street corner with my little cardboard sign. The world might hear a homeless man with a golden voice saying, “When you’re listening to nothing but the best of oldies, you’re listening to Magic 98.9,” but I see a version of myself I don’t like: crazy hair sticking out in all directions, unshaven, brown rotten teeth, dirty camouflage jacket. I see the desperate eyes of a hustler out of hustles, an addict at the end of two decades of bad decisions with nothing left to do but smile and perform for a guy who rolls down his window and says those famous nine words: “I’m going to make you work for your dollar.”

I’m embarrassed. I really am. Because that video is no lie. That was my life. Back in the day, I used to be somebody—a husband, a father, a successful radio personality. Then, on August 20, 1988, I smoked crack cocaine, and over a period of two months it took hold of me until I was smoking cat litter off my filthy floors because I thought it might be crack, and selling my son’s baby clothes for drugs. I lost everything: my job, my home, my children, my morals, my self-respect; and for almost twenty years, right up until the morning I appeared on the Today show in January 2011, I was a homeless addict.

This is not a pretty book, because homelessness and addiction are not a pretty life. The things I’ve done and the places I’ve been might send shivers down your spine. I laid up in grimy crack houses. I robbed my prostitute girlfriend’s clients in seedy motels. I carried my clothes in a plastic bag and went weeks without a shower. I conned my poor momma. I stole from my only friends. I slept for three days in a nest of spiders at the bottom of a concrete staircase, comatose on crack, and walked around with holes in my shoes so bad the snow came in and peeled the flesh off the bottom of my feet. I kept a mental list of every store I’d stolen from and which clerk was working at the time, because over a period of decades, in an endless desperate hustle for drug money, I burned the retail sector of Columbus, Ohio, to the ground. And I smoked crack cocaine with every last cent.

I ate my grandson’s baby food, even though I knew my daughter couldn’t afford more. I smoked the money my mother sent me to attend my father’s funeral, then had the nerve to call long-distance on the day they put him in the ground and ask for more. I lived in condemned buildings, abandoned restaurants, and once, for several months, under a tent I made out of children’s raincoats. I crapped in buckets. I ate pizza off the ground. I cursed men and used women and once, God help me, broke my girlfriend Kathy’s arm in three places with one unfortunate slap.

You’re not going to like me for some of this book. I’m going to tell you that now. There will be times when you want to turn away. Everybody else did. My momma. My children. My ex-wife. The social workers, the do-gooders, the drug counselors. Heck, I even turned away from my own life. I fell into a hopeless state of mind and soul, because I was an addict and my life had shrunk to the point that it was nothing but crack—and who would want to look at that?

Only Kathy, a fellow addict, stayed with me.

Only Kathy . . . and God. He was always talking to me, always trying to send me down the right path. I thought the voice was in my head, and I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to acknowledge Him, because I knew I was doing wrong and I didn’t think I had the strength to do right. Finally, when I reached the end of my chain, I listened. Not half listened, telling myself, “It’s okay to do what you’re doing, Ted, you’re still a Christian,” but really listened. Really acknowledged God in my heart.

And what did He do? He put me on the street corner to panhandle. For twenty years of homelessness, I had shaken my head at people who stood on corners. In my distorted worldview, stealing was better. Prostitution was better. Anything was better, anything, than standing on the street, in full view of everyone, and begging for a dime.

So that’s where God sent me: to the street corner for one hour, every day, rain or shine. He sent me not for the money. He sent me not to be discovered by Today—that happened months later by accident—but to humble me. And believe me, I was humbled. I was humbled when people rolled down their window to yell “Get a job, n*gger,” or threw soda cans at my head, or when my own grown children drove by and looked the other way so they wouldn’t have to acknowledge their daddy, the bum.

So, yes, I cringe when I see that YouTube video, because I see a man as low as any man can ever go. But I smile, too, because I see a man who’s trying. I see a man who’s turned it over to his Higher Power, who’s walking (slowly, slowly) in the way of the Lord, who’s facing his demons in the only way he knows how. I was in pain. I was embarrassed. But that pain and embarrassment was the reawakening of things I thought I’d killed off long before: Self-respect. Hope. And love. Especially love.

More than anything, though, I’m grateful. I’m grateful to Doral Chenoweth, the videographer from The Columbus Dispatch who took that video; and I’m grateful to the forty million people (and counting) who viewed it, because that video changed my life. On January 4, 2011, the day I became a YouTube sensation, I didn’t know what YouTube was. I didn’t know what the Internet was, because I’d been homeless since 1993, long before most people went online. Not only had I never touched a computer, I didn’t know MTV had more than one channel. I didn’t know hip-hop and Rush Limbaugh had taken over the radio. I’d never even heard of Fox News, Mos Def, or Conan O’Brien. Like many homeless people, I had a pay-as-you-go cell phone, which I periodically bought minutes for, but otherwise, twenty years of technology and culture had passed me by.

Twenty years of life had passed me by.

So when my friend Mark called and told me, “They been talking about you on the radio,” I was shocked. “Everybody’s looking for you,” Mark said. “Everybody wants to hear that golden voice.”

“You joking me?”

“Nah, it’s true.”

Man, I got excited. I used to be the number one morning-drive DJ in Columbus, Ohio, and when I heard radio I thought someone wanted to give me a job. Radio was my identity—it was even my name on the street—but I hadn’t been on the radio since 1996. A radio job meant a hot meal, clean water, a place to live, a shower, a toothbrush, an indoor toilet, but more than that it meant the end of humiliation, the end of degradation, and the return of a decent life.

So I called my friend Al Battle, the only person I knew with a car.

“They’re talking about me on the radio, Al. They’re telling me to come to WNCI tomorrow morning. Can you drive me?”

I spent that night on a stranger’s couch. Didn’t take a shower because I didn’t want to impose. When Al picked me up on my begging corner, Interstate 71 and Hudson, I was huddled in the same camouflage coat I’d worn every day that winter.

“There must be someone famous down here,” Al said when we pulled into the station parking lot and saw the camera crews and television trucks.

We walked into the studio, and bam, I was mobbed. “You okay, Ted? You need anything? You mind if we call you Ted?”

“No, sir.”

“Well, you better comb your hair, Ted. You’ll be on the Dave & Jimmy show in five minutes, and there’s a live television feed to the Today Show in New York.”

“What?”

“You’re world famous, man, didn’t you know? Everybody wants to hear from the homeless man with the golden voice.”

Next thing I knew, I was on the air. I don’t know what I said, but people liked it, I guess, because halfway through the show the Cleveland Cavaliers offered me a PR announcer job. Then a voice-over agent from California said he could make me a million dollars. A million dollars! That was too much. The day before, I’d been a panhandler. Half an hour before, I’d been an anonymous homeless guy walking into a local radio station, praying for $200 voice-over work.

Now I was . . . famous? All those television trucks outside were . . . for me?

The live feed to Today didn’t work. So they came up with a new plan. They were flying me to New York City right now, so I could appear in the studio the next morning.

I didn’t have an ID. I hadn’t had an official identity, apart from a prison record, for more than a decade. Today had to take me to the courthouse for registration, then a homeless shelter for proof of residency, then the DMV—where we were allowed to cut to the front of the line . . . at the DMV!—for a driver’s license, because that was the only way they’d let me on an airplane.

But the next morning, there I was, from the outhouse to the penthouse, saying those famous words to millions nationwide with my golden voice: “From NBC News, this is Today with Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera, live from Studio 1A in Rockefeller Plaza.”

Then I sat down beside Matt Lauer (who, I admitted a few days later on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, had “brought out the woman in me”) for a ten-minute interview. I had a haircut, a clean shave, and a new green sweater, but I was still wearing my camouflage jacket. I was still Ted Williams, the man from the street.

And the most important thing I told the world, after the confessions and tears, was this: “I was ready to mark 2010 as another year wasted, until I realized that in 2010 I found a new spirituality.”

I know some people doubt me. I know some people hate my sudden fame and all it says about the media today. They say I didn’t earn it. They say I didn’t work, that I am the laborer who arrived at the last minute of the day. They say I’m going to relapse. They said, even then, I wouldn’t last a week.

But I’ve made it so far. I’m taking it one day at a time, and I’m making it so far. I’m getting out of bed in the morning (a bed!) and drinking coffee, like a regular Joe. And my spirituality is the reason. You see, I wasn’t plucked from the streets in the depth of my addiction and depression. I wasn’t dragged off the corner at rock bottom. I was found at a moment of hope, when my heart was open and my spirit was trying to be free.

That’s the story I’m going to tell in this book. Not the fame, but the journey: the bad, the worse, the truly ugly, and eventually the not so bad, the getting better, and finally . . . on the very last page, the good. Not the fame, but the good.

Momma, forgive me for the story I’m about to tell. Patty, forgive me for the heartache and betrayal. Children, forgive me for the awful things my grandchildren will hear and the awful things I’ve done to you. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve squandered your love. I’ve hurt you all, and I know it will hurt you again to hear this litany of sins.

But I’ve got a second chance, and I’ve got to come clean. I’ve got to be honest about what happened and what I’ve done. My recovery demands it, and my faith demands it, too.

There are thousands of people like me. There are millions in pain, in need, with a poverty of the mind and soul. I’m not just talking about the homeless, although I care about them most of all. I’m talking about anyone who knows they are doing wrong, from the lying businessman to the cheating spouse. I want to reach out a hand and tell them: There is hope. There is redemption. There is a way.

I want to give back to the people who recognized me and said “Way to go, Ted!” The people who smiled and shook my hand, when a few weeks before I was so dirty people changed lanes in their cars to avoid being near me, and said “God bless you, Ted. God bless you.” I want to give an honest account for the people who yell, even today, when I walk down the street, “We’re proud of you, Ted. We’re proud of you. We’re rooting for you!”

Most important, I want to help the people who are hurting, who have lost their jobs, or their homes, or their families or children, or even their hope. I want to tell this story, not for myself but for the woman who hugged me in the Columbus airport and cried on my shoulder.

“My daughter’s a dopehead, Ted,” she said. “My daughter’s lost, and I’ve been praying so long and so hard. Why hasn’t God answered my prayers?”

“Don’t stop,” I told her through my own tears. “Don’t stop, Momma. Don’t stop. My momma prayed for me since 1989, so don’t stop. Don’t lose your faith. If God can save me, He can save anybody.”

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2012

    God loves

    I pray for you!! Know that god loves you god bless

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2012

    GREAT BOOK!!

    I got this book from another Retailer and as soon as I got it I couldn't put it down!!There were times I had to take a break from reading for I WAS crying at times, getting frustrated and even annoyed at Ted but I keeped on reading and found myself liking Ted even more than I already had! Ted does not sugar coat anything His book is RAW. His book shows you the power of prayer and WHY you should have God in your life. I would recommened this book to anyone who has an addiction or you know someone who does This book is for anyone who truly believes in 2nd chance for EVERYONE!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 13, 2012

    Highly Recommended - as must read

    This book is a great insight to what happens when people get hooked on drugs. But it also show you can come back from the depths of the drugs. This should be a required read for everychild from grade school to college. It is a truly an honest & true story of what happens to a person on drugs. And how they loose themselves & their soul. I plan on reading it again to pick up on anything I might have missed the first time. Truly a great book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    Inspirational!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2012

    Disgusting

    Thisthe story of a man who in my opinion was a seif centered, egotistical, selfish drug addict who had a God given gift and threw it away This man cheated every person that came into his life for a fix including his own parents, kids and wife
    Inspirational? My %ss

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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