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A Golden Voice: How Faith, Hard Work, and Humility Brought Me from the Streets to Salvation Hardcover – May 10, 2012

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About 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.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


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.”


“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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham; 1st Edition, 1st Printing edition (May 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781592407149
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592407149
  • ASIN: 1592407145
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #520,091 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Steve Proctor on May 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a story about the human soul. The story of one man who degraded himself, and was degraded by others. Who allowed himself to sink to depths which most of us can't imagine. Even if you have a strong stomach, you'll find it difficult making it through the "low" chapters in this book. The brutal -- yet sparkling -- honesty of Williams caused this reader to hurt along with him.

What comes through here is a deep sense of human solidarity... that we are all in this together. One gets the feeling that if one person suffers, then we all suffer. No matter how often we turn away.

And when Williams describes his eventual recovery -- and rediscovery of life -- the grueling, soul-rending ordeal gradually ends. The reader has undergone a journey through a nightmare -- but the low points belonged to a real experience, truly lived by many in this society. Ultimately, the true subject of this book is the power of spiritual and moral regeneration open to all of us -- no matter how proud or humble our circumstances.

Highly recommended as a cautionary tale, as an exercise in empathy, and as a document of the suffering that is the lot of so many in our society. But finally, this is an inspiring story of healing and new life -- spiritual and bodily.

If you do enjoy this book (read: if you are able to make it through the brutality) you might also enjoy the (generally more uplifting) I Walked to the Moon and Almost Everybody Waved: The Curiously Inspiring Adventures of a Free Spirit Who Changed Lives or The Seven Storey Mountain.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Sally on May 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If your life is a mess and you are depressed, read THIS BOOK! Ted Williams lived a life for 20 years that most know NOTHING about. Talk about your life being a mess!!! Ted not only hit rock bottom, his life was below that. But....it all has a happy ending! Ted's story is another one of God's miracles. Beautifully written. A must read.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By charliebargain on May 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I became interested in Ted Williams when I saw a film clip of a homeless man with a golden voice suddenly appear on television interviews, TV show guest spots and Dr. Phil's show. He started Rehab and then no sign of him for about a year. Ted wrote this book of his biography and I was just interested in the whole story and saw him one morning on the news. Amazon has the Kindle version and I received instant delivery. I started reading and could not put the book down. It was gut-renching and that is an understatement. He explained how he landed a job after college in an Ohio Radio Station as a DJ. He had a lot going for him as a successful DJ with lovely wife and children. Then one day he tried crack and got hooked. From there his life was all down hill for twenty years of street gutters, stealing, desperate living for a fix. He writes this book in an honest straight forward style that is refreshing. I laughed, I cried, I identified though I never experienced what he has. I have seen other men destroyed and could never understand the nature of alcholism or dope addition. With this read, you will have a better understanding of what is happening to the person and what it takes to help them. You won't be disappointed but allow a couple of hours. I hate to read and I read this book in one sitting. I will go back and refer to parts of this book for reference. It is awesome.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Digital on May 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover
In the prologue to Mr. Williams's book, he says that readers will not like him for a good portion of the book. That is true -- many of Mr. Williams's anecdotes are not kind ones, about himself or other people. As you read the book, you may wonder how in the world he received so many opportunities to clean himself and make a better man of himself.

That, however, is the real strength of this book. The fact that through his story, Mr. Williams truly understands and makes it undeniable that there are such things as second chances..and third chances..and fourth chances..

These are very powerful stories that Mr. Williams has woven into this book. The book ends with a feeling that if success and his dreams can come true for him after all he's been through, than it can happen to the reader as well.

This is a truly inspiring story.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By DannyBaker on June 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I thought that I knew about addiction, maybe a little about homelessness, and at least a little bit about what it might mean to make the struggle toward redemption.

I didn't. Not until I read Ted Williams's book. What an empowering account of a horrific life. And what an inspiring tale of renewal.

This is a hard read. Sometimes you want to leave this book and this sorry crackhead behind. But keep going. Please, keep on keeping on, just like Ted.

I never ever want to face the kind of struggle that Ted and Kathy have. But if I did, I would be humbled to conquer it half as well as they have.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By San on May 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I have been following Ted's story from the very beginning and this book captured what we have not seen or heard in the news! Ted is a very strong and brave individual and I pray that he and Kathy hang on to their sobriety and I'm so glad that he got to a chance to reconnect with his mother, now 92 and I pray that she gets to see his success. It was hard to put the book down...snuck and read it will at work. Loved the book...a must read!
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