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Protecting 'golden voice' from pitfalls of sudden success

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
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'Golden voice' hits jackpot
  • Ted Williams, with his velvet voice, went from homeless to famous in a matter of days
  • Many wonder how he'll handle sudden success, the attention, the job offers
  • Psychiatrist warns that without solid sobriety and support, relapse may happen
  • Williams' AA sponsor and longtime friend, as well as his mother, may help avoid pitfalls

(CNN) -- The homeless man with a velvet voice catapulted into a new reality this week.

Now how does Ted Williams, who has battled addiction, a rap sheet and the hardscrabble life of the streets, make sure his sudden success doesn't become a curse?

A video of him and his "golden voice," filmed by a multimedia producer with The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio, was posted Monday and went viral. Since then, he's been slammed with instant fame, become a battled-over TV talk show guest and received a slew of job offers. The abrupt about-face in his life has left many wondering how he'll handle all of this.

"You're taking someone who has nothing ... to having all the hopes and all the dreams," said Dr. Charles Sophy, a psychiatrist, author and medical director of the County of Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services. "Right now, it's exciting. He can show his mom he's a success. But to sustain it we need to make sure he has what he needs."

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What he needs, said Sophy, who has not met Williams, is a thorough evaluation of his history, of what's triggered his past substance abuse, and an adequate support mechanism.

"Giving someone success isn't always the answer to make sure someone feels successful," Sophy said. "Unless someone's sobriety is really tight and well under control, success can trigger a relapse."

One thing Williams may have going for him is the man who's stepped in as his handler.

"I love Ted," Alfred Battle, a friend and his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, said in a written statement. "We have been friends for many years and I have always known what a great talent he is and his well-being is first and foremost."

Unless someone's sobriety is really tight and well under control, success can trigger a relapse.
--Dr. Charles Sophy, psychiatrist

Battle also happens to be the founder and CEO of Battle Plan Promotions, a nonprofit entertainment company dedicated to developing "undiscovered talent," according to a press release sent out Friday. In that release, Battle said he's been checking in with Williams over the years and offering assistance -- including occasional voiceover and concert announcement gigs -- "whenever he would let me."

Doral Chenoweth III, the man who filmed Williams and was initially skeptical about Battle's role, has gotten to know the pair in recent days and shared stories he's gleaned of their history. Battle, a concert and event promoter, used to drive by a homeless shelter and camp looking for Williams, known in the community as "Radio Man." He offered him gigs to emcee events or tape commercials. Williams always wanted to go back to the shelter or camp, where he felt at home, Chenoweth said.

CNN tried to reach Battle, but he did not respond to e-mail requests and his voicemail box was full -- perhaps an indicator of how busy and in demand Williams is.

On Wednesday morning, Williams appeared in the Columbus studio of WNCI, where he took to the airwaves on the nationally syndicated Dave and Jimmy radio show before taking off for the New York talk shows and into the stratosphere of fame.

Come Thursday afternoon, he had completed voiceover work for four commercials for Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. His first spot will air Sunday during ESPN's Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

The two Columbus radio hosts, Dave Kaelin and Jimmy Jam, said they, too, are a bit worried about what all this sudden attention will mean for Williams.

"He even admitted that when you are a recovering alcoholic, it's the bad times and the good times that might trigger you," Kaelin said. "There's no road map to this. This hasn't happened before. Seventy-two hours ago this man was standing on a corner."

There's no road map to this. This hasn't happened before. Seventy-two hours ago this man was standing on a corner.
--Dave Kaelin, radio co-host of Dave and Jimmy

The hosts said they had no idea what to expect when Williams strolled into the studio. But they were touched by his warmth and humility. What has happened since has left them overwhelmed in their own way.

Jam said he's gotten more than 500 e-mails with offers to assist Williams. Most of them have been about jobs, but some show that others are thinking about Williams' well-being beyond his career. Recovering addicts have said they know where he's been and that they hope he gets the help he needs. A faculty member in social work at a nearby school wrote to offer Williams "mental health support as he goes on this second-chance journey."

"It's about protecting him from himself as well as protecting him from others," Kaelin added.

As of Thursday afternoon, Williams has more than his friend Battle looking out for him, Chenoweth said. He also now has his 90-year-old mother, Julia Williams.

They were reunited, after 20 years, in a hotel conference room in New York.

After the initial tears that fell when they first embraced, Chenoweth said, "She turns around, and she's mom." Less than a minute into their taped reunion, in fact, his mother said, "Please don't disappoint me."

"I'm through with it all," Williams told her.

"There might be a few bumps in the road ahead for him," Chenoweth speculated. "But overall I think he's going to have the life he wants."