CLEVELAND (AP) — From the streets to the studios.
Ted Williams, whose deep, velvety radio voice and touching story prompted an outpouring of sympathy and job offers from across the country, has become an overnight sensation.
He’s America’s hottest — and most improbable — star.
On Thursday, Williams, who was living in a tent near a highway in Columbus, Ohio, just days ago, was in New York for an emotional reunion with his 90-year-old mother, media appearances, and to do some commercial voiceover work. On NBC’s “Today” show, he described his previous 48 hours as “outrageous.”
“There’s no way in the world that I could have ever imagined that I would be — I mean, just have all of this just all of a sudden come into this portion of my life,” he said during a live interview in the program’s studio.
Left homeless after his life and radio career were ruined by drugs and alcohol, Williams has been offered a job by the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, and the 53-year-old is being pursued by NFL Films and others for possible work. Williams and his compelling tale became an online sensation after The Columbus Dispatch posted a clip of him demonstrating his voiceover skills while begging by the side of the road.
Now, he’s in demand.
WATCH ‘TODAY SHOW’ COVERAGE OF TED WILLIAMS:
[MSNBCMSN video=”http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32545640″ w=”592″ h=”346″ launch_id=”40943737^1000^677980″ id=”msnbc27b699″]
“I don’t know which one to choose, which one is the right one,” he said on “Today,” regarding the job prospects. But he said he was ready to handle the second chance he was being given and predicted that in five years, he’d be working as a radio program director and living in his own apartment. Williams said he found a “new sense of spirituality” in 2010 that would help him deal with whatever success comes.
Williams was contacted Wednesday by the Cavaliers, who have offered him a position that could include announcing work at Quicken Loans Arena, the team’s downtown facility. Williams said the team has offered him a two-year contract and said they would pay his living expenses.
It’s been a shocking turn of events for the golden-voiced man, who had gotten by living in shelters and occasionally with family and friends over the past few years. Williams has also been in his share of trouble. His past includes a lengthy list of arrests. He has served time in prison for theft and forgery and has been cited with numerous misdemeanors, including drug abuse.
He was most recently arrested on May 14. He pleaded guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor theft charge. In court records, his address is listed as “Streets of Columbus.”
Williams acknowledged his record during the “Today” show appearance and explained that he turned to crime so he could afford his drug habits.
Upon learning of Williams’ criminal history, the Cavaliers said their offer still stands.
“We believe in second chances and second opportunities,” said Tracy Marek, the team’s senior vice president of marketing. “The gentleman deserves an opportunity to explain certain situations. We’re not jumping to conclusions. It’s not fair.”
Cavaliers spokesman Tad Carper said exact details of the team’s offer and their plans to help Williams with housing were still being worked out.
“They said that they’re going to give me LeBron’s old house,” Williams joked on NBC Thursday, referring to former Cavaliers star LeBron James, who left for the Miami Heat.
The Cavaliers did not know much about him, but were moved by Williams’ ordeal.
“When you know something’s right, you just have to launch,” Marek said. “One of the big things that we talk about here, with our organization, is how important urgency is — when you see something that feels good and seems right.”
During a timeout in the first quarter of Wednesday night’s game against Toronto, the Cavaliers put a picture of Williams on their giant scoreboard and urged fans to send him messages at www.wewanttedwilliams.com.
Williams flew Wednesday night to New York, where he was expected to stay in a posh hotel off Central Park. He plans to see his mother, Julia, who lives in Brooklyn. She has stood by him during his battles with addiction.
“She has always been my best friend,” he told The Associated Press on Wednesday, crying. “When I was a kid, she would take me down to Radio City Music Hall and on the subway. I’m just glad that she is still around. I prayed that she would live long enough that I could make her proud and see could her son do something other than stand along the side of the road with a sign asking for money.”
Julia Williams is thrilled her only child is turning his life around. She can’t wait to see him.
“This will be my day to see my son get up and do something to help himself,” she said. “He has so much talent. I hope this will be the thing for him. He came from a nice family. And then he went poor, poor. So, maybe this will build him up and let him see that there’s more in life than hanging around with the wrong people, and taking drugs.”
Williams said his life began spiraling downward in 1996 when he began drinking alcohol “pretty bad.” He used marijuana and cocaine and lost interest in his radio career. He eventually wound up on the streets, despite the best efforts of his children, seven daughters and two sons who all live in the Columbus area.
Williams said he celebrated two years of sobriety “around Thanksgiving. I just hope everyone will pray for me.”
When he first heard Williams’ soothing delivery, Kevin McLoughlin of NFL Films, which has chronicled pro football for nearly 50 years, knew he had to contact the unknown man.
“It’s that voice,” McLoughlin, director of post-production films for the NFL, told the AP. “When he was telling his story, I said, ‘That’s what we do. This guy can tell a story.’ Somehow, some way, I need to get a demo with him. He could be that diamond in the rough.”
McLoughlin has not been able to contact Williams, but he intends to track him down.
“The man deserves a second chance,” he said.
Warren Levinson in New York contributed to this report.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.