If you are in the voiceover industry (or watch the Today Show), you have probably heard all about it by now. 71 year old homeless man Ted Williams is recorded and put on YouTube demonstrating his “golden pipes.” And really, his voice is spectacular.
I, like many others, posted the video, commented on it. The post explodes on the Internet (7.5 million views as of this writing). And Ted’s story has a wonderful next step; he has been offered gigs by the Cleveland Cavaliers, MTV, and others. Voices.com and others have offered training scholarships, and it looks as though he will have someplace to live.
The response from people in our industry to that has been…varied.
I have seen many truly happy responses, pleased to see that a man who has made mistakes in his life and been drawn away from a potential career by drugs and alcohol has been able to bounce back and virtually hit the jackpot in getting the opportunity of a lifetime. Others have thrown the cynical “heck, I’ll go write up a sign and get a gig.” Some, like my friend Mercedes Rose (@girlactor on Twitter) has celebrated the fact that it throws a light on the somewhat hidden world of voiceover, and gives her a chance to point out that you can’t always hit the lottery like Ted, and if you want to get into voiceover, you have a lot of work to do (I used some of her stuff in my own how to get started post).
Ted, bless him, has gotten an opportunity many of us would give our eye teeth for. But I want to point out what he went through that put him in this position.
He had the chance to do this before, but had it derailed by alcohol and drugs.
He has been clean and sober for two years, but was living on the street panhandling for cash to stay alive.
David Houston (@DavidHoustonVO) said it best: “Memo to Haters: Dude is 71. Lots more days behind than ahead for him. Ease up, ‘kay?”
Ted’s story brings two things immediately to mind for me.
My father is just two years older than Ted. George Washington, Jr. is a man any of you would be proud to call your father, and am lucky enough to do so. He has a simply amazing vocal instrument, and I can only wish I had the depth and fullness he has. He sings and speaks, and I have accused him of using his voice as a weapon to get his way in arguments and discussions at the county board he has served for so many years. Everything my voice is, I owe to him. And with the stubbornness, tenacity and willingness to do what it takes to keep his head above water, he and my mother still live in the house my brother and I grew up in, when he could have been in the same shoes as Ted. No, my father was never an alcoholic or drug user. But in this country (or almost any other), it doesn’t take too much to push a life over into disaster. Lose a job, get sick at the wrong time, and there you are. My father stood tall through all of the difficulties and struggles of his life, and I am proud, again, to say he is my father.
I then look at my life.
I lost my job about 16 months ago. Through the gift of my incredible wife, I have been able to make progress on a goal, a voiceover career, that I was only nibbling around the edges of for years. Now I am having to make some changes in what I do to accommodate a big change in my working life. But again…I was close enough to the edge that I could see where Ted is from where I was standing, at least in my head. And yes, there is a small pang of “I COULD DO THAT” that come up when I see the opportunities that are being thrown Ted’s way.
But I will make my way. I will keep working hard, and find my place. Do I deserve it? No more or less than Ted does. Opportunities come; sometimes when you are at the very bottom, sometimes when you are at the very top. Celebrate them and keep working, whether for you or someone like Ted.
It isn’t about who deserves it.
It’s about what you do with it when it comes.
Update: Super voice talent John Taylor points out that Ted is actually 53. This shifts a little of my points, but it also makes him closer to my age.