Ted Williams was born with the gift of a golden voice.
Then things went very badly wrong. Or as the cardboard sign he spent days flashing on the exit ramp of a freeway in Columbus, Ohio, put it: “I'm an ex-radio announcer who has fallen on hard times. Please! Any help will be greatfully (sic) appreciated!”
For years Mr Williams scraped by on spare dollars from passing motorists. He slept in a tent on a patch of wasteland. But this week Ted's luck changed.
On Monday a video of Mr Williams shot by a local newspaper reporter was uploaded to YouTube. In it he describes his life in a manner remarkable for just one thing: his voice. Despite Ted's weather-beaten appearance he had somehow retained the warmest of baritone drawls, still rich after all these years.
This being the modern era, the short film rapidly went viral and by last night had been watched by more than 12 million people. This being |America, Williams has been catapulted into celebrity, offered homes, jobs and advertising contracts, and plastered across news bulletins, normally after the words: “and finally”.
Yesterday the 53-year-old former DJ found himself in a New York TV studio where his |deep vowel sounds welcomed viewers of NBC to the Today programme.
But not everyone is cheering Ted's instant fame. To critics his saccharine story represents “American Dream Propaganda”, by which the media uses one unlikely fairytale to paper over tears in the fabric of a society with few safety nets and an ever-widening gulf between rich and poor.
For Mr Williams there is no guarantee that life will now be happy ever after. Already reporters have begun digging into his background, uncovering a regrettable tendency to press the self-destruct button.
Born into a comfortable family in Brooklyn, he had a promising radio career in the 1980s. But the perils of minor fame — drink, drugs, and loose women — got to him and in 1996 his marriage disintegrated.
Mr Williams says he soon began drinking “pretty bad”. He became addicted to marijuana and crack cocaine and lost interest in work. Though he claimed two years on the straight and narrow, his most recent brush with the law was in May when police arrested him on suspicion of pimping two women.
For now, though, Mr Williams has control of his destiny. At the very least that allows the nation to enjoy a decent sob story.