By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Editor's note: This story was published in print on July 10, 2008.
The Hammer is half-cocked.
The hammer is cocked.
His resolve eroded, ego fed to the furnace and suicide notes written, Greg Williams is a trigger pull from eternal mute. He is besieged by pain, haunted by guilt and devastated by depression, all simultaneously demanding their reckoning. He barely gives a damn about leaving this world without proper goodbyes. Even to his former co-workers at 1310 AM The Ticket, with whom he built an unprecedented Dallas radio dynasty, only to have them now turn their collective back on him.
Sitting in the study of his 1,800-square-foot condo of The Renaissance on Turtle Creek on a dreary night early last December, Williams—whose country-fried, common-man "Hammer" persona made him one of the most popular talk-show hosts in Dallas radio history–crouches at his expansive desk, gently rocking in the red, high-back leather chair.
In front of him: Short farewells written to his mom, best friend, girlfriend, childhood pal and longtime sidekick on The Hardline, Mike Rhyner. In his mind: Thoughts of a cocaine addiction that cost him his dream job, memories of estranged relationships with station hosts and images of his brother's suicide 10 years earlier. In his right hand: A loaded, cocked Glock 9 mm handgun.
Williams is sober. But also about as fucked up as he can possibly be.
In an absurd way, he feels happy. Peaceful. He's going to erase it all, his free fall fittingly climaxing in a crash.
Like The Sopranos' finale, he'll quietly and abruptly fade to black. He'll leave friends to ponder how a guy with so much cared so little. He'll leave foes to debate whether he merits inclusion on The Hardline's next irreverent "Trifecta Talk" of notable deaths.
Or will he?
Because in his skewed ad-libbed reality, his plan has developed a glitch. Fear? Remorse? A sudden blip of hope?
Unable to point the gun at his temple, he eventually sighs, crumples the notes, flips on The Military Channel and crawls into bed. The bailout offers him another restless night. Another chance to reflect.
"The only reason I'm alive is because I'm a coward," Williams says now. "I was such a loser, I couldn't even pull the trigger."
Greg Williams is addicted to Coke.
And lighthouses. And TCU. And America. And guns. And, turns out, anything else—at one time, The Ticket included—that tickles his obsessive compulsive fancy.
Go to a Memorial Day weekend party at his house on Lake Granbury, and it's apparent the dude has a Ph.D. in OCD.
His home sits at the intersection of charming cove and sprawling lake. It's a party palace, accessorized with the kind of bells and whistles assembled during years of mid-six-digit salaries. That's the one, with the white convertible Porsche with the TCU license plate and the purple 'n' white TCU mail box and the TCU-colored guest bathroom.
"I'm an addict. I don't do anything half-ass," Williams says, shrugging at his organizational overload. "I've always been super-neat. Make the bed, clean up after yourself. Everything's got its place."
No wonder Williams is skittish. The guy who depends on order has been forced to revamp his routine.
He's downsized his circle of trust. He's pursuing an on-air gig at The Ticket's rival, ESPN Radio KESN-103.3 FM. He's selling his Uptown apartment and his ski condo in Breckenridge, Colorado, all in an attempt to move in and move on with girlfriend Jennifer Rosenbaum in the relative peace of this historic community 80 miles west of Dallas.
Rosenbaum briefly dated Williams a couple years back after she offered to build a Web site for The Hardline, and she obviously left their initial relationship with strings attached.
"When we were talking about ending it, out of the blue Greg told me he'd need me someday," Rosenbaum says. "When I heard he was in trouble last fall I came running, even though I had a boyfriend."
In his backyard, the adults—fanatically loyal Ticket "P1" (Priority 1) listeners, "NASCAR Dennis" DeWeed, Richard "T-Bar" Boggs and a lake-rat neighbor—are tilting cold beer and trading tales between bites of brisket. Out by the lake, kids climb atop the elaborate dock—which houses two boats, two jet skis and boasts an enormous sun deck—and plunge 20 feet into the murky water.
"Come on in!" Williams greets. "Wanna show you something."
For now, there's no time to be dumbfounded at the living room's main wall—15 feet high and plastered with 11 years of assorted Coca-Cola antiques. For now it's just a blur, whizzing past that guest room decorated with what must've been 100 various representations of lighthouses, from embroidered pillowcases to decorative wallpaper to nightstand figurines. You'll have to wait to dissect the two photos of Williams with Rhyner and the patriotic master bedroom and its three wooden doll chairs affixed in a row—red, white and blue—where wall meets ceiling.
Because right now—first things first—the host really wants you to see his pride and joy. His gun collection.
"I should not be allowed to own all these," says Williams, unlocking a 6-foot-tall safe stockpiled with an arsenal that would make David Koresh blush. "Nobody should be able to go out and buy an assault rifle. But, because the law says I can, I'm going to take advantage of it."