By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Rhyner says three times Williams volunteered to resign, but Williams disagrees. "I might've said something like, 'If you guys really feel this way maybe it's best I move on down the road.' But did I quit? Never."
Though Williams claims he was taking only anti-depressants, Rhyner thought Williams' speech was slow, his body language sluggish. "I think he was messed up."
Williams counters that he was embarrassed, nervous, "but otherwise I was sharp as a tack."
After the 90-minute grilling Williams went home, convinced he'd survived the firing squad and prepared to return to work the following Monday.
"Looking back," he says, "I went into that meeting a dead man walking."
On Friday, Bennett told Williams not to show up for work Monday, and it became evident The Ticket was working toward a conclusion rather than a resolution. On Tuesday, Bennett called to say, according to Williams, a "parting of the ways would be the best thing for everyone" and to offer—after 14 years—one month's severance pay.
Enter attorneys. And a dark month in station history in which Williams' co-workers publicly danced on his grave, privately ignored his desperate phone calls and alienated listeners with a lack of information about their vanished host. Because of legal ramifications and health-care privacy laws, the station was gagged in what it could say on the air about Williams.
Yet The Hardline began turning Williams into a punch line, referring to him as "He who must not be named" and returning to the broadcast from commercial breaks with Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" and Eric Clapton's "Cocaine."
"I lost a lot of respect for The Ticket with the way they kept playing Greggo's drops and making fun of him," DeWeed says. "Greg's good people. He won't stoop to the mudslinging. Through all this, he's learned who his true friends are and hardly any of them work at The Ticket."
While his disgruntled fans demanded answers and created a "Where's Greggo?" Web site, Williams clung to life.
"There were days when Greggo wouldn't get out of bed," Boggs says. "He'd just lay there crying in the dark, saying there was nothing worth living for."
And on that December night, Williams almost ended it all. Almost.
Says Rosenbaum, "I didn't think he'd commit suicide, but when he'd just lay there in the fetal position, it crept into the back of my mind. There were days when he told me not to come to his place. He said his body ached. Said his hair hurt. You could hear sheer terror in his voice."
His career and well-being in limbo, Williams retreated to his condo in Colorado. Near Christmas he drove his car through an icy patch and into a snow bank, suffering a gash on his head that required 21 stitches. At the hospital, however, his Cumulus insurance card was declined, forcing him to pay the $3,200 bill out of his pocket.
"That just reminded me that even after 14 years of loyalty and success and everything else," Williams says, "in the end it's just a business."
On January 10, The Ticket issued a press release that read, in part:
"Greg Williams, co-host of afternoon drive show The Hardline, has resigned."
It's confounding that a company would agree to pay severance to an employee it claimed had quit. But then, surely Williams' illegal drug use violated his contract. Even more convoluted, The Ticket, by law, couldn't fire an employee who voluntarily entered and successfully completed drug rehab. And that doesn't even factor in Williams' clinical depression.
Asked to comment on Williams' tenure at The Ticket, Catlin and Bennett offered only this statement:
"Greg Williams was a key and critical part of building The Ticket and The Hardline into what it is today. To have him not be a part of that anymore is a shame. But just like a team who loses a star to injury or trade, we have to keep on winning with our current roster. I have full confidence in the guys that we will do just that, provided we keep entertaining our hardcore P1's in the way that they've come to expect and enjoy over the past 14 years."
Williams and The Ticket reached a settlement of their differences in May. As part of their agreement, The Ticket avoided a lawsuit and retained his drops, able to use its intellectual property as it chooses; Williams received a chunk of cash and the freedom to work wherever he chooses.
Losing a job Williams could stomach. But losing his friends—at least who he thought were friends—is devastating.
"I'm not a bad guy. It's not like I was some strung-out junkie screwing everybody over," Williams says. "The person I was hurting was myself. I don't understand why they have to treat me like this. They won. I lost. I'm trying to move on. But they're still talking about me on the air, just running up the score."
With his classic malapropos and innate ability to make you laugh both at him and with him, Williams' unique voice will be as difficult to replace as Don Meredith on Monday Night Football. But his friendships, apparently, were overrated.