Longform

The Hard Lie

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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."

Williams beams that he owns $50,000 in weapons. He has a Bonnie 'n' Clyde machine gun replica; an Italian Carcano M91 rifle, the kind that Oswald may or may not have used to shoot JFK; and a Robocop-looking contraption with a red laser scope Williams claims could pierce a coconut across the lake, some 600 yards.

"But I never shoot anything but paper," he says. "I took the concealed handgun class and walked around NorthPark mall packing heat in my shoulder holster just to see what it felt like. But I'll never join the NRA."

Before you can calculate the volatility of combining guns with depression with drugs, there it is—the Glock.

Jokes Williams, "Wanna hold it?"

Bizarro notwithstanding, it's refreshing to see Williams lucid, much less laughing.

Nine months ago he walked off The Hardline in mid-syllable, checked into drug rehab and subsequently, depending whom you believe, either quit or was fired.

Either way, Williams' departure imploded his high-profile, high-income career and aborted his 14-year marriage to Rhyner on the highly rated Hardline. Down to its "Stay Hard" mantra, the wildly popular show was aural sex, eschewing traditional radio formats for guy talk with subplots of sports, private parts, bathroom humor, fake guests and the grand illusion that listeners were members of a big frat house, in on all the jokes and cosmically connected to its Everyman hosts. While other stations over-laughed, slurped imaginary coffee and pretended to be enthralled by traffic and weather together, The Ticket didn't just pull back the industry curtain, it yanked the sucker off the rod.

After moving from middays to 3-7 p.m. in '96, Rhyner and Williams earned numerous awards including ESPN "Sports Radio Personalities of the Year" in '97, '98 and '03. Anchored by The Hardline and the Dunham & Miller morning show, The Ticket also won the National Association of Broadcasters' prestigious Marconi Award for "Best Sports Station in America" last September.

Spawning an almost cult following, Williams' career was the triumph of genuine over genius. Whether his humor was born of intelligent design or unintentional country bumpkinism, his charisma hypnotized.

"He's the rare guy who made a living out of being himself," says Live 105.3 KLLI-FM host and former Ticket voice Richard "Big Dick" Hunter. "He's not a traditional sports broadcaster, but more a voice who makes you think you're listening to a friend. There's nobody else like him, in this market or many others."

But behind Williams' success was excess.

Depression, drugs and deceit conspired to obliterate the fairy tale, leaving Ticket listeners grasping for an explanation and Williams struggling to rebuild his career.

"I got caught up in the big-city stuff—being someone I wasn't," says Williams, ingesting a gorgeous sunset atop his dock. "I didn't handle the success well at all. This is a place I can just handle being me."

Out here—with minimal fame, fortune and frolicking females—he can be like the rest of us schmoes, bitching about chores and snakes and dead batteries. Out here, ensconced in lakeside serenity, he can even tame his OCD.

When Rosenbaum sets out portable chairs, Williams notices she's assembled one of the Reebok logo backs upside down.

For once, Williams is trying to starve his cravings. Whatever they may be.

"Honestly, it's driving me nuts," he says, struggling to divert his gaze from the askew chair. "But see, I'm not even going to touch it."

If only he would've taken the same approach to cocaine.

————

Though Williams was born in Fort Worth, he moved to Hampton, Virginia, and then to Boyd in Wise County with his military dad and even stricter mom. Williams, his two sisters and brother tight-roped a delicate balance between perfection and peril.

"My mom's house is always immaculate," says Williams, who attended his father's funeral on Tuesday. "Dad has stuff on his table laying in the same place since 1999."

Williams isn't bipolar like his brother Ron, who Greg says crafted a gun out of spare parts and shot himself in dad's backyard shed. But a constant moodiness gnaws at Williams, whittling quantity and quality from his life when left untreated.

"It's always there," he says.

His parents divorced, prompting Williams to seek solace in sports. But his playing career topped out at one year playing baseball for Ranger Junior College near Abilene, where he roomed with future University of Kentucky basketball coach Billy Gillespie. With an affinity for attending games and spinning yarns, Williams shelved a bartending career to pursue a degree in broadcast journalism at TCU.

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Richie Whitt
Contact: Richie Whitt