Money Williams (right) and his brother Jim, seen here in a recent photo taken at hopeFound’s Lemuel Shattuck Hospital shelter, traveled all over the country during the 1960s promoting musical acts. After years of alcohol and drug abuse, Money Williams now tries to help others by talking to them about addiction. (Daniela Caride photo)
Money Williams hit bottom in the winter of 2005.
It was 11:30 p.m. and snow was falling outside of his house in Lawrence. He took stock: His jug of vodka was empty and the liquor store next door had closed for the night. Pacing frantically, he got an idea.
Williams entered the drug store across the street, found a bottle of rubbing alcohol, stripped off its bar code with a key, stuffed it in his pocket and headed home. No one noticed.
There was nothing in the fridge that could disguise the bitter taste of the toxic liquid — Williams hadn’t shopped for groceries in a while; mostly, he’d just been drinking — so he poured water in the rubbing alcohol and downed the deadly drink.
“I don’t know how much I drank, but I do know I ended up in the hospital,” Williams said during a recent interview. He could have gone into a coma.
That hospital trip marked the beginning of a long journey toward recovery for Williams. Now back in control of his life at the age of 60, the slim, frail native of Sledge, Miss., tries to help others by talking to them about addiction.
The process always brings Williams back to the beginning.
“It all started with a drink,” he said.
Williams has spoken about his struggles with substance abuse and recovery at more than 100 events and in various venues across the country since starting his own rehabilitation.
“He is a wonderful example of how someone can completely turn his life around,” said Mary Nee, executive director of hopeFound, a Boston-based organization that provides services to homeless people and offers drug addiction programs.
“He’s been given a second chance and he’s very generous about spreading that word to other people,” she said.
One of the main lessons that Williams stresses at every lecture, according to Nee, is that “it’s never too late” to turn things around. He tells addicts upfront that continued drug abuse “will kill you if you keep doing what you’re doing.”
“You gotta change your behavior and change your life before [it kills you],” he said.
He sends a direct message to students, too: “This thing is dangerous. I have seen a lot of people die and I have seen no one come back.”
Even today, Williams said he can’t believe he didn’t wind up killing himself. Before the rubbing alcohol incident, he was drinking heavily and smoking crack.
Williams started encountering drugs frequently as a young man back in the 1960s, when he and his brother Jim traveled all over the United States to promote rock ‘n’ roll, soul music and rhythm & blues shows for acts like The Delfonics, B.B. King and Billy Stewart.
During those times, Williams saw a bit of everything — famous entertainers lacing marijuana and tobacco cigarettes with cocaine; big-named stars doing cocaine in the dressing rooms.
In the ’70s, he started smoking marijuana and later began to drink in social situations. Then, during a business trip to Los Angeles, he was introduced to crack.
“I tried it, didn’t like it,” Williams recalled. “But I wanted to brag to my friends [in Boston] that I knew about this new way to do cocaine.”
Things soon fell apart.(p2)