UPDATE: Thanks to the thoughts, prayers, actions and tips of thousands of Wally's family, friends, former co-workers, neighbors, alums, media members and the homeless shelter volunteer community, he was located in downtown Dallas and picked up healthy (and sober) by his brother Friday afternoon. Thanks to everyone for their support. Happy Fourth of July weekend!
Dear Wally Lynn,
It's going to be one of the most heart-breaking and gut-wrenching pleas I've ever made. Don't make me beg for your life. For now, just allow yourself to be found. Then surrender to some help.
You've endured an unfathomably painful fall from grace. Gone is the fame and fortune and marriage and houses and cars and good chunks of your family and friends. You've been in and out of hospitals, in and out of rehab.
Now, best we can piece together, you've been in and out of a homeless shelter in downtown Dallas.
You were last seen refusing the open arms of your brother and heading out of Presbyterian Hospital in Plano on May 17. On that day you wore khaki pants, a green Polo and sneakers, and were wheeling behind you a royal blue suitcase containing your last few possessions. You accepted a ride from your college roommate, but only if he'd take you to downtown Dallas. A volunteer at The Bridge Homeless Assistance Center near Farmers Market swears that on May 20 you came in for a shower and a hot meal and ... poof. Gone.
That was 41 days ago.
You're one of the most talented, creative and funny people I've ever known. Resourceful. Clever. But now - due to a toxic mix of stubborn pride and brain-skewing alcohol - I fear you've willingly transformed yourself into a human needle in a homeless haystack.
At least I hope that's the case. Because at this point that's the best scenario I can stomach.
Your brothers, your two college-grad sons and a handful of your friends have spent endless hours on countless days scouring the streets and shelters to no avail. I used to call you "Waldo," never in my worst nightmares envisioning I'd be searching for you under these dire circumstances.
I spent a couple hours looking for you Tuesday morning, better known as running into a brick wall. One man outside a shelter told me "Oh yeah, see him all the time." But I have the feeling he would've confirmed a UFO landing on my shoulder for another $5. Another pointed me toward bushes behind what looked like an abandoned building on Cadiz Street, which he called "the store." "If he's a drinker, he down at the store with the other drinkers." Sure enough there were 8-10 homeless behind "the store" and - at 8:45 a.m. - drinking. None of them were you. None of them knew you.
I was simultaneously relieved, and horrified.
Searching for you amidst the shards of what once were whole lives punched me right in the spoiled kisser. Some have blank stares. Some are shuffling to nowhere. Some are babbling about nothing to no one. They all have a story, co-starring some form of demons, depression and despair. Suicide feels like it's just around the corner.
I was forced to wonder what happened to them all. Like you, had they chosen to go AWOL straight into Hell? Did they alienate their families and maybe they even ...
Screw that. To me you're still Walter Ralph, a guy who gave himself the stage name of Wally Lynn and blossomed into one of the most successful personalities in DFW sports media.
We met in the early '90s at Valley Ranch covering the Dallas Cowboys - me writing for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and you as a talk-show host for KLIF 570 AM. Immediately we hit it off. Home-grown kids with talents better suited for reporting than playing, we shared old memories about the Cowboys. We commenced a game of Cowboys' history in which we volleyed uniform numbers and/or names at each other.
"Twenty-seven," I'd say casually and randomly.
To which you'd quickly retort, "Easy. Ron Fellows."
I'd go home that night to hear you on my answering machine with a simple message: "Guy Brown." I called back with only "Fifty Nine" and a dial tone. And the game played on, for the better part of two decades.
But now you've made the most undesirable of treks: From homer, to homeless.
A Lake Highlands kid living in Allen, I was always fascinated by your talents. You could sing like Sinatra, impersonate everyone from Jack Buck to Michael Irvin and effortlessly play the guitar, piano and even an old washboard.
Unlike a lot of us more, um, polarizing media dorks, seemingly everyone liked you. Not a disparaging word from any corner of an industry laced with competition, jealousy and back-stabbing.
You weren't bad off the "field" either. In 1995 you were one of the first hires at an Internet radio company run out of a Deep Ellum warehouse by an entrepreneur named Mark Cuban. When AudioNet morphed into Broadcast.com, then had the largest IPO in Wall Street history, and then was bought by Yahoo! for $6 billion in 1999, you became an instant multi-millionaire.
Maybe, in retrospect, money is indeed the root of all evil.
Because life - even when camouflaged in temporary success - is a fragile little bitch.
You had it all. Beautiful, fun wife. Smart, sensible kids. Notable media career. BMWs in the garage. New 80-acre ranch in Spicewood, just west of Austin and around the bench from Willie Nelson's annual Fourth of July picnic. We'd play golf in the morning at Twin Creeks and enjoy a post-show Happy Hour at Love & War in Texas. Summer weekends would find us at your ranch playing Wiffle ball and washers, boating on the Colorado River or using 100-year-old Oaks as makeshift flagsticks for our impossibly designed Par 12s played through knee-high weeds.
Shit happened on the way to happily ever after. Actually, a shit storm.
Your financial windfall was severely diminished by the 2000 dot.com bubble burst. Your marriage dissolved into divorce. You absorbed a legal hiccup. You had to sell the ranch. You voluntarily sold your house, and your car. You lost your gumption for media, for fellowship, for everything.
By early 2012 you quit The Fan, and life. You hung your head, and raised your white flag.
The Wally Lynn that could light up any room was now moping in the dark corner of a modest apartment along the Tollway in Plano. Your sense of humor was devoured by a hermit. Ashamed of where you were compared to where you had been, you withdrew. From friends. From me. From family. From sports. From your world.
Phone calls went unreturned. Texts weren't answered. Neither were knocks at your door. Christmas parties got no-showed. Birthdays were ignored. Before your appalled family could clearly grasp the depths of your depth, you almost drank yourself to death.
Found lying in your apartment unconscious with a swollen brain due to Alcoholic Induced Encephalopathy, you hit what we thought at the time was rock bottom. Thirty days in ICU at a hospital in Abilene just to survive, followed by another month of rehab just to start thinking and stop drinking.
"It's pretty scary what I did to myself," you told me upon returning home from rehab. "I'm lucky to be alive."
It was dramatic. It was also bullshit.
Over the next four years we remained friendly, but never returned to being friends. The physical and psychological damage of your downward spiral and ugly episode was irreparable. During phone calls and lunches there were hints of Wally, but you just weren't you.
I asked you to go to a Rangers game but you didn't feel up to it. I helped get you a job offer as a media consultant but you "weren't ready for that yet." You claimed you had money stashed away, and some sort of gig working for Google.
You didn't seem fresh, but I thought you were at least functional.
I talked to you this year shortly after your birthday in February. Same. Stagnant, but nothing seemingly alarming.
We haven't spoken since.
Your brother found you again passed out on the floor of your apartment, which was littered with Miller Lite cans, eviction notices and the unmistakable stench of Idon'tgiveashit. Your family initially thought you were dead, or would soon die. They reasoned that jail was the best place for you. Safe shelter. Limited options. Forced to clear your mind and rise to your feet.
But after another eight days in the hospital nothing changed. There had been no light-bulb moment of clarity. There was no apology. There was no repentance. There was no accepting responsibility. There was no rock bottom.
You lied to yourself and to social workers about the grim gravity of your situation. You were belligerent in refusing help - shelter, rent money, etc. - from friends and family, instead deciding to blend in with the herd of homeless in Dallas. Some hearts broke for you. Others hardened against you. Both agreed on the sad truth: You can't help those unwilling to help themselves.
Father's Day came and went recently, your sons left to only reminisce about the full-of-life-full-of-love Dad they once knew.
There is sadness and, yep, guilt in not knowing for sure if I helped push you over the edge or merely didn't catch you when you fell. I dunno, maybe it was both.
I pray that someone will read this and remember something. See something. Hear something. Maybe spot your blue suitcase. Or your barely recognizable face sipping a Miller Lite. It's a long-shot I realize but, unlike you, I'm not ready to totally give up.
Despite the anger and resentment over the pain you've caused and the life you seem Hell-bent on wasting, there remains a lot of us that still care about you. That still love you. Willing to forgive. Ready to open our minds and hearts and homes.
But the first step, Waldo, is allowing yourself to be helped. And that starts with being found.