Homeless man featured in viral video died of alcoholism in Los Angeles alley

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 24, 2015 7:41 PM

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A 56-year-old homeless man who became the focus of a nearly $150,000 crowdfunding campaign after he was shown giving away food in a viral video has died in a Los Angeles alley of chronic alcoholism, a coroner's official said on Wednesday.

Online video creator Josh Paler Lin featured homeless man Kenni Thomas Nickel in a YouTube video titled "How Does a Homeless Man Spend $100?" which has been viewed more than 38 million times on the site since being posted in December.

In the video, which at least one witness has suggested was staged to look like a secret camera recording, Lin is shown giving Nickel $100 and following him as he goes to a liquor store, comes out with food and gives it to others.

On Wednesday, Lin posted a message to YouTube expressing sadness at Nickel's death, a day after celebrity website TMZ reported it.

Nickel was found unresponsive in an alley behind a Los Angeles drugstore on May 28 and paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene, said Los Angeles County chief of coroner's investigations Craig Harvey.

An examination of the body revealed he died of chronic alcoholism, and Nickel was listed as homeless at the time of his death, Harvey said.

After the video went viral and helped fuel his own career as a creator known mostly for video pranks, Lin launched a crowdfunding campaign at Indiegogo.com that raised $145,873 for Nickel, according to an Indiegogo webpage.

Lin said in his condolence video the funds were transferred to Nickel on March 11 and that he hoped the money would help the man's family.

But Nickel's brother, Kevin, said in a phone interview that he does not know whether his brother received the money and complained Kenni should have been sent for treatment for alcoholism, depression and other problems, not given the star treatment he received in a later so-called makeover video.

"They should have been showing him going in the hospital and getting help, not having lobster dinners and haircuts and suits," Kevin Nickel said.

Viewers of the original video called Nickel an inspiration for giving away food. But one witness to the scene, Taugan Kadalim, told television station CBS Los Angeles earlier this year it was staged and that Nickel was driven to the store.

Lin has denied the video was staged. He did not return emails seeking comment on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Beech)