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Homeless Man Featured In Heartwarming Viral Video Dies Of Alcoholism
A homeless man featured in a heartwarming viral video has died from chronic alcoholism.
Kenni Thomas Nickel, 56, was featured in a viral video that showcased Nickel's apparent kindness back in December, with two follow-up videos showing Nickel getting back on his feet. Tragically, Nickel was found dead in an alley behind a CVS in the 300 block of S. La Brea on May 28, the OC Register reports. He died from chronic alcoholism and natural causes, according to Ed Winter of the L.A. County Coroner's Office, The L.A. Times says.
In December of 2014, filmmaker Josh Lin spotted Nickel standing by a Fullerton offramp, holding a sign asking for donations. Lin decided to give Nickel $100 and then follow him—recording the whole thing on video, of course—to see what he would do with it. Nickel first walked into a liquor store, but he didn't buy booze with it. Instead, he bought food and then began distributing it to others.
As with all viral videos, it's up for debate as to whether or not it was staged. Regardless, the video racked up over 30 million views on YouTube and viewers donated over $145,000 to an IndieGogo to help Nickel get on his feet.
In the video, Nickel told Lin that he fell on hard times after the condo he lived in with his mother and stepfather was sold after they both died, only weeks apart. However, his brother, Kevin Nickel, had a different story. He came forward after the video went viral and said he was worried his brother was being manipulated by the filmmaker. He also claimed that Nickel would soon inherit $150,000 from their parents' death and didn't really need the money, and that Nickel was an alcoholic who had previously been arrested for drinking in public. The OC Register confirmed that Nickel did have a record consisting of over 20 misdemeanors, most of them related to drinking.
Other people who said they witnessed the video being shot claimed that it was staged. Witnesses told CBS LA that they saw Lin drive Nickel to the liquor store, though the video implies that Nickel walked there on his own. Internet detectives set on debunking the video pointed out other supposed inconsistencies, including that Nickel would have had to walk over a half hour to get to that particular store from the offramp where he was first seen, and would have passed a number of other similar stores along the way.
Lin has vehemently denied that the video was a fake. Following the first video, Lin released a second video in which he reunited Nickel with his biological father, William Nickel. (Nickel goes by his middle name, Thomas, in the videos.)
In another video, Lin picked up Thomas from a homeless shelter on Christmas Eve and took him to shabu shabu.
Lin said he was both shocked and saddened by Nickel's death and that he would be making a memorial video for him this week. William Nickel said that his son was a "really good person" who did help many of Orange County's homeless, regardless of the validity of the video.