Man in viral 'How Does a Homeless Man Spend $100?' video dies of alcoholism

Man in viral 'How Does a Homeless Man Spend $100?' video dies of alcoholism
An Orange County man conducts an experiment, which he filmed, to see how a homeless man would spend $100. (By Joseph Serna)

A homeless man who was filmed in a YouTube video using a $100 gift to buy food for others has died of chronic alcoholism, coroner's officials said Tuesday.

Kenni Thomas Nickel, 56, died May 28 of chronic alcoholism and natural causes, said Ed Winter, L.A. County coroner spokesman.


Nickel was the subject of a social experiment, created by filmmaker Josh Lin in December 2014, to test what someone would do if given $100.

The heartwarming video featuring Nickel went viral, garnering more than 38 million views on YouTube.

Nickel was holding a sign asking for money on a freeway offramp in Fullerton when he was given $100. He entered a liquor store and walked out with a bag of groceries, which he shared with others in need.

Lin said he thought Nickel was "going to buy alcohol or something." Lin, who pranks people and films their reactions, offered Nickel an apology.

Nickel became homeless after his parents died within weeks of each other. Then the condo he shared with them was sold.

"There's things money can't buy," Nickel said in the video. "I get happiness out of what I'm doing."

Nickel's actions tugged at many heartstrings, and donations poured in.

An Indiegogo account raised more than $145,000 for Nickel.

But Nickel's brother, Kevin Nickel, told KCBS-TV Channel 2 that the video was a scam. He said his brother was set to inherit $150,000 from his parents' estate and didn't know about it. He feared his brother was being manipulated.

He told the TV station that the money should "go to people who really need it."

Lin planned to make a short film Wednesday in remembrance of Nickel. In a statement, Lin said he was "shocked and saddened" by Nickel's death.

Nickel, he said, "had a significant influence for good in others' lives."

"I am truly grateful that he touched my heart as well as millions of others. … I believe he has completely changed my life and the way we look at others," Lin said.

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