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The Real Story Behind 'The Soloist'

The unlikely friendship between Steve Lopez, a Los Angeles Times columnist, and Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless musician, has inspired newspaper columns, a book and now a movie starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx.

Lopez met Ayers four years ago, when Ayers was a homeless musician on Skid Row in Los Angeles. Lopez learned Ayers had been a promising violinist, and that he had left the prestigious music program at the Juilliard School because of his struggle with mental illness.

Lopez chronicled Ayers' struggle in several columns at the Los Angeles Times. These columns inspired readers to send instruments to Ayers through Lopez. The friendship that Lopez formed with Ayers and eventually helped the musician get off the street, settle into an apartment and find treatment for his schizophrenia.

Lopez says his friendship with Ayers has "always been a two-way street, it's not just me doing for him." The writer explains that the musician re-ignited his passion for journalism and gave him a sense of well-being: "You know, there's this humility, there's this good feeling I have from giving something," Lopez says.

Lopez published a book about Ayers called The Soloist: A Lost Dream, and Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music. The book inspired the recently released movie The Soloist starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.

This interview originally aired April 22, 2008.

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