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Montel Williams' Battle With M.S.

This is a partial transcript from Hannity & Colmes, January 12, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Television veteran -- don't you hate that word, veteran? -- Montel Williams -- It would apply to people that are old in this business, have been in it for a long time.

Huge success with his daytime talk show, but since 1999 he's also been fighting constant pain and depression from multiple sclerosis (search). In his new book, "Climbing Higher," he talks how he almost took his own life and why his love for his children gave him the strength to go on living.

Montel Williams now joins us.

MONTEL WILLIAMS, TALK SHOW HOST: Thank you. It's great to be here.

COLMES: It's fascinating, reading about your struggle with this. And here you've done a show for so many years -- When I say "veteran," I meant anybody who's been in this business a certain number of years gets called a veteran.

WILLIAMS: Sure.

COLMES: And you have devoted your show to helping other people. And here you have moments in 1999 when you literally tried to take your own life. What happened?

WILLIAMS: Thirteen years on the air. This is my 13th year right now with the show, and I got diagnosed about four and a half years ago. And when that happened I had just gone through a episode or a bout.

For those who don't know a lot about multiple sclerosis, the disease, they have different categories. I happen to have what's called remitting relapsing. So it comes and it goes. I happened to go through what's called an episode that started with what I have now, which is extreme neuralgia, which is pain from my shins up...

COLMES: You live in incredible pain.

WILLIAMS: All the time. And during those bouts, it's even beyond that. And I had to go on dealing with my life, going on doing my show, going on acting and faking. A lot of people who didn't want to accept that I was sick. So I had to fake that, not only to myself but to them.

And it got to the point where, literally one day the pain was so much that I just...

COLMES: You had a moment where you sat with a .357 magnum and just hoped it would go off.

WILLIAMS: I sat for about three hours, playing with my guns, just twirling them, thinking that if they go off, if something goes off, at least it will look like an accident.

COLMES: And you also -- you wanted it to look like an accident.

WILLIAMS: Certainly. For insurance purposes, and my kids wouldn't think, and there wouldn't be the stigma that their parent had done this.

And then I realized how wrong that was, and also I started to think about the fact that there was some aspects of my illness that I didn't know about. And that's why I wrote this book.

I mean, I had become the reluctant, if you will, poster child for M.S. Reluctant is not the right word because...

COLMES: You knew, when you held that news conference, that you were then...

WILLIAMS: it was going to happen.

COLMES: You knew that?

WILLIAMS: Definitely. And since that day, every single person that's walked up to me -- I get stopped everywhere I go, in airports and restaurants in the bathroom. People walk up and say, "My father, my mother, my sister, my brother has M.S. Can you help me? Can you tell me this, tell me that?"

And I started to realize a lot of people thought that, you know, I'm like this super hero.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: But you know what? You look -- you're strong; you're healthy. You look healthy.

WILLIAMS: It's residual ... affect of this disease. I work out every single day. I have to. I get up every morning at 6 or 7 o'clock in the morning. I'm in the gym every day. It helps, because it helps counter balance some of the negative affects of the disease.

So this I get the residual affect of this body. But the truth of the matter is, if I wasn't doing this, I don't know if I'd be sitting here talking to you right now.

HANNITY: Now how far have we come? I have friends that have -- that are suffering this with, and the drugs they tell me have come pretty far, pretty fast.

WILLIAMS: Well, we are living right now in probably best time that we could ever live in when it comes to an illness like this. We're hoping that, you know, science and the drug companies continue to develop new drugs.

I applaud them right now for what they have done. So far what we have are four drugs. None are of them cures. None of them are really even stopgap measures.

I'm going to get a lot of phone calls; you're going to get a lot of phone calls, people saying, "No, that's not true." But the efficacy of all the drugs that are out there right now has not proven that any of them can stop this disease. We know that is a fact.

Within the next three or four years -- and I have this kind of hope. I'm talking to doctors all over the country, talking to some people who work for some of the top drug companies in this country. And they are working really hard now. Because they understand this disease afflicts way more people than people had imagined.

HANNITY: Is this what affected the depression? That brought to you that -- without a doubt. Because everything else in your life was good.

WILLIAMS: And M.S., one of the things that doctors have failed to do up until now, and they're starting to do it a lot more. And when they diagnose this, they're telling us about some of the symptoms that we may have.

And one of the symptoms of the disease is depression. It's depression that's brought on by what you have to deal with, because the fact of the disease is so insidious you don't know what's going to happen day to day.

But also the drugs that we take cause depression.

HANNITY: Drugs. Yes.

WILLIAMS: And when you don't know that -- and in my case I didn't start on drugs yet, but I was really spiraling down, because I didn't realize what was going on in my brain. And I hit that low.

And that's the reason I wrote this book, because I wanted other people to understand that, yes, you can go down that path. You can have a visit at that path, but that doesn't make you a bad person. Admit to it, and then it's...

HANNITY: By the way, are you a Republican or a Democrat?

WILLIAMS: You know what? I was a Republican and then independent.

HANNITY: All right. We continue now with Montel Williams. His new book is called "Climbing Higher." This is the phrase you use at the beginning of every speech, because you give speeches over the years.

WILLIAMS: My speech used to start with "Mountain, get out of my way." And my first book was called, "Mountain Get Out of My Way." And I decided to think about this. Climbing higher is really what it's all about. That's what I'm doing now, because I've really have got to try to climb above what I have to deal with every single day.

HANNITY: Explain -- I actually said this the other day on my radio show. I don't understand depression because I have never been there, but my friends have gone through it and I've watched it. It's a hard thing to understand. But when you wake up, what is the pain? Explain it.

WILLIAMS: Several things. Depression is a psychological thing that takes place within -- some of it is chemically induced by the drugs we take.

But I can be sitting here and have a conversation with you about snowboarding, like what we were doing over the break, or skiing. And in the middle of the conversation I can look you in the face. And all of a sudden I -- to me I start slipping into a hole and thinking, maybe not that you said something about me, and I start thinking I said something bad about myself.

And the next thing you know while you're still talking to me, in my head...

HANNITY: You're thinking about other things.

WILLIAMS: I'm thinking about other things, and most of those things are things that are really, in a way, putting me down.

HANNITY: I've watched your show a lot over the years, and unlike a lot of the other shows on air, you always are dealing with -- I'm not going to call it the dark side...

WILLIAMS: Sure.

HANNITY: But the harder side of life, the heavier issues there. And I've watched shows. I mean, you -- I've watched you, you know, tear up with people because their stories are so compelling and it's sad.

That's hard to deal with that every day. It's like doctors and nurses deal with very hard reality every day.

WILLIAMS: I thought for awhile that maybe that was part of it. But I'm going to tell you something. The joy that I get out of being -- I've been on the air for 13 years. I have interviewed face-to-face, sitting beside me, over 19,000 people.

HANNITY: That's a lot of people.

WILLIAMS: That's a lot of people.

COLMES: I want to ask you one thing about -- you started talking about the drugs you were taking and their effect they have on.

WILLIAMS: Sure.

COLMES: You're taking medical marijuana.

WILLIAMS: Yes. I have a prescription, and ...

COLMES: And this is a bit controversial. People have not really recognized how this can be a valuable commodity.

WILLIAMS: It is a huge controversy in this country, and I think it's been so for a long time for the wrong reason. And we have to start telling the truth. That's what that book is about to me. It's about the truth.

One truth is that marijuana has been made illegal and not by any test that has ever, ever validated that it should be.

COLMES: They stopped you in Detroit in the airport. They found residue?

WILLIAMS: They didn't. They found a brand-new, clean pipe. Clean.

COLMES: Yes.

WILLIAMS: No residue at all. The police stopped me, because they have a paraphernalia law in the state of Michigan.

COLMES: Michigan.

WILLIAMS: And so they stopped me. And I got a $100 ticket and moved on.

But the truth of the matter is, I take it for -- I could right now ask any doctor that I see to write me a prescription for medicine morphine, for medicinal -- there's a drug called talon, Oxycontin (search), you name it. I could be addicted to anything on the planet and none of those drugs work for me.

Now, I can eat and consume another thing that grows out of the ground and it makes -- it does me good.

HANNITY: It's called "Climbing Higher." All right. Thanks so much. I appreciate it. Thanks so much for being with us.

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