Williams Recalls Suicidal Thoughts

01/08/2004 at 10:00 AM EST

In the five years since Montel Williams learned that he has multiple sclerosis -- a progressive neurological disease with symptoms ranging from dizziness and fatigue to severely impeded mobility -- the talk-show host has become a man with a mission, PEOPLE reports in its latest issue.

Refusing "to sit back and whine," as Williams, 47, puts it, he is pushing drug companies to develop a cure and has created a foundation that funds MS research. And now, in his memoir "Climbing Higher" (excerpted in the new issue, on newsstands Friday), he reveals hard truths about the disease that nearly drove him to take his life.

As the book reveals, Williams's marriage to second wife Grace, now 39, had been shaky for months, which made his burden heavier. In March 1999, at the Greenwich, Conn., mansion he and Grace shared with their children Montel II, then 5, and Wyntergrace, 4 (along with Williams's daughters from his first marriage, Ashley, 14, and Maressa, 10), Williams, who was a Naval Academy graduate, got out his gun collection.

"Nine guns," he writes. "Nine choices to blow my brains out and end the misery I was in. ... It was just past midnight when I went into the walk-in closet. I sat on the floor and put the .357 to my head. Then I lowered it toward my mouth but stopped myself. If I stick this in my mouth and it goes off, that's clear suicide, I thought. My kids wouldn't get the insurance. I had to leave it ambiguous enough that people might think it was an accident."

Williams writes, "I had that .357 in my hand for 20 minutes. I was spinning it around by the trigger. If only the damn thing would go off. Suddenly I thought, what if I shoot myself in the chest and end up not dying? That would be worse than death. I finally dragged myself into bed and lay there looking for another idea. I thought about falling off a building. I thought about driving my car into a wall."

Not long afterward, Williams hinted to his wife that he was considering suicide. "And what are your kids going to do?" she said as she walked away from him. Recalls Williams: "And it struck me as if somebody had hit me with a baseball bat: 'How dare you?!' Because no matter which way I might have taken my life, my children were going to suffer. That was the day I decided I was going to live, period. When I came home the next day the first thing I did was grab my kids and Grace and spend an hour cuddling with them."

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