On Nov. 3, Montel Williams was briefly detained at Detroit Metro Airport, where baggage screeners found a glass pipe and residue of a marijuana by-product in his bags. That's when the talk show host, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, was outed as a user of the herb for medicinal purposes. In his first interview after the incident, Williams makes no apologies. In fact, he devotes several chapters to the case for medical marijuana in his new autobiography, Climbing Higher — yeah, that's the title — in bookstores Jan. 6.TV Guide Online: What happened to you in Detroit?
Williams: When my bags were going through a metal detector at the Detroit airport, the security people found my needles. I take injectable drugs every day. Then, one guy found a perfectly clean glass pipe that looks like an egg. He said, "What do you smoke in it?" I said, "None of your business." And it p---ed him off. I also had a little bottle that had been in my bag for a month. It had less than a twentieth of a gram of kef residue. He called the police. They had to give me a paraphernalia violation. (Williams paid a $100 fine.) They said there was too little to bother testing. TVGO: Have you done a show on medical marijuana?
Williams: I'm doing a show on Jan. 13 about the book and this issue. The model Emme, whose father died of MS complications, is going to interview me. I think it's time for a change. I hope to inspire others to take a stand. You cannot tell me that if one of George Bush's daughters came to him and said, "This is the only thing that will help my pain," he'd say, "No baby, you have to suffer. I'll lay you down on a bed and hook you up to a morphine drip, and when you wake up in four or five days, we'll talk." TVGO: Why do you use it?
Williams: [Research shows] it eases depression in some ways. It helps sleeping disorders and it eases nerve pain. TVGO: How do you work if you're high?
Williams: Like anyone else on medication, I won't use it when I'm working. If I'm in extreme pain, I just try to deal with it. I put myself on a schedule to mitigate my pain. I can buffer my pain down 20 to 30 percent. I can sleep at night. TVGO: Why not use any of the legal painkillers?
Williams: I attempted to use some. Oxycontin and Vicodin are extremely addictive. Percocet didn't work. Marijuana is the best tool for me. TVGO: What kind of response have you gotten from people since your Detroit incident?
Williams: I have not received one negative comment. I have a lot of police friends. They've called to say, "Sorry that happened, dude." People seem to be understanding. TVGO: You wrote a very frank and intimate book. You even admitted you're a Republican.
Williams: I was. Now, I'm an Independent. [Laughs] TVGO: Seriously, why were you so open about your struggles and your pain?
Williams: One of the things those who have this disease deal with is depression, and we try and hide a lot of things. I made a statement at a conference in front of hundreds of people that the No. 1 thing that people with MS can do is to stop lying and stop hiding. I just decided it was time to stop. Maybe I can help some other people do the same. TVGO: You don't hide anything. In the book, you talk about your pain, your sexual problems, your bouts with depression...
Williams: I don't want people to think they're alone. So many people come up to me and say, "Jeez, Montel, you don't look sick." Let's tell some truth. I'm doing my best to ride the crest of the wave, rather than be tossed around in the surf. Too many people start dying as soon as they're told that they're dying. TVGO: You tried to commit suicide. Twice. You threw yourself in front of a car!
Williams: I allowed myself to succumb to depression and to fear. I don't know if I could even explain the level of pain that I, at times, go through. I try my best in this book to make you understand. TVGO: Do you always hurt?
Williams: I ride pain probably 60 to 70 percent of my day. That's how I live. If I spend the time thinking about it, my feet hurt. So I don't spend the time thinking about it. TVGO: You talk about the pain that can strike when you make love.
Williams: I can tell you that there's not a person I've been intimate with in the past four years who will not be surprised by that. I lied about it. The person in my life right now, with whom I'm intimate, I've been open and honest with. Fortunately, we have a wonderful experience with each other. TVGO: You have a girlfriend?
Williams: I'm dating someone right now. TVGO: What was the toughest issue to write about?
Williams: Sexual intimacy. But I'd like to be the catalyst to let men finally be able to discuss themselves. TVGO: How long do you think you can keep doing the Montel show?
Williams: I just signed for another two years. At the end of that time, it will be 15 years on the air. I might as well go for 20. Even if this disease degrades me in some way, if I have to come on my set with crutches, that's what I will do.