Just name the mountain - Montel is ready

TV talk-show host talks about 9/11, having MS, and a run for president

Conversations

July 28, 2002|By Faith Hayden | Faith Hayden,SUN STAFF

Emmy-winning talk-show host Montel Williams is no stranger to this city: He was born and raised in the Baltimore area. Even now, after living in New York, being the host of and producing a talk show that's now entering its 12th season, writing books, running Mountain Movers Productions and Mountain Movers Press, Williams still finds time to make it to Baltimore about once a year to visit family.

This weekend, though, his visit is not just a vacation, but a business trip. Williams, along with talk-show host Larry King and former U.S. senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole, is scheduled to attend the We Are Family Foundation fund-raiser today in Annapolis. The private event will raise money for counseling for relief workers and families of victims of the World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks.

Though diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999, Williams, 46, seems to be moving at a faster pace than ever. Whether he's contemplating running for president (seriously, he says) or just being a father, Williams shows no signs of slowing down. He paused long enough, though, to have his first extensive interview with The Sun in several years.

It's been about a year since Body Change, the most recent publication from your Mountain Movers Press, came out. How did that company get started?

After I published Mountain, Get Out of My Way, I thought about making another book deal or getting some books authored. We had a couple doors closed in our faces, ... so we created Mountain Movers Press and immediately published Life Lessons and Learned Truths. It's a tougher business and it requires more focus then we really thought we'd have to apply, so I'm probably going to sell the publishing company and go back to selling books with [other] publishers.

Body Change was a best seller. What inspired the book?

When I came forward with my diagnosis of MS, I'd been working out my whole life. The last bout of MS really knocked me down. I had worked out every day up until my diagnosis, so I [thought I] should be able to work out every day after. I started a training regimen to try to counterbalance the detrimental effects of my disease. Over the course of about an eight-month period of time, I completely redefined my body. For people who had been around me and could see that metamorphosis, there was an immediate: "I want to know what you're doing, because whatever it is you're doing must be working." And then we thought that maybe we should share this.

You have been living with MS for about three years now. Because of its unpredictability, the disease can cause a lot of anxiety. How do you deal with that?

That's really, truly the insidious nature of MS. From a day-to-day standpoint, you don't know what to expect. At the same time, you can't live your life full of fear; you have to live as healthy as you can. That's the way I choose to live.

I'm on a traditional [treatment] approach. There are five medications out there right now - none of which have proven that they work for everyone, however. It's a disease that has been almost an embarrassment for people who have it. Most people don't understand it or know what it is. They end up in a very silent, very painful depression of their own.

The Montel Williams Show begins its 12th season Sept. 9. What types of topics do you plan to cover this year?

Every talk show that has lasted this long has come out with a new and improved version of itself. We haven't. It's the same show. We'll continue to [discuss] topics that affect every household in America, affect relationships and can get people talking. We've had a 9/11, something that this nation had never had before. There's a lot to talk about [there]. We're one of the only talk shows in the past 11 years that has responded to almost every single news issue. We were at Ground Zero, we've been there and responded and we will continue to.

Do you remember what you were doing when you heard about the terrorist attacks?

I was talking to a radio station in Florida, and some people that were with me spun the TV around ... when the first plane went through the Trade Center. All on the air live. The national news hadn't even broken in Florida, so I was basically reporting live to the listeners there. It was crazy.

Have you considered getting into the news business?

Oh, without a doubt I would do that. I could very easily anchor a national news program. ... I have been, since Day 1 in this business, kind of like an anomaly. I have a talent and ability beyond any pigeonhole. I act, I write, I run a production company. So the idea of doing a news program isn't that remote.

You obviously keep yourself busy. How do you have any leisure time?

I don't. I have four children from two different marriages, so beside being "Major Dad," I spend time working out and snowboarding.

As a single working father, do you find it difficult to balance family and work?

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