By Tom Conlon
Photos by Kurt Iswarienko
He’s a former Navy spy, a medicinal marijuana smoker and a tattoo enthusiast. Meet the other side of the daytime television king.
Take one look at the half-sleeves blanketing both of his upper arms and it’s clear Montel Williams lives up to his talk show’s slogan, “There’s more to Montel.” Who would have ever guessed that underneath those neatly pressed shirts this fixture of daytime jibber jabber is hiding intricate ink murals by the likes of the legendary Zulu from Zulu Tattoo? The “moreness” of Williams extends way beyond his surprising love of tattooing. He’s an avid snowboarder, a skilled poker player and an ex-military spy who speaks Russian and served in the invasion of Grenada. There’s also more to a man who, despite suffering from multiple sclerosis, travels the country as the spokesman for the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, an organization committed to getting drugs into the hands of those who can’t afford them. He’s also a proponent for legalizing marijuana for medicinal use. There’s just one problem: There is no more. The Montel Williams Show’s 17-year run is up, the grand finale has already aired and the surplus of unaired episodes runs dry after September. Has the man of more finally given the public all he has to offer? “Forget that noise,” he quips. “I’m not even close to being done.” We’re inclined to believe him.
INKED: Montel Williams has tattoos?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I think most people are surprised by that. It’s an odd one.
What got you started?
I spent 22 years in the Navy and Marines, both enlisted and as an officer. I came off active duty in 1989 and back then the military really frowned down on tattoos, especially amongst the officers. I always wanted one but never pulled the trigger. Then in 2001, I just said, “You know what? I'm getting one.” My first was the snowboarder guy on my left arm. But like many of us, I couldn’t just have one. It grew.
You have several tattoos of a human-bobcat creature. Where is it from?
That’s a half-human, half-panther alter ego of myself. He looks like Tony the Tiger on crack. When I was a kid, that was the doodle on all of my notebooks, and when I made the football team, I drew it on my helmet. One day, I was looking through a package of my old stuff and I found an old doodle. I thought, “This ought to be a tattoo.”
Your right arm has an insane amount of detail. What is it all?
The whole right arm was done by Zulu in Los Angeles. In the middle is a trio of half-human, half-animal people, and if you look at the half-man, half-panther he’s got all sorts of things on him that are important to me. Going up his leg are all the ranks I achieved as a Marine. His belt buckle is the eagle, globe and anchor emblem from the Marine Corps, while the thing on his chest is the Meritorious Service Medal I got in the Navy. Each of the half-cat women has a sword on her leg — one is the Marine Corps sword, one is the Navy sword.
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