Alec Baldwin on Divorce, Children and Reconciliation

"30 Rock" star tells Diane Sawyer his infamous voice mail nearly led to suicide.

September 18, 2008, 2:02 PM

Sept. 19, 2008— -- Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger's cutthroat custody battle over their 12-year-old daughter, Ireland, has made international headlines for years. The couple divorced in 2002 after nine years of marriage, but the vicious accusations on both sides continued, culminating in the infamous 2007 voice-mail message in which Baldwin berated his daughter.

In an interview with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, Baldwin, 50, spoke about his lengthy court struggles with Basinger, 54, and said that when the voice mail was released, it brought him to the brink of suicide.

Watch Diane Sawyer's interview with Alec Baldwin tonight on "20/20" at 10 p.m. ET

"I used to pray to God every night. I would get in bed, and I would say, please, don't let me wake up in the morning," Baldwin said. "I began to think about what little town I would repair to in order to commit suicide. And then you, obviously you say, well, what would that do to my child if I killed myself? Me, I really didn't care about me."

After the media storm and new round of custody litigation that followed the voice mail release, Baldwin nearly broke his own promise to never give up on his daughter. Deterred by the barriers that he believes his ex-wife imposed on his relationship with Ireland, Baldwin said he almost lost the will to keep fighting.

In his new book (in stores on Tuesday), "A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce," Baldwin chronicles his journey for other fathers who are seeking custody and struggling for justice in family court. He says it's time to do something about the business of divorce in America and, in typical Baldwin fashion, he doesn't mince words.

"I don't care if the judges and the lawyers die of heart attacks in the process of getting their job done. They are corrupt, inefficient, lazy, stupid -- they're the most God-awful people."

Baldwin believes that many family court lawyers and their manipulations and delays make the child custody duel much worse than it needs to be. "The judges are like pit bosses in Vegas casinos. Their job is to make sure everybody stays at the table and keeps gambling."

Baldwin's clashed with Basinger for nearly eight years: there are hundreds of documents, 91 court proceedings so far, and about $3 million in legal costs.

But it didn't start out like that.

'All Dissent Was Abuse'

Baldwin told Sawyer that he and Basinger came into marriage much like anyone else, except that they were two of Hollywood's biggest stars when they met on the set of "The Marrying Man" in 1990. "I had a marriage that I came to in the same way everybody else comes to a marriage. We all take chances when we get married."

Not long after they met, Basinger told ABC News that she thought Baldwin was "something else" and hoped that he was nuts about her.

Two years after their 1993 marriage ceremony, their daughter was born.

But by the time Ireland was 5, the marriage was unraveling.

"I'm sure she [Basinger] would tell you ad nauseam, she might even be more chatty about the warning signals she saw in me, you know," said Baldwin. "The harshest thing I can say is I was married to someone for whom all dissent was abuse. If you had your own opinion, you were abusive. And getting into the details doesn't matter 'cause it's not good for me legally to do that and it's not good for my daughter."

Ireland is unquestionably the love of Baldwin's life. He won joint legal and physical custody of her in 2004 and has racked up tens of thousands of frequent flier miles traveling between New York and Los Angeles to satisfy his custody visitation schedule. He sees himself as a good father and says he has met every court requirement that Basinger's side has thrown at him, including anger management classes.

"When I'm with her, I'm happy," he said. "It's one of the only times in my life that I'm happy."

In some ways, though, Baldwin believes that the separation with his daughter began before she was born.

"I think when my daughter becomes an adult, she'll be fully cognizant of the fact that she's estranged," he said.

At the time this story was published neither Kim Basinger nor her representative could be reached for comment.

Baldwin Describes 'Parental Alienation Syndrome'

In his book Baldwin recounts standing in the bathroom of Basinger's home in Los Angeles with Basinger and her assistant: "Kim said she was pregnant. A moment that one would have imagined, during all your lifetime leading up until now, would be a cause for unprecedented joy was more like someone telling you that they had wrecked your car. We all just stood there while Kim talked of her doubts about me and our marriage."

Baldwin wrote that Basinger's assistant "managed to sneak glances at me that seemed pitying, as if to say 'How sad to have this moment in your life play out this way.' I suppose that, in hindsight, the alienation from my daughter began that afternoon, before she was even born."

When he and Basinger separated, Baldwin said she moved from their home in New York back to California, reportedly for Ireland's health. At the time, a court-sponsored mediator was making custody arrangements with agonizing slowness, claims Baldwin.

At one point, Baldwin said Ireland told him, "Mommy says we can all be together again if you go and get help. Mommy says you're sick." Baldwin told Sawyer that he told his lawyer because he said it was another of Basinger's attempts to turn Ireland against him.

In "A Promise to Ourselves" Baldwin urges the courts to recognize parental alienation syndrome, which he says is real.

"There are women who get divorced in order to punish, out of this bitter, bitter hatred that some of these women have for their ex-husbands, they turn their children against them. Everybody knows that's real. We know that there are gangs in East L.A. We don't need to say there's East L.A. Gang syndrome, do we?"

Baldwin also suggests that if there is no evidence of abuse by the father, with school-age kids, "he gets meaningful custody of his child right away."

Joan Meier, a law professor at George Washington University, strongly disagrees with Baldwin. Meier, who helps women battle custody in court, says that allegations of parental alienation syndrome can endanger women. "Parental alienation is being misused and distorted simply to defeat abuse claims," she said.

The American Psychiatric Association also doesn't recognize the term. A former APA president, Dr. Paul Fink, referred to parental alienation syndrome as "junk science at its worst."

But what of Ireland's reaction to this book? "I said to her, I've written this book and this book is coming out and I want you to know that I tried to be as fair as I could in the book," Baldwin said. "And what's important is ... what I left out of the book."

Baldwin says he dreams of ending the battle with Basinger.

"I never think about her. I never think about the past. I think about the dreams I had, the reconciliation dreams, which to me, I could honestly say to you, there are few waking dreams I've had that I woke up as intoxicated as I was by those dreams, that all this was behind us."

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