The actress and former talk show supported Christian Evans through his battle with bipolar disorder

By Julie Jordan
March 01, 2017 12:00 PM
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When jewelry designer Christian Evans committed suicide on Feb. 11, Ricki Lake wanted to honor his life — and their love.

Though she filed for divorce in 2014 after two years of marriage, Lake revealed that she and Evans had continued their relationship until last September amid his struggle with bipolar disorder. “It wasn’t my comfort level to be together in secret,” she tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “He wasn’t stable, and he was so fragile,” Lake says. “But I was still in love with him, so there was something romantic about it. I wanted to save him.”

Despite Evans’ manic episodes, which led to him moving out last fall, Lake still had hope the two “were going to find a way back together again,” she says. “I knew there wasn’t a high probability for that happening, but I hoped so. I was still in love with him. He made me so happy. I was never happier than when I was with him.”

When Lake, 48, met Evans in the summer of 2010, she had given up on the idea of happily ever after. Having split from Rob Sussman, the father of her two sons Milo, 19, and Owen, 15, in 2003, “I never thought I would marry again after that,” she says. But Evans, who Lake says was upfront about his condition and admitted he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder earlier in his life, “was quiet and wise. There was not a phony bone in his body.”

  • For more from Ricki Lake, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

The two married in April 2012. “We accepted each other,” she adds. “We loved each other unconditionally.”

Three days before he died, Lake met Evans for dinner and they ended up spending the night together. “I didn’t know it was the last time. I didn’t know it was goodbye,” she says. “Looking back I can see he was resigned.” She flew to London on Feb. 9 to appear as a guest judge on the BBC talent show Let It Shine. On Feb. 11, she got a text from Evans’ sister, who had received a suicide note from him. He was found two days later in his car with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. “I knew how hard it was for him to live in this world,” she adds. “He was the most special person I’ve ever met in my entire life.”

Lake is now finding peace in the hope that others might be helped by sharing the couple’s struggles. “I have to spread the word about recognizing this disorder and getting treatment as soon as possible,” Lake says. “Christian didn’t want to be labeled as bipolar, but he admitted he was in the note he left. That was him finally owning it. That was him giving me permission to tell his story.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with bipolar disorder, please call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit the National Institute of Mental Health online at nimh.nih.gov. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24 hours a day. Call 1-800-273-8255.