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Intel iMac with 10.5.8 - Grey Screen of Death but worse please help!

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Okay, this has happened three times now in six months, and I'm about to go out of my mind. Everytime it's a little different but basically:
My iMac becomes unresponsive, whether by a system lock up, or I wake up in the morning (like this morning) to a black screen with the white light still on, as if it were asleep. Nothing I do wakes the computer or otherwise makes it respond, so I hold the power button down for a few seconds and it shuts off.
Now, when I boot up, I get a grey screen with the Apple logo with the spinning black/grey pinwheel.
Inserting a CD does nothing. In fact, now my only install CD of Leopard is stuck in the slot-loading drive. I've tried everything I can to eject it: hold down eject on boot, left mouse button on boot, option on boot, commandoption+pr, command+v, etc. etc. etc.
I'm a software developer for OS X and have extensive hardware knowledge, so I kind of know a bit about what I'm doing.
The iMac will not boot off of a CD. It doesn't even recognize the CD. I have an external USB 2.0 hard drive with a current Time Machine backup, but I don't think those are bootable.
Anyway, in the past, to resolve this issue, I've had to take the iMac apart, put the internal hard drive into an external enclosure, and mount the drive onto my MacBook Pro. Interestingly enough, when I do this the drive mounts perfectly fine and shows all files exactly as they should be. So it's something to do with Leopard destroying it's boot record, or some other system configuration.
Even worse, I cannot simply reinstall Mac OS X from the laptop, because the installer says the hard drive needs to be formatted before an install can occur. So either way I'm losing all my data (even though as I said I have a current backup).
Well this time I haven't taken it apart yet. But the install CD is stuck in the drive. Even if I got the hard drive out, and mounted on my MacBook, my other install CD is too damaged to use, so I MUST get this CD out of the iMac.
My questions are:
What do you do when the grey screen of death occurs, and the computer won't even boot off of the CD?
What do you do to get a CD stuck in an iMac out? Especially when the iMac is in the grey screen of death mode?
What in the world is causing this to happen EVERY 3-6 MONTHS??!
Someone please help... I'm going insane.

Answers

Hi I am having the identical problem with my 24" intel iMac 2007..... Did you ever figure out what the problem was? I'm on round 3 now and with a completely blank grey screen and it won't start up from the disk 1.. I also have diskwarrior and techtool pro as well as the osx leopard and snow leopard disk... The HD is new.. Replaced by apple 3 months ago.. Don't know the cause the first time this happened about 9 months ago.. 2nd time, 6 months ago it never rebooted from the office for mac 2008 critical update... Did a clean install after backing up to TC... Took it to apple replaced HD even though it appeared ok, they checked all hardware and I ran techtool pro daily ever since. Last week software update had several updates avail. Office for mac being one of them.. I updated and have never booted since.. . I swear to never ever use another Microsoft product as long as I live if I can just fix this once more... Help me please

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