William Alan Shatner (born March 22, 1931) is a Canadian actor, musician, recording artist, and author. He gained worldwide fame and became a cultural icon for his portrayal of James T. Kirk, captain of the USS Enterprise, in the science fiction television series Star Trek from 1966 to 1969, Star Trek: The Animated Series from 1973 to 1974, and in seven of the subsequent Star Trek feature films from 1979 to 1994. He has written a series of books chronicling his experiences playing Captain Kirk and being a part of Star Trek and has co-written several novels set in the Star Trek universe. He has also authored a series of science fiction novels called TekWar that were adapted for television.
Shatner also played the eponymous veteran police sergeant in T. J. Hooker from 1982 to 1986. He has since worked as a musician, author, producer, director, and celebrity pitchman. From 2004 to 2008, he starred as attorney Denny Crane in the television dramas The Practice and its spin-off Boston Legal, for which he won two Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe Award.
Early life and education
Shatner was born in Côte Saint-Luc, a neighbourhood in Montreal, Quebec, the son of Anne (née Garmaise) and Joseph Shatner, a clothing manufacturer. He has two sisters, Joy and Farla. His paternal grandfather, Wolf Schattner, anglicized the family name to "Shatner". Shatner's grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Austria, Poland, Hungary, and Ukraine, and Shatner was raised in Conservative Judaism. He attended Willingdon Elementary School, in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG-Montreal) and Baron Byng High School, in Montreal, as well as West Hill High School in NDG. He is an alumnus of the Montreal Children's Theatre. He also attended McGill University in Montreal, where he studied economics and graduated with a Bachelor of commerce degree. In June 2011, McGill awarded him with an honorary doctorate of letters. The Students' Society of McGill University building on McTavish Street is popularly (though not officially) named "Shatner".
Early stage, film, and television work
Trained as a classical Shakespearean actor, Shatner performed at the Shakespearean Stratford Festival of Canada in Stratford, Ontario. He played a range of roles at the Stratford Festival in productions that included a minor role in the opening scene of a renowned and nationally televised production of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex directed by Tyrone Guthrie, Shakespeare's Henry V, and Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great. Shatner made his Broadway debut in the latter, in 1956. In 1954, he was cast as Ranger Bob on The Canadian Howdy Doody Show. Shatner was understudy to Christopher Plummer; the two would later star as adversaries in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Though his official movie debut was in the 1951 Canadian film entitled The Butler's Night Off, Shatner's first feature role came in the 1958 MGM film The Brothers Karamazov with Yul Brynner, in which he starred as the youngest of the Karamazov brothers, Alexei. In December of the same year, he appeared opposite Ralph Bellamy playing Roman tax collectors in Bethlehem on the day of Jesus' birth in a vignette of a Hallmark Hall of Fame live television production entitled The Christmas Tree directed by Kirk Browning, which featured in other vignettes such stars as Jessica Tandy, Margaret Hamilton, Bernadette Peters, Richard Thomas, Cyril Ritchard and Carol Channing. Shatner had a leading role in an Alfred Hitchcock Presents third-season (1957–1958) episode titled "The Glass Eye", one of his first appearances on American television. In 1959, he received decent reviews when he took on the role of Lomax in the Broadway production of The World of Suzie Wong. In 1960, he appeared twice as Wayne Gorham in NBC's The Outlaws Western series with Barton MacLane, and then in another Alfred Hitchcock Presents fifth-season episode titled "Mother, may I go out to swim?". In 1961, he starred in the Broadway play A Shot in the Dark with Julie Harris and directed by Harold Clurman. Walter Matthau (who won a Tony Award for his performance) and Gene Saks were also featured in this play. Shatner also starred in two episodes of the NBC television series Thriller, "Grim Reaper" and "The Hungry Glass".
Guthrie had called the young Shatner the Stratford Festival's most promising actor, and he was seen as a peer to contemporaries like Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Robert Redford. Shatner was not as successful as the others, however, and during the 1960s he "became a working actor who showed up on time, knew his lines, worked cheap and always answered his phone." His motto was "Work equals work", but Shatner's willingness to take any role, no matter how "forgettable", likely hurt his career. In 1962, he starred in Roger Corman's movie The Intruder. He also appeared in the Stanley Kramer film Judgment at Nuremberg and two episodes, "Nick of Time" and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", of the science fiction anthology series The Twilight Zone. In the 1963–1964 season, he appeared in episodes of two ABC series, Channing and The Outer Limits ("Cold Hands, Warm Heart"). In 1963, he starred in the Family Theater production called "The Soldier" and received credits in other programs of The Psalms series. That same year he guest starred in Route 66, in the episode, "Build Your Houses with Their Backs to the Sea". In 1964, he guest starred in the episode "He Stuck in His Thumb" of the CBS drama The Reporter.
In 1965 Shatner guest-starred as Major Curt Brown in second season episode 9, "I Am The Enemy" of 12 O-Clock High. He guest-starred in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in an episode that also featured Leonard Nimoy, with whom Shatner would soon be paired in Star Trek. He also starred in the critically acclaimed drama For the People in 1965 as an assistant district attorney, costarring with Jessica Walter. The program lasted for only thirteen episodes. Shatner starred in the 1966 gothic horror film Incubus, the second feature-length movie ever made with all dialogue spoken in Esperanto. He also starred in an episode of Gunsmoke in 1966 as the character Fred Bateman.
Star Trek, the TV series
Shatner was first cast as Captain James T. Kirk for the second pilot of Star Trek, entitled "Where No Man Has Gone Before". He was then contracted to play Kirk for the Star Trek series and held the role from 1966 to 1969. In 1973, he returned to the role of Captain Kirk, albeit only in voice, in the animated Star Trek series.
Shatner's wife Gloria Rand divorced him in March 1969. After Star Trek was cancelled that year, Shatner experienced difficulty in finding work in the early 1970s. With very little money and few acting prospects, he lived in a truck bed camper in the San Fernando Valley until small roles turned into higher-paying jobs. Shatner refers to this part of his life as "that period," a humbling one during which he would take any odd job, including small party appearances, to support his family.
Shatner again appeared in "schlock" films, such as the horror film The Devil's Rain and Corman's Big Bad Mama. Shatner received good reviews as the lead prosecutor in a 1971 PBS adaptation of Saul Levitt's play The Andersonville Trial. Other television appearances included a starring role in the western-themed secret agent series Barbary Coast during 1975 and 1976, and guest roles on many 1970s series such as The Six Million Dollar Man, Columbo, The Rookies, Kung Fu, and Mission: Impossible. He also played Dr. Stephen Turner in the teleplay, The Tenth Level. Inspired by the Stanley Milgram obedience research, this TV movie chronicles a psychology professor's study to determine why people, such as the Nazis, were willing to "just follow orders" and do horrible things to others.
Shatner was an occasional celebrity guest on The $20,000 Pyramid in the 1970s, once appearing opposite Nimoy in a matchup billed as "Kirk vs. Spock". His appearances became far less frequent after a 1977 appearance in which, after giving an illegal clue ("the blessed" for Things That Are Blessed) at the top of the pyramid ($200) which deprived the contestant of a big money win, he threw his chair out of the Winner's Circle. Other shows included The Hollywood Squares, Celebrity Bowling, Beat the Clock, and Match Game.
Shatner did a number of television commercials for Ontario-based Loblaws and British Columbia-based SuperValu supermarket chains in the 1970s, and finished the Loblaws ad spots by saying, "At Loblaws, more than the price is right. But, by Gosh, the price is right."
Shatner also did a number of television commercials for General Motors, endorsing the Oldsmobile brand, and Promise margarine.
A return to Kirk, and to work
After its cancellation, Star Trek unexpectedly gained a cult following during the 1970s from syndicated reruns, and Captain Kirk became a cultural icon. Shatner began appearing at Star Trek conventions organized by Trekkies. In the mid-1970s Paramount began pre-production for a revised Star Trek television series, tentatively titled Star Trek: Phase II. However, the phenomenal success of Star Wars led the studio to instead consider developing a Star Trek motion picture. Shatner and the other original Star Trek cast members returned to their roles when Paramount produced Star Trek: The Motion Picture, released in 1979. It re-established Shatner as an actor, and he played Kirk in the next six Star Trek films, ending with the character's death in 1994's Star Trek Generations. His final appearances in the role are in the movie sequences of the video game Starfleet Academy (1997), and briefly for a DirecTV advertisement using footage from Star Trek VI running from late summer 2006.
Although Trekkies had resurrected Star Trek after cancellation, in a 1986 Saturday Night Live skit about a Star Trek convention, Shatner advised a room full of fans to "Get a life". The "much-discussed sketch" accurately portrayed his feelings about Trekkies, which the actor had previously discussed in interviews. Shatner had been the unwilling subject of adoration by them for decades; as early as April 1968, a group attempted to rip his clothes off as the actor left 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and he did not attend conventions for more than a decade during the 1970s and 1980s. Shatner also appeared in the film Free Enterprise in 1998, in which he played himself and tried to dispel the Kirk image of himself from the view of the film's two lead characters. He also has found an outlet in spoofing the cavalier, almost superhuman character persona of Captain Kirk, in films such as Airplane II: The Sequel (1982) and National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon (1993).
Tim Allen's role in Galaxy Quest as Captain Peter Quincy Taggart/Jason Nesmith is an analogue of James T. Kirk/William Shatner as seen by the public at large. Taggart has a reputation for taking off his shirt at the flimsiest excuse, rolling on the ground during combat, and making pithy speeches, while Nesmith is an egomaniac who regards himself as the core of Galaxy Quest and tells fans to "get a life". Poking fun at himself, Shatner professed to have no idea whom Allen was parodying.
Besides the Star Trek films, Shatner gained a new starring role on television as a police officer in T. J. Hooker, which ran from 1982 to 1986. He then hosted the popular dramatic reenactment series Rescue 911 from 1989 to 1996. During the 1980s Shatner also began directing film and television, directing numerous episodes of T. J. Hooker and the feature film Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
Subsequent acting career
Shatner has appeared in advertisements for many companies and products, and in recent years he has done a series of commercials for the travel web site Priceline, in which Shatner plays a pompous, fictionalized version of himself. Although he received stock options for the commercials, reports that they are now worth hundreds of millions of dollars are exaggerated. Shatner was also the CEO of the Toronto, Ontario-based C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures, a special effects studio that operated from 1994 to 2010.
Shatner has enjoyed success with a series of science fiction novels published under his name, though most are widely believed to have been written by uncredited co-writers such as William T. Quick and Ron Goulart. The first, published in 1990, was TekWar. This popular series of books led to a Marvel Comics series, to a number of television movies, in which Shatner played a role, and to a short-lived television series in which Shatner made several appearances; he also directed some episodes. In 1995, a first-person shooter game named William Shatner's TekWar was released, and was the first game to use the Build engine. He also played as a narrator in 1995 American documentary film Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie directed by Peter Kuran.
In the television series 3rd Rock from the Sun, Shatner appeared in several episodes as the "Big Giant Head", a womanizing party-animal and high-ranking officer from the same alien planet as the Solomon family. The role earned Shatner a nomination for an Emmy.
In 2001, Shatner starred in the animated film Osmosis Jones as the character Mayor Phlegmming, the self-centered head of the "City of Frank", a community comprising all the cells and microorganisms of a man's body. In the movie, the pompous Phlegmming is constantly preoccupied with his reelection and his own convenience, even to the detriment of his "city" and constituents.
In 2003, Shatner appeared in Brad Paisley's "Celebrity" and "Online" music videos along with Little Jimmy Dickens, Jason Alexander, and Trista Rehn.
Star Trek: Enterprise producer Manny Coto stated in Star Trek Communicator's October 2004 issue that he was preparing a three-episode story arc for Shatner. Shortly thereafter, Enterprise was cancelled.
After David E. Kelley saw Shatner's commercials, he joined the final season of the legal drama The Practice. His Emmy-award winning role, the eccentric but highly capable attorney Denny Crane, was essentially "William Shatner the man...playing William Shatner the character playing the character Denny Crane, who was playing the character William Shatner." Shatner took the Crane role to Boston Legal, and won a Golden Globe, an Emmy in 2005, and was nominated again in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 for his work. With the 2005 Emmy win, Shatner became one of the few actors (along with co-star James Spader as Alan Shore) to win an Emmy award while playing the same character in two different series. Even rarer, Shatner and Spader each won a second consecutive Emmy while playing the same character in two different series. Shatner remained with the series until its end in 2008.
Shatner made several guest appearances on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, including cameos reciting Sarah Palin's resignation speech, Twitter posts, and autobiography. He has also recited Twitter posts by Levi Johnston, father of Palin's grandson. He also appears in the opening graphics of the occasional feature "In The Year 3000," with his disembodied head floating through space, announcing, "And so we take a cosmic ride into that new millennium; that far off reality that is the year 3000," followed by the tag line, "It's the future, man."
Shatner also played the voice of Ozzie the opossum in DreamWorks' 2006 feature Over the Hedge.
In January 2007, Shatner launched a series of daily vlogs on his life called ShatnerVision on the LiveUniverse.com website. In 2008, he launched his video blogs on YouTube in a project renamed "The Shatner Project". Shatner also starred as the voice of Don Salmonella Gavone on the 2009 YouTube animated series The Gavones.
Shatner was not "offered or suggested" a role in the 2009 film Star Trek. Director J.J. Abrams said in July 2007 that the production was "desperately trying to figure out a way to put him in" but that to "shove him in...would be a disaster." an opinion echoed by Shatner in several interviews. At a convention held in 2010, Shatner commented on the film by saying "I've seen that wonderful film." Shatner had invented his own idea about the beginning of Star Trek with his latest novel, Star Trek: Academy — Collision Course.
Shatner's autobiography Up Till Now was released in 2008. He was assisted in writing it by David Fisher. Shatner has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (for Television work) at 6901 Hollywood Boulevard. He also has a star on the Canadian Walk of Fame. Shatner was the first Canadian actor to star in three successful TV series on three different major networks (NBC, CBS, and ABC).
Shatner starred in the CBS sitcom $#*! My Dad Says, which is based on the Twitter feed Shit My Dad Says created by Justin Halpern. The series premiered in late 2010 and was canceled May 2011. Shatner is also the host of the interview show Shatner's Raw Nerve on The Biography Channel, and the Discovery Channel television series Weird or What?
In 2011 Shatner starred in The Captains, a feature length documentary which he also wrote and directed. The film follows Shatner as he interviews the other actors who have portrayed starship captains within the Star Trek franchise. Shatner's interviewees included Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, and Chris Pine. In the film Shatner also interviews Christopher Plummer, who is an old friend and colleague from Shatner's days with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario.
Music and spoken-word work
Main article: William Shatner's musical career
Shatner began his musical career with the spoken-word 1968 album The Transformed Man, delivering exaggerated, interpretive recitations of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". He performed a reading of the Elton John song "Rocket Man" during the 1978 Science Fiction Film Awards that has been widely parodied. Ben Folds, who has worked with him several times, produced and co-wrote Shatner's well-received second studio album, Has Been, in 2004. His third studio album, Searching for Major Tom, is currently set for a 2011 release.
Space Shuttle Discovery
Shatner recorded a wake-up call played for the crew of STS-133 in the Space Shuttle Discovery on 7 March 2011, its final day docked to the International Space Station. Backed by the musical theme from Star Trek, it featured a voice-over based on his spoken introduction from the series' opening credits: "Space, the final frontier. These have been the voyages of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Her 30 year mission: To seek out new science. To build new outposts. To bring nations together on the final frontier. To boldly go, and do, what no spacecraft has done before."
Shatner dislikes watching himself perform, and claims that he has "never watched Star Trek ... not even any of the Star Trek movies"—except the dailies from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which he directed—or Boston Legal.
Shatner has been married four times. His first marriage was to Gloria Rand, from 1956 to 1969. His second marriage lasted 21 years and was to Marcy Lafferty; the couple was married in 1973 and divorced in 1994. His third marriage was to Nerine Kidd-Shatner, from 1997 until her death in 1999.
On August 9, 1999, Shatner returned home around 10 p.m. to discover Nerine's body at the bottom of their back yard swimming pool. She was 40 years old. An autopsy detected alcohol and Valium in her blood, but the coroner ruled the cause of her death as an accidental drowning. The LAPD ruled out foul play and the case was closed. Speaking to the press shortly after his wife's death, a clearly shaken and emotional Shatner said that she "meant everything" to him and called her his "beautiful soulmate." Shatner urged the public to support Friendly House, a non-profit organization that helps women re-establish themselves in the community after suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction. He later told Larry King in an interview that "...my wife, whom I loved dearly and who loved me, was suffering with a disease that we don’t like to talk about, alcoholism. And she met a tragic ending because of it." In his new 2008 book Up Till Now: The Autobiography, Shatner discusses how Leonard Nimoy helped take Nerine for treatment of her alcoholism. Shatner writes in an excerpt from his book:
Leonard Nimoy's personal experience of alcoholism now came to play a central role in my life and it helped us bond together in a way I never could have imagined in the early days of Star Trek. After Nerine Kidd and I had been to dinner with Leonard and Susan Nimoy one evening, Leonard called and said: "Bill, you know she's an alcoholic?" I said I did. I married Nerine in 1997, against the advice of many and my own good sense. But I thought she would give up alcohol for me. We had a celebration in Pasadena, and Leonard was my best man. I woke up about eight o'clock the next morning and Nerine was drunk. She was in rehab for 30 days three different times. Twice she almost drank herself to death. Leonard took Nerine to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but she did not want to quit.
In 2000, a Reuters story reported that Shatner was planning to write and direct The Shiva Club, a dark comedy about the grieving process inspired by his wife's death. Shatner's 2004 album Has Been included a spoken word piece titled "What Have You Done" that describes his anguish upon discovering his wife's body in the pool.
Relationships with other actors
Shatner first appeared on screen with Leonard Nimoy in 1964, when both actors guest-starred in an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., entitled: "The Project Strigas Affair". However, Shatner states in his autobiography that he does not recall meeting Nimoy at that time. As co-stars on Star Trek, they interacted socially both on and off the set. After Star Trek's cancellation in 1969, Shatner and Nimoy reunited in the production of Star Trek: The Animated Series, as well as The $20,000 Pyramid, where "Kirk vs. Spock" appeared on two different tables. Nimoy also guest-starred on T. J. Hooker for a few episodes. Shatner starred in the title role of the show.
The 1999 death of Shatner's third wife, Nerine, served to strengthen the friendship of Shatner and Nimoy, as Nimoy had mourned over the loss of his best friend's wife. Nimoy also appeared alongside Shatner at the TV Land Awards (hosted by John Ritter) and was one of the many people to serve as a celebrity "roaster" of Shatner. Nimoy summarized his four decade friendship with Shatner by remarking, "Bill's energy was good for my performance, 'cause Spock could be the cool individual, our chemistry was successful, right from the start." Nimoy has also spoken about mutual rivalry between the actors during the Star Trek years: "Very competitive, sibling rivalry up to here. After the show had been on the air a few weeks and they started getting so much mail for Spock, then the dictum came down from NBC: 'Give us more of that guy, they love that guy, you know?' Well, that can be ... that can be a problem for the leading man who was hired as the star of the show; and suddenly, here's this guy with ears -- 'What's this, you know?'" said Nimoy. On an episode of the A&E Network series Biography, Nimoy remarked, "Bill Shatner hogging the stage? No. Not the Bill Shatner I know."
Shatner has been friends with Heather Locklear since 1982, when Locklear began co-starring with him on T. J. Hooker as Officer Stacy Sheridan. Locklear was asked by Entertainment Tonight whether it was hard to work on two weekly TV shows at the same time. (During the four years Locklear was in Hooker, she was also appearing in a semi-regular role in a fellow Aaron Spelling production, Dynasty). She replied "...I'd get really nervous and want to be prepared..." for Shatner and for the experienced cast of Dynasty. After Hooker ended Shatner helped Locklear get other roles. Locklear supported a grieving Shatner in 1999 when he was mourning the death of his wife, Nerine. In 2005, Locklear appeared in two episodes of Shatner's Boston Legal as Kelly Nolan, an attractive, youthful woman being tried for killing her much older, wealthy husband. Shatner plays Denny Crane, a founding partner of a large law firm, and a legendary litigator. Crane is attracted to Nolan and tries to insert himself into her defense. He is about the same age as Nolan's deceased husband, so Crane courts death by pursuing her. Locklear was asked how she came to appear on Boston Legal. She explained "I love the show, it's my favorite show; and I sorta kind of said, 'Shouldn't I be William Shatner's illegitimate daughter, or his love interest?'"
For years, Shatner was accused of being difficult to work with by some of his Star Trek co-stars, most notably James Doohan and George Takei. In the 2004 Star Trek DVD sets, Shatner seemed to have made up with Takei, but their differences continue to resurface. In the 1990s, Shatner made numerous attempts to patch things up with Doohan, but was unsuccessful for some time; however, an Associated Press article published at the time of Doohan's final convention appearance in late August 2004 stated that Doohan had forgiven his fellow Canadian Shatner and they had mended their relationship. Takei continues to speak negatively about Shatner. In a 2008 television interview, he stated "he has a big, shiny, demanding ego." Shatner, in turn, recorded videos for YouTube, saying that Takei had some sort of "psychosis".
Takei has repeatedly asserted (most recently on the December 26, 2009, episode of the NPR radio program Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me) that he invited Shatner (along with other Star Trek cast members) to his 2008 wedding to Brad Altman, but Shatner never responded to the invitation. Shatner has repeatedly counter-asserted (most recently in the January 2010 issue of GQ) that he never received an invitation.
When Shatner interviewed his Star Trek costars for his memoir Star Trek Movie Memories, Nichelle Nichols (who played Uhura on the show) told him, "Now let me tell you why I hate you," explaining that, despite the few lines she had in the show, he would sometimes argue with the director that an Uhura dialog line was unnecessary. She then "gave Shatner an earful about how she and the rest of the other four felt, which prompted Shatner to wake up and set about making things right with his former costars." He and Nichols patched up their differences sufficiently that she appeared on his 20 August 2006 roast, telling the Comedy Central audience, "Bill Shatner would crap on the last piece of pizza just so no one else could enjoy it."
Shatner suffers from tinnitus and is involved in the American Tinnitus Association. His treatment for this condition involved wearing a small electronic device that generated a low-level, broadband sound (white noise) that "helped his brain put the tinnitus in the background".
On October 19, 2005, while working on the set of Boston Legal, Shatner was taken to the emergency room for lower back pain. He eventually passed a kidney stone, recovered and soon returned to work. In 2006, Shatner sold his kidney stone for US$75,000 to GoldenPalace.com. In an appearance on The View on May 16, 2006, Shatner said the $75,000 and an additional $20,000 raised from the cast and crew of Boston Legal paid for the building of a house by Habitat for Humanity.
In his spare time, Shatner enjoys breeding and showing American Saddlebreds and Quarter Horses. Shatner has a 150 hectare (360 acre) farm near Versailles, Kentucky, named Belle Reve (Canadian French for “Beautiful Dream”), where he raises American Saddlebreds. His champion American Saddlebreds include Call Me Ringo, Revival, and Sultan's Great Day.
Shatner also plays on the World Poker Tour in the Hollywood Home games. He plays for the Wells Fargo Hollywood Charity Horse Show.
Nominations and awards
In 2004, Shatner won his first Emmy Award for his role as “Denny Crane” on The Practice. In 2005, he won his first Golden Globe award and a second Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his work on Boston Legal. In 2009, Shatner won a Streamy Award in the category of Best Reality Web Series.
In May 2011, he was awarded the Governor General of Canada’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, recording a humorous short film William Shatner Sings O Canada for the occasion. On June 2, 2011, Shatner received an honorary Doctor of Letters from McGill University, his alma mater.
Photograph Hand Oil Tinted by artist Margaret A. Rogers.