SHATNER BEAMING INTO CITY
At age 85, celebrity still going strong
On the day William Shatner talked to the Calgary Herald, a Google News search of his name turned up a wide variety of articles.
There were headlines from Vanity Fair about how star-struck actor Sam Heughan of the series Outlander had gone out to dinner with Shatner and was thrilled to learn he was a fan of his sci-fi fantasy series.
RollingStone.com was reporting on Shatner’s newest book Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man, which chronicles his relationship with his Star Trek co-star Leonard Nimoy. Gaming sites were all atwitter with news that the space simulation, Elite: Dangerous, would soon feature Shatner’s voice.
Finally, there were tabloid-y reports about a man suing Shatner for $170 million, claiming to be the actor’s love child.
It suggests that, at 85, “The Shat” still commands a good deal of attention and continues to experience all the vagaries of fame: The good. The bad. The weird.
“Denial and downcast eyes is a good way of dealing with fame,” jokes Shatner, without referring specifically to any of his recent headlines. “It has its own qualifications. It can be irksome. But, on balance, what it has brought me in terms of talking to you, and going to Calgary and eating at the charcuterie there ... if one were to look at my life, you would have to say: ‘One of the luckiest son-of-abitches that ever lived.’”
Shatner sneaks in the Calgary reference because he will be returning to the city this week as one of the higher-profile guests of Calgary Expo. He heads an impressive contingent of Star Trek stars that come from virtually every chapter of Gene Rodenberry’s ever-increasing universe, from the original series and movies in which Shatner played Captain James. T. Kirk to J.J. Abrams’s recent reboots. Shatner, as with many Trek alumni, has been at the Expo before. But this is a special year, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Rodenberry’s vision.
While Shatner’s relationship with the Trek phenomenon has had its ups and downs, the half-century milestone is also a reminder that he has spent at least that long in the spotlight. Few performers could have parlayed starring in a threeseason cult series into such a wide-ranging, artistically restless career. As an actor, he has done everything from serious drama to goofy self-parody. He has authored or co-authored dozens of fiction and non-fiction books. He has directed documentaries, released albums, raised horses, played poker for charity, hosted a talk show, been a pitchman for Priceline, developed an autobiographical one-man show for Broadway... the list goes on.
At 85, he apparently has no plans to slow down and still has some surprises up his sleeve.
“I helped design a motorcycle in Chicago,” he reports. “A group of people drove, and I drove the motorcycle, from Chicago to Los Angeles and on the way shot a documentary of what went on as well as raising funds for the American Legion. All and all it was a very busy time. But I’ve got a lot of film of what I’ve called ‘the ride.’ And, in the intervening time, there are all kinds of documentary suggestions that I’ve got and I’m trying to sell and make. I’ve been very busy doing that kind of reality work.”
As a documentary filmmaker, Shatner has mostly concentrated on Star Trek, whether it be revealing “the shenanigans” that went on behind the scenes during the production of Star Trek: The Next Generation in the very entertaining 2014 TV doc Chaos on the Bridge, examining the deep cultural reverberations of the series in 2013’s Get a Life! or interviewing his fellow starship commanders in 2012’s The Captains.
For those documentaries, Shatner occasionally seemed to be looking at the ramifications of the franchise from a bemused distance.
But that certainly wasn’t the case with his latest book, which was a deeply personal affair. In Leonard, he reflects on his fivedecade friendship with Nimoy, who played the original Mr. Spock in Star Trek.
By the end of his life, Nimoy was no longer speaking with Shatner, who says he doesn’t know why his good friend shut him out of his life.
The actor has written plenty of books, but this one was different, he says.
“Writing a factual book on somebody I really cared about was difficult,” he says. “It took a toll. We had so much in common. Our lives, our backgrounds, even our foregrounds, were strangely in line. So we talked about that a great deal over the years. And yet when you lose somebody that is close to you, all those memories are in jeopardy of being forgotten, they might has well have never happened. You have no validation from the other person. So that was one reason for writing that book, to try and remember some of the incidences and motivations.”
While Shatner may keep busy with writing and directing, one of the reasons he stays in the spotlight is because he remains one of the more prolific celebrity tweeters.
The aforementioned exchange with Outlander actor Sam Heughan followed months of online banter between the two. In 2015, he gained headlines for mocking Star Wars: The Force Awakens in a number of tweets. A few weeks after this interview, he drew attention by briefly debating morality with author Stephen King in relation to the Netflix series The 100. But while he clearly seems to enjoy it — particularly if he can dictate the tweets (“Typing is onerous,” he says) — maintaining such a high profile online is also a pragmatic exercise. In fact, bringing it up in conversation allows him to plug another one of his many pursuits.
“Not a small part of it is that I raise money for charity, especially for children and veterans, and by making acquaintances that you wouldn’t recognize if they came into a room and they are with a show, they will give me stuff to auction off,” he says. “So the silent auction, for my charity show, which is the Hollywood Charity Horse Show, I’ve gotten really some wonderful stuff that has made use of this celebrity by raising money for kids in need.”