"'Has been' implies failure. Not so. 'Has been' is history. 'Has been' was. 'Has been'... might again."
—William Shatner, "Has Been"
One of the most charming largest hams of all time. Most well known for his portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek: The Original Series, he has offered an assortment of impossibly intense, emotive performances, often ... including! oddly placed ... emphasis and ... pauses! His recitation of the Preamble to the US Constitution in the episode "The Omega Glory" is legendary: "WEEEEE . . . the PEEEE-ple!"
As if his broad over-acting weren't enough, he also saw fit to record an album of spoken-word readings of poetry and pop-song lyrics called The Transformed Man that has to be heard to be believed. His renditions of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" are particularly legendary and inspired the Golden Throats compilations of bad celebrity music recordings. An equally jaw-dropping video rendition of "Rocket Man" became a favorite bit of nonsense that was re-created years later by Chris Elliott on Late Night With David Letterman and Stewie on Family Guy. Some years ago, Conan O'Brien picked up the gag: "to read the speeches of Sarah Palin in the style they were meant to be performed, beat poetry, please welcome Emmy-award winner and master thespian William Shatner." Shatner also read some of Levi Johnston's writings... and once, Palin went on The Tonight Show to strike back, reading from Shatner's autobiography.
An ego the size of his native Canada, Eh? also did not help his reputation among his co-stars. Details vary, but he has said that he was unaware of how arrogant he was on set. Leonard Nimoy helped him understand that just being nice to them personally doesn't mean that they respected him trying to take away what little screen time they had, and most of the other cast have in the past expressed dissatisfaction with what Walter Koenig referred to as "them and us", "them" being Shatner, Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, "us" being Koenig, Takei, Nichols and Doohan. His most famous spat was with James Doohan, who was one of the most distinguished character actors before his role on Star Trek; Doohan once famously said "I like Captain Kirk, but I sure don't like Bill." He outright refused an interview with Shatner during the writing of the "Star Trek Memories" book, but showing genuine regret for alienating the cast allowed the two to reconcile before Doohan was incapacitated by Alzeheimer's Disease. Memories also allowed Shatner to settle affairs with Nichelle Nichols, with Nichols shocking him by telling him "how much I despise you," though after his willingness to listen to her critiques and offering his sincere apologies, they reconciled and have remained friends. He similarly mended fences with George Takei, but apparently their relationship soured again when Shatner did not receive an invitation to Takei's wedding.
In more recent years, Shatner has redeemed himself somewhat by developing a sense of humor, mostly about himself, and becoming a new model of Self-Deprecation. This has included playing a ludicrous version of himself in the film Free Enterprise, and parodying his "musical" stylings in a series of commercials and a new, well-received recording with Ben Folds (Has Been). He also appears in the videos for the Brad Paisley songs "Online" ("What? I can't sing?"), and "Celebrity". ("I liked the end of the song. No, the end, when you stopped singing. I liked that part.")
Not to mention his famed "Get A Life" sketch on Saturday Night Live, wherein he berated Trek fans for living in their parents' basements. This later became the title of his 1999 autobiography, in which he self-deprecatingly admits he didn't give Trek fans enough credit. He has since been known to show up at conventions in Klingon guise, confirming that, decades later, he is finally One of Us.
Shatner has also developed a moderately successful reputation as a writer, starting with two autobiographies about his time with Star Trek that may have started his redemption; in the books, he faithfully recounts the brutal interviews he held with his former co-stars, who, one after another, lambasted him for being such an overbearing jerk, and admits to being humbled by the experience. His latest book is an autobiography titled Up Till Now, which is actually really funny, partly because he spends a great deal of it mischievously poking fun at himself, but mostly because Shatner is actually an extremely good (and funny) non-fiction writer.
Shatner also starred as a cop in T. J. Hooker, and was one of the core cast of Boston Legal, winning an Emmy for his role as the bombastic, possibly insane Denny Crane. He has also dabbled in Reality TV, hosting Rescue 911 and the UPN version of Iron Chef. His popular Tekwar novels were adapted into a short-lived series, in which he played a supporting role. On the A&E Channel in 2008 he began Shatner's Raw Nerve, an intimate interview show (no studio audience) where he talks with guest much like a news interview but done in a much more casual and friendly setting. In fall 2010 he starred as the title father in the CBS Dom Com $#*! My Dad Says, which only lasted one season.
He also got first billing on several Star Trek novels (known as the "Shatnerverse" as it apparently has its own continuity separate from that of other Trek novels) that were actually largely authored by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, though the later books of the series have more of Shatner's influence-- and it shows. In these books Kirk comes Back from the Dead and becomes even more of a Marty Stu. Kirk was also a Marty Stu in the Shatner-directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which opens with an obvious stunt double climbing El Capitan and ends with him fighting God (or at least an alien imposter with nifty powers).
Shatner also happens to be an expert equestrian, and has been breeding and showing horses for years - namely, American Quarter Horses in reining competitions and Saddlebreds in their breed classes. Incidentally, the horse he rode in Star Trek Generations was his own Saddlebred mare Great Belles of Fire. He also breeds Dobermans.
For a quick primer on how do a passable William Shatner impersonation, simply emphasize the first noun, then say the rest of the sentence as rapidly as possible:
- "YOOOOUUUU . . . can'tjustletthemalldie!"
Alternately, insert pauses at all conceivable (and a few inconceivable) opportunities:
- "Must... draw... on... old... drama club... training!"
Make sure you emphasize. every. WORD, or the pauses without emphasis will sound more like Barack Obama. Also make sure you include dramatic hand gestures, otherwise you'll just look silly (as opposed to the correct way you'll look silly while doing it right).
(Shatner has himself claimed that the first, more accurate example of a Shatner impression was a result of how scripts tended to be delivered on the show... revised, often, and late. He basically said that the pauses sometimes came from struggling to remember a line he might have been given ten minutes ago and certainly hadn't rehearsed, and the rush came from making sure it would still fit into the allotted camera time. He also claims that the overall hamminess was because he really wanted the show to succeed, and so he "put everything! I! had! ... intotherole.")
(Still another story claims that Shatner, back in his theater days, was tapped at the last second to play a major role in "Julius Caesar". He spent most of the time trying desperately to remember his lines and not screw up...and woke up to critical praise for his "brilliant reinvention of Shakespeare".)
There is also a book called Shatnerquake, in which all of Shatner's characters come into our world to destroy the original.
In 2010, there was a movement about to have him appointed the next Governor-General of Canada. For those who don't know, the Governor-General is the Queen's representative in Ottawa, and one of his/her most important jobs is to deliver the "Throne Speech," which is a speech outlining the government's intended plans for the next year. It'd be worth it just to hear him read it. Alas, the government chose a far more appropriate candidate. No doubt someone tried again around 2018, but the nod went to a real astronaut instead of somebody who played an astronaut on TV.
In May 2010, The Daily Telegraph reported that when Shatner began doing ads for travel website Priceline.com in 1997, he took payment partially in stock. Since the company was young and unproven (having been founded earlier that year), the stock wasn't worth much, and it bottomed out at $1.80/share during the dot-com bust in 2000. It recovered, however, and was eventually worth about US $600,000,000. However, in an April 2012 appearance on Conan, Shatner revealed he never made any money from the stock. Basically, everyone who took a stock payment had to sign a waiver agreeing not to sell the stock for 18 months, which was when its value soared. By the time the waiver expired, the stock was back down to almost nothing, and Shatner (along with most of the other shareholders) sold it. Then it went back up.
As of June 2, 2011, he is now Doctor William Shatner, having received an honourary doctorate from McGill University, his alma mater. In other words, he's a doctor, not a starship captain!
And as of November 21, 2019, he's an Officer of the Order of Canada - one step shy of as close to Knight Fever as a Canadian can get.
- Adam Westing: Both regarding his role as Kirk and his singing career.
- From the music video for "Online":
Estelle Harris: "... and he [Brad Paisley] can sing!"
Shatner: "I can't sing?"
- The Brothers Karamazov: One of his earliest roles was Alyosha (the nice brother) in the movie.
- Canada, Eh?
- Chewing the Scenery: Shatner's acting is actually a very good barometer for judging the quality of an episode of Star Trek. It's no coincidence that in all the really good episodes, Kirk is either remarkably calm ("The Corbomite Maneuver", "The City on the Edge of Forever") or he has a double through whom Shatner can channel his urge to overact (see "The Enemy Within", or that one scene in "Mirror, Mirror"). Or it's a comedy episode, in which case Kirk is deliberately overacting ("A Piece of the Action"). Gotta give the guy credit...how many other actors can claim four hit series (Star Trek, T. J. Hooker, Rescue 911 and Boston Legal)? And while people are quick to remember the "KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNN!" moment, (so famous that This Wiki used it as the image on this page) reviewers have often praised Shatner's performance in the second movie - particularly for the grief Kirk displays over Spock's death; a scene Shatner actually conceived himself. In fact, in all of Shatner's Star Trek work, his best acting moments are those centering around Spock (but he also does very well opposite McCoy). Star Trek 2 writer-director Nicholas Meyer has said that he intentionally ran Shatner through repeated takes of each scene until he got tired and stopped overacting.
- Cool Old Guy
- Designated Villain: Many fans (and some of his fellow castmembers) have tended to portray him as the bad guy in pretty much anything related to Star Trek behind the scenes. His actual crimes seem to have been stalling production of some of the movies for a bigger salary, and occasionally trying to steal the limelight... hardly the most heinous (or original) of sins in Hollywood. It certainly doesn't measure up to, say, having an affair with the showrunner, or as one of the other castmembers (whose name Shatner chose not to reveal) was doing, selling scraps snipped from a bolt of cloth in their garage as "pieces of my original uniform, worn on the show".
- Dodgy Toupee: And there's an entire blog dedicated to it!
- Though he insists in his autobiographies that this isn't so, that however fake it looks it's all him.
- Dramatic Pause: Some have ... criticized him of ... overusing this.
- Evil Is Hammy: I'M CAPTAIN KIRK!!!
- I Am Not Spock: He's done more than anyone else from the original Star Trek to escape this Trope, mainly by Adam Westing to such a degree that The Shatner became an overriding identity, for which Kirk is but one small part. Still, we all know that when he dies, his obituary is going to read "Best known as the original Captain James T. Kirk from the classic Star Trek series..." Even Shatner himself is aware of this, and seems to be okay with it.
- Informed Judaism: Has never tried to downplay or hide it, but on the other hand doesn't start every interview by saying "Hey, did you know I'm Jewish?"
- It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": "I don't say sabotage. You say sabotage, I say sabba-tadge.".
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He's definitely mellowed out over the years.
- Judaism: He was raised (and by most accounts remains) in the Conservative Jewish tradition. This might have helped with his friendship with Leonard Nimoy, who is a member of the not-too-different Modern Orthodox stream.
- Large Ham: Some say he is, in fact, the most defining example in American television.
- Montreal: His birthplace, and residence during his college years (he went to McGill).
- Of Corsets Funny: His infamous girdle.
- Older Than They Look: He was born in 1931, but looks like he could be in his 50s.
- Rage Quit: He did this on a celebrity episode of Wheel of Fortune in 1997.
- Say My Name: The trope formerly known as The Khan.
- Self-Deprecation: He's well aware of his status as Snark Bait and very good-natured about it.
- Shakespearian Actors: Seriously, he performed both on TV and in Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Festival, one of the classiest theatre venues in the nation. Like with Avery Brooks, the years of reciting the Bard's lines in their specific cadences is thought to have played a large part in his Star Trek-era acting style.
- Star-Making Role: Who knows what would have happened if Jeffrey Hunter had chosen to stay with Star Trek?
- What Could Have Been: After Star Trek was over, his finances required him to go on the road with a theater company for an entire summer. While he was driving back, homesick and desperate to see his daughters, he got an invitation to a huge Kennedy party full of politicians and entertainment industry names, with them even offering to send a plane. He missed his daughters so much that he refused, repeatedly... only to later realize he could have had the plane swing by, pick up his daughters, and they all could have had a small vacation on the Kennedys. He said he often wonders what his life would have been like if he hadn't tanked that opportunity to network with the country's bigshots.
- You Say Tomato: The way he pronounces sabotage as "sabataage"