“Remember—you can’t beam through a force field. So, don’t try it.”—William Shatner
William Shatner is a Canadian-born actor, author, producer, director, and singer who has spent seventy plus years in show business. He is best known for his portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk on the original Star Trek TV series and films, as the veteran police sergeant T.J. Hooker, and as attorney Denny Crane on The Practice and Boston Legal. His…unique acting style is beloved by many, so let’s learn a little more about what makes this Hollywood icon tick. Below are 44 out-of-this-world facts about William Shatner.
Facts About William Shatner
1. Over the Top
William Shatner is often satirized for his exaggerated acting style. His technique has been called “Shatnerian,” describing someone whose acting is just a bit over-the-top.
Proving that it’s never too late to see the world, Shatner starred in a reality travel show called Better Late Than Never from 2016-2018 where he, Henry Winkler, Terry Bradshaw, George Foreman, and comedian Jeff Dye traveled to Asia for a crazy adventure. The show lasted just two seasons, but with five celebrities of that caliber, how could it not be hilarious and eye-opening?
3. Just Another Gig
When Shatner agreed to play Captain James T. Kirk on a new sci-fi show called Star Trek in 1966, he had no idea that it would become anything close to what it became. The show only lasted 79 episodes, but when it aired in syndication beginning in the 70s, the franchise really started to take off. It spawned seven movies (with the original cast), several spin-offs, a series of books, and annual conventions. Not bad for, as he called it, “just another gig.”
4. A Little Bit Self-Important
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry invited Shatner to come to Hollywood and view the pilot, and while Shatner thought it was pretty good, he also thought it was “a little self-important.” He figured that if your crew was together on a ship for five years, you’d probably be a bit more “lighthearted about it” and wouldn’t use such formal language like “Starboard ahead” to make a left turn.
5. Canada’s Highest Honor
In 2011, Shatner was awarded Canada’s highest honor for artistic achievement, the Governor General’s Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award, for his work on stage and screen, his philanthropy, and his environmentalism. He was also inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2000.
6. Anglicizing the Name
The original spelling of Shatner’s name was Schattner, but his paternal grandfather Wolf Schattner changed the spelling to Shatner when he and his wife immigrated to Canada.
7. Musical Cousin
Believe it or not, Shatner is related to musician Leonard Cohen, through their great-great-great-grandparents on his mother’s side. Coincidentally, they were both enrolled at McGill University in Montreal in 1951—but according to Shatner, they never had the opportunity to meet.
8. Working Class Life
Shatner was born to Joseph and Anne Shatner in Montreal on March 22, 1931. His father owned a cloth manufacturing business and his mother taught elocution. I think maybe she taught her son a little too well.
9. Different Direction
When Shatner entered McGill University, it wasn’t with the intention of studying acting. His plan was to pursue a career in finance, and he graduated in 1952 with a Bachelor of Commerce. In what turned out to be a better choice, after graduation, he changed his mind and went into acting instead.
10. Tell Me a Story
Like many teenagers, Shatner had a job as a summer camp counselor—in his case, it was at Montreal’s Camp B’nai Brith in the Laurentian Mountains. While at camp, he learned the art of storytelling, and he’d go around to the different bunks, making stories to entertain different ages of kids ranging from 6 to 16. He also credits telling stories with pushing him towards acting—a skill which helped convince the producers of Star Trek that his voice was just fine for the show.
11. At Home in the Saddle
In addition to gaining fame as an actor, Shatner is also known for being an avid horseman. He spends a lot of his free time breeding and showing American Saddlebreds and quarter horses; he even rode one of his own mares in Star Trek Generations.
12. A Centaurian Dream
In his memoir Spirit of the Horse: A Celebration in Fact and Fable, Shatner describes a vivid dream he once had where he became “one with a horse.” The dream began with him galloping across a field and ended with Shatner seeing through the horse’s eyes as if he were galloping.
13. A Spiritual Place
Regardless of their faith, most people have a place where they can go to find peace. For Shatner, it’s not a church or a synagogue. Of all the places he’s been (including a Buddhist temple near Mt. Everest and different sweat lodges), there’s no place he loves being more than a stable.
14. His Other Favorite Creature
The only thing Shatner loves as much as horses are dogs. The actor has had Dobermans pretty much his entire life, and he boasts that he can still remember all of their names. Seeing as one of them was named Kirk, it would have been pretty embarrassing if he’d forgotten that one!
15. Totally Buff
For his role in the B-movie White Comanche, Shatner had to undergo a complete body wax in order to appear shirtless on screen. Talk about agony!
16. That’s Acting!
Believe it or not, Shatner has training as a Shakespearian actor. He performed in the second season of the Stratford Festival, Canada’s annual Shakespeare festival, in 1954 at the invitation of stage director Tyrone Guthrie. After three seasons, Shatner left the festival for the Great White Way and was immediately successful on stage and on the small screen.
17. A Star is Born!
In his third season performing at the Stratford Festival, Shatner was the understudy for the legendary Christopher Plummer in a production of Henry V. To his good fortune, Plummer was felled by a kidney stone one evening, and Shatner got his lucky break. According to Plummer, Shatner was “original to the last,” and he “knew then that the SOB was going to be a star!”
18. Full Steam Ahead
Shatner has always been known for his tremendous creative energy. When asked how he manages to keep it up, he replied, “I was built for the long run, not the short dash.”
When a Shatner fan from Port Angeles, Washington tweeted a Greater Vancouver country music radio station requesting that they play songs from Shatner’s new Christmas album, the station responded to the user saying, “I have heard the…album and it is NOT good. You’ll need massive eggnog to make that go down.” Moments later, Shatner blocked both the station and the personal account of the DJ on Twitter. As Shatner put it in a responding tweet, somebody ended up on his naughty list last Christmas!
20. Social Media Powerhouse
It turns out that William Shatner has a lot of opinions about a lot of things, and he really enjoys sharing them over Twitter. His fans certainly must enjoy hearing from him, because he’s got 2.5 million followers hanging on to his every word.
21. Satirizing the Trekkies
In an SNL sketch from his hosting turn in 1986, Shatner parodied Star Trek Superfans. In the sketch, Shatner appears in front of an audience of Trekkies and famously tells them to “Get a life” when it appears that they are way too invested in his TV work. The skit was meant in fun and was expressing Shatner’s own confusion over the intensity of Star Trek fandom, but he later regretted it. He admits in his autobiography that he “bought into the Trekkie stereotypes” and “was a dope.”
22. Genuinely Grieving
When Shatner agreed to take one last turn as Kirk in Star Trek Generations, he was looking forward to saying goodbye to the character forever. But after filming Kirk’s death scene in the film, he found himself grieving for real. It was at that moment that he realized that Star Trek was far more important to him than he realized, and it made him set out to finally understand what makes fans so devoted.
23. Mask Exchange
Michael Myers’ iconic mask from the Halloween franchise is actually based Shatner’s face. A William Shatner mask from a Halloween costume was purchased and painted white for the first film, giving birth to a horror legend. In a funny twist, Shatner confessed to once purchasing a Michael Myers mask and wearing it to go trick-or-treating with his daughters one Halloween.
24. The Kids Have to Learn About Tek War Sooner or Later
While on the set of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Shatner started recording notes for a sci-fi series called TekWar. He envisioned the series to be a combination of Star Trek and T.J. Hooker, and it was so successful, it spawned several sequels, a video game, comic books, TV movies, and a series featuring Shatner himself.
25. Maybe a Little Push
In an interview with The Guardian, Shatner stated that neither one of his parents really influenced his choice to go into acting, but concedes that he might have inadvertently been given a push from his mom. When he was a kid, he took acting classes from a couple of ladies who had a little school in their basement. The experience taught him how to memorize lines and deliver them with conviction, and he said that was what led to his future radio work in Montreal.
26. Lonely Existence
Despite having two sisters, Shatner felt like he was mostly alone as a child. His fear of loneliness has stuck with him his entire life and he sees it as a great motivator.
27. Life Imitating Art
Shatner’s character T.J. Hooker always had a girl of the week. Most of the women were actresses who were anywhere from 19-25 years younger than him. Shatner has mirrored the show in his choice of women, with his three wives being 15, 28 and 30 years younger than him, respectively.
28. In Reverse
In both Star Trek and T.J. Hooker, Shatner portrays characters with the initials T and J. His character’s name in Star Trek is James Tiberius, while T.J. stands for Thomas Jefferson.
29. Friends Playing Enemies
Long-time friends Christopher Plummer and William Shatner played enemies in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Plummer portrayed the rebel Klingon General Chang, who was obsessed with Shakespeare. Sounds like the role was perfect or him!
30. The Face of First Aid
Back in the 90s, Shatner hosted a program called Rescue 911 which featured reenactments of real-life 911 rescues. As a result of the show, Shatner’s face appeared on the cover of the National Safety Council’s official first aid handbook, which he also endorsed.
For many Star Trek fans, one of the highlights of the series was a first-season fight between Captain Kirk and a Gorn warrior in the episode “Arena.” 46 years later, Shatner and the Gorn met for a rematch as part of a promotional commercial for Star Trek: The Video Game. Both Shatner and the alien might have been decades older, but the battle is definitely epic!
32. A Valuable Stone
It’s not unusual for celebrities to offer up strange items for charity, but Shatner might just take the cake for his donation. Shatner sold a kidney stone to the online casino GoldenPalace.com for $25,000, and the money from the sale went to Habitat for Humanity. The casino originally offered a mere $15,000 for the stone, but Shatner refused, stating that the tunics he wore in Star Trek have gone for over $100k.
33. We Remembered Our Lines!
Before Star Trek, while Shatner was having difficulty finding roles, he filmed a bizarre horror film called Incubus which was shot entirely in Esperanto, an invented language from the 19th-century. When asked about the project, Shatner quipped, “no one forgot his lines; although that may have been due to the fact that no one knew their lines, no one understood their lines, and no one knew if anyone else was saying their lines correctly.”
34. Performing Palin
On a July 2009 episode of Conan O’Brien’s late night TV show, Shatner brought his dramatic flair to Sarah Palin’s Gubernatorial resignation speech by performing it as beat poetry. He reprised the gag in December of that year by reading from her memoir. But Shatner was in for a surprise when the tables were turned on him and Palin turned up to read from his book. That’s what they call poetic justice!
35. Popular Pitch Man
Shatner has practically made a second career as a spokesperson for a variety of popular brands. One of his first ads was a commercial for SuperValu that aired on channels in British Columbia back in the 70s. Since then, he has appeared in ads for the Commodore-64 computer, Oldsmobile, Promise margarine, and most famously, Priceline.com.
36. Not His Love Child
A man by the name of Peter Sloan claimed to be the illegitimate son of William Shatner, and in 2016, filed a lawsuit against the actor for slander, libel, and defamation for publicly denying his claim. In June 2018, a judge dismissed the case, finding that since there is no proof of paternity, none of Shatner’s statements would have been false when he made them. Maybe Sloan should have tried Ancestry.com!
37. The Album That Went Wrong
In 1968 Shatner recorded a spoken-word album called The Transformed Man offering highly dramatic spoken-word versions of contemporary songs such as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Shatner was seriously mocked by the likes of Dave Barry and Mad Magazine, who called the album “truly unfortunate.”
38. Unique Perspective
Despite being widely parodied, Shatner refused to acknowledge just how bad the album was, claiming instead that it was an “acting performance” from the perspective of someone who was on the drug LSD. Either he was seriously deluded or that was first-hand knowledge!
39. Get Me Out of Here!
When George Clooney was asked what music he would bring along if he were ever stranded on a desert island, he listed Shatner’s The Transformed Man, but not because he liked it. Clooney explained that he would bring the disc along to give him a reason to get off the island quickly, quipping, “If you listen to [it], you will hollow out your own leg and make a canoe out of it to get off this island.
40. A Magical Trip
In his memoir Live Long and… What I Might Have Learned Along the Way, Shatner discusses his experience with drugs. He admits to having “some good moments with marijuana” in the past and also talks about the time he tried magic mushrooms in a coffee shop in Amsterdam. He particularly remembers thinking that Alice in Wonderland was the description of a “psychedelic trip,” and since he always loved the book, the chance to visit Wonderland was too good to pass up!
41. Down on His Luck
The cancellation of Star Trek in 1969 wasn’t the only bit of bad luck to befall Shatner that year. His first wife Gloria Rand left him, and he was left with $1,800 to his name and few roles on the horizon. While his wife moved to Beverly Hills after the divorce, Shatner lived in his truck for three years with his dog, doing summer stock theatre.
42. A Crappy Experience
The night before his one-man show was set to open on Broadway, Shatner got a nasty case of food poisoning. He managed to push it aside for the first part of the show, but about halfway through, it hit him again and he, in his words, “crapped [his] pants.” He still remembers the experience vividly, and no wonder! Not the opening he was hoping for.
43. The Final Straw
Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were close friends for decades, even long after Star Trek ended. However, in 2011, Nimoy stopped speaking to Shatner and didn’t speak to him again for the last five years of his life. While there was never a big argument or fight, Shatner’s guess is that it ended over Shatner’s documentary. Shatner allegedly asked Nimoy to appear in the documentary, and when Nimoy refused, Shatner’s cameraman secretly filmed him during a convention appearance to secure footage. That Nimoy died without repairing their friendship is something Shatner admits to he will “wonder about and regret forever.”
44. Tragic Discovery
On August 9, 1999, Shatner came home and found the body of his third wife Nerine Kidd Shatner at the bottom of their swimming pool. She was just 40 years old. An autopsy showed that Kidd had alcohol and valium in her blood and the coroner ruled her death an accident. It was later revealed that Kidd had suffered from alcoholism, and Shatner blamed her tragic death on the disease. Her death was extremely painful for him, calling it “the type of pain that makes you think either I’m simply going to die or I’m going to kill myself.”