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A pop culture legend and one of American television's most enduring stars, the multi-talented William Shatner started out as simply an actor. By the twilight of his career, however, Shatner successfully managed to transmogrify into something more. By turning his amiable persona into a one-man, multi-million dollar cottage industry, Shatner's legacy in show business survived for more than five decades. Breaking into show business during television's golden age of drama in the 1950s, Shatner became a regular face on the guest star circuit before landing the role that would forever immortalize him; that of the dashing, supremely confident Captain James T. Kirk of "Star Trek" (NBC, 1966-69). After "Trek" went off the air, Shatner became haunted by the persistent spirit of the Enterprise captain, despite starring in seven "Star Trek" features, most notably "The Wrath of Khan" (1982) and "The Voyage Home" (1986). Eventually, however, he made peace with his famous alter ego and even learned to embrace Kirk. In the 1980s, he enjoyed a successful television run as "T.J. Hooker" (ABC, 1982-85; CBS, 1985-87) and later in his career, did a series of commercials for travel website Priceline. Naturally, he...
A pop culture legend and one of American television's most enduring stars, the multi-talented William Shatner started out as simply an actor. By the twilight of his career, however, Shatner successfully managed to transmogrify into something more. By turning his amiable persona into a one-man, multi-million dollar cottage industry, Shatner's legacy in show business survived for more than five decades. Breaking into show business during television's golden age of drama in the 1950s, Shatner became a regular face on the guest star circuit before landing the role that would forever immortalize him; that of the dashing, supremely confident Captain James T. Kirk of "Star Trek" (NBC, 1966-69). After "Trek" went off the air, Shatner became haunted by the persistent spirit of the Enterprise captain, despite starring in seven "Star Trek" features, most notably "The Wrath of Khan" (1982) and "The Voyage Home" (1986). Eventually, however, he made peace with his famous alter ego and even learned to embrace Kirk. In the 1980s, he enjoyed a successful television run as "T.J. Hooker" (ABC, 1982-85; CBS, 1985-87) and later in his career, did a series of commercials for travel website Priceline. Naturally, he received acclaim for his Emmy-winning role as the eccentric attorney Denny Crane on the hit drama "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-08), which underscored his uncanny ability to confound critics and exceed expectations of his delighted fans.
The son of Jewish-Canadian clothier Joseph Shatner and his wife, Anne, William Shatner was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on March 22, 1931. Shatner's career began as a child in CBC radio productions. Even at that tender young age, Shatner knew he wanted to be a professional actor, but his father's disapproval of the profession temporarily sidelined his ambitions. To please his father, Shatner majored in business at McGill University, but never gave up his dream. After graduating in 1949, Shatner reneged on his promise to join his father's clothing firm and joined the Canadian Repertory Company in Ottawa instead. In 1956, Shatner gained attention with his Broadway debut in Sir Tyrone Guthrie's production of "Tamburlaine the Great." He initially turned down a movie contract to remain with the repertory company, but once moving to NYC, the actor quickly became busy in television.
Shatner's screen acting career could be divided into several phases. In the 1960s, the young actor appeared in a number of TV anthologies, usually playing convincingly earnest, clean-cut men who would ultimately be pushed to increasingly hysterical and emotional heights. His dual appearances on "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1959-1964) in the episodes "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and "Nick of Time" were considered among the most memorable entries of the historic show. In the former, Shatner played a recovering mental patient bedeviled by a gremlin on the wing of his airplane; in the latter, he was half of a newlywed couple bewitched by a fortune-telling machine.
In 1966, the ultimate role fell in his lap - that of James Tiberius Kirk - when he joined the cast of the Desilu-produced Gene Roddenberry creation, "Star Trek." Captain Kirk was a swaggering, devil-may-care sort who was equally credible barking commands, romancing a native, or engaging in fisticuffs. A classic creation, his Captain was both a formidable leader and a good drinking buddy, once you got past his peculiarly halting, yet portentous line delivery. While "Star Trek" quickly became a cult fave among college students and intellectuals of the time, ratings for show were mediocre at best and remained so for its entire run. Faced with low ratings and mounting costs, NBC finally cancelled "Star Trek" in 1969 after three seasons, a full two years short of its supposed five-year mission.
Shatner's career slumped badly during the post-"Trek" 1970s. Wiped out financially following his 1969 divorce from his first wife, Gloria Rand, Shatner desperately took whatever acting gigs came his way. In addition to appearing on the celebrity game show circuit, the actor also returned to features in mostly low-budget genre fare, a la "Big Bad Mama" in 1974; "The Devil's Rain" in 1975; and "Kingdom of the Spiders" in 1977. Around this same period, Shatner also diversified his talents by dabbling in music recording. That Shatner could also be a hoot just to hear was amply demonstrated by his ineffably goofy recordings of spoken word renditions of songs such as "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "Mr. Tambourine Man." Years later, Shatner's dramatic performance of Elton John's "Rocket Man" at a televised sci-fi awards show in the late 1970s would remain a highly coveted bootleg video.
As much as he struggled, however, Shatner never successfully escaped the long shadow of Captain Kirk. Ironically, Shatner's career and personal finances were eventually saved by the very show that had been responsible for sinking him in the first place. In the late 1970s, due to popular demand - not to mention the runaway success of 20th Century Fox's "Star Wars," which had been released the previous summer - Paramount Pictures green-lit "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" (1979), a big-budget feature adaptation of the "Star Trek" TV series. Produced by Gene Roddenberry and directed by Academy Award winner Robert Wise, "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" became a box office hit. Though nowhere the money-maker "Star Wars" was, the film earned a more-than-respectable $82 million, despite scathing reviews from critics and a storyline that seemingly went nowhere. Based on the success of the first "Star Trek" movie, Paramount signed Shatner on for a series of sequels which included 1982's "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (considered by fans to be the film series' high point), "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" (1984), "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" (1986), "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" (1989) and "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" (1991).
Ironically, Shatner found far greater immediate commercial success on TV as L.A. police officer "T.J. Hooker" (ABC, 1982-85; CBS, 1985-87) than he did as Kirk. With his career as a viable leading man resuscitated, Shatner signed on to play a middle-aged police detective who improbably returns to uniformed cop duty because he feels he can do more good on the streets. Amusingly clichéd and bombastically Shatner, the mediocre but nevertheless popular "T.J. Hooker" owed much of its success to its star's popularity - that, and the sexy appeal of Shatner's newcomer co-star Heather Locklear.
After that show's cancellation, Shatner took off on a long, comfortable stint hosting "Rescue 911" (CBS, 1989-1995), a popular reality-based program. He also published his first novel, a futuristic techno-thriller entitled TekWar. This fast-moving sci-fi potboiler was so successful, that it inaugurated a lucrative multimedia franchise. Shatner went on to become a prolific novelist as well as the co-author of two collections of "Trek"-related memoirs and one meditation on "Trek" fandom titled Get a Life - a line from his hilarious 1986 "Saturday Night Live" hosting gig in which he mockingly browbeat a convention full of obsessed Trekkies. Shatner was also the credited author of a series of "Star Trek" novels starring James T. Kirk (ghost-written by husband and wife authors Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens). He also remained a regular presence on TV, often appearing as a knowing and good-natured self-parody on talk shows and specials, notably hosting "Star Trek: A Captain's Log" (CBS, 1994) and co-hosting along with "Star Trek" cohort, Leonard Nimoy "The Museum of Television & Radio Presents: Science Fiction - A Journey into the Unknown" (Fox, 1994).
Toward the mid-1990s, Shatner created, executive produced, directed and co-starred in a 1994 TV-movie adaptation of "TekWar," also overseeing and appearing in three subsequent "TekWar" telefilms that season. In addition, Shatner served as executive producer, recurring character and occasional director on the cable TV series spin-off, "TekWar" (USA Network, 1994-95). Finally, in 1994, Shatner returned to the helm of the U.S.S. Enterprise for one last adventure as captain of the Enterprise in the successful "Star Trek: Generations" (1994), wherein Kirk passed the baton and the franchise over to Patrick Stewart's Captain Picard. Although the film was not as fulfilling as many had hoped, Shatner's performance as Kirk was one of his most endearing in years, showing the good captain's self-deprecating side. On a different note, Shatner revisited his questionable singing talents in the late 1990s and early 2000s when, as a pitchman for the Internet travel website Priceline.com, he filmed several commercials singing Shatner-ized pop standards; not only did the spots rocket the company into the public eye, they also increased stockholder Shatner's portfolio. In 2009, Shatner celebrated his ten year anniversary as the company's pitchman.
Shatner found himself making headlines for a more unfortunate reason in 1999 when his estranged third wife, Nerine Kidd, drowned in the swimming pool of their Los Angeles home. Kidd, a recovering alcoholic, had reportedly returned to drinking toward the end of her life - a problem that caused a schism in the Shatner's two-year marriage (Shatner had divorced his second wife, Marcy Lafferty, in 1994 after 21 years). On the evening of Aug. 9, 1999, Shatner returned home to find Kidd floating face down near the deep-end of their swimming pool. After alerting 911, the panicked Shatner dove into the pool to recover her, but was unable to revive her. Nerine Shatner was declared dead at the scene by paramedics at 10:30pm. The next day, the visibly shaken icon held a press conference and made the following brief statement: "My beautiful wife is dead. She meant everything to me. Her laughter, her tears and her joy will remain with me the rest of my life." An official investigation of Kidd's death, conducted by the L.A.P.D., quickly ruled out foul play and the death was subsequently ruled an accident.
Ever the trooper, Shatner soldiered on, soon becoming a ubiquitous presence on TV as the host, narrator or subject of countless cable series, specials and documentaries. In 2002 he released the DVD/video project "Mind Meld: Behind the Voyages of a Lifetime," in which he and his "Trek" co-star and best friend Nimoy engaged in a filmed conversation about their shared experiences. The unusually intimate interview was, as Mr. Spock would say, "quite fascinating," as the two actors - polar opposites in personality and appearance - discussed the development of their unlikely bond and their personal issues such as Nimoy's alcoholism, Shatner's troubled relationships with his wives, and the resentment they both encountered from their "Star Trek" co-stars.
Entering what appeared to be the post-"Trek" phase of his career, Shatner embraced the kitschy side of his appeal in the 2000s and deftly employed his dry, self-deprecating wit to stay in the public eye. Shatner adroitly spoofed both his hammy reputation and his sci-fi icon status in dozens of film, TV and commercial projects, typically by playing himself. Some of Shatner's most memorable comedic turns as himself included "The Larry Sanders Show" (HBO, 1992-98), "Futurama" (Fox, 1999-2003), the Eddie Murphy-Robert De Niro comedy "Showtime" (2002), the sports comedy "Dodgeball" (2004) and, most effectively, in the charming 1998 feature film comedy "Free Enterprise." The latter movie, an autobiographical memoir of a sci-fi and film-obsessed director and his screenwriter buddy, was conceived by director Mark Robert Burnette and screenwriter/sci-fi journalist Mark Altman. At first, the pair approached Shatner to play himself as the super cool, Kirk-like idol of their youths but instead, Shatner himself personally convinced the filmmakers to go the other way. Misunderstood, unlucky at love and grandly delusional, the switch resulted in an effective and endearing performance from Shatner as Shatner.
Forging ahead into the new millennium, the actor forged yet another fresh career arc. After successful second and third acts, the septuagenarian Shatner revitalized his career yet again by reinventing himself as a wily, self-deprecating comedian. In 2003, Shatner shocked his fans by making a switch back to dramatic acting, appearing in six episodes of the final season of the long-running ABC legal drama "The Practice" (1997-2004). In a winning performance as James Spader's mentor, the eccentric legal legend Denny Crane, Shatner won an Emmy as Best Guest Actor in a Dramatic Series. "Practice" creator David E. Kelley eventually carried the character over into the spin-off series "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-08). Reprising his role as Crane, Shatner won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Miniseries, Movie or Series for his portrayal in the first season, followed by another Emmy in 2005; this time as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. That same year, Shatner revisited his musical ambitions with the 2004 album Has Been, which was produced by popular singer-songwriter Ben Folds. Unlike Shatner's earlier efforts, however, this album was well-received, and its tunes ranged from the intentionally amusing to the profoundly moving.
Clearly having a ball, the newly hip Shatner had a fun turn in the 2004 comedy "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" as the Chancellor of the playground game turned ESPN-8 competitive sport. He also voiced Ozzie, a possum given to highly theatrical death scenes when "playing possum," in the CGI-animated adaptation of the comic strip "Over the Hedge" (2006). Less successful was a decidedly over-the-top stint as the game show host on the short-lived 2006 ABC effort "Show Me the Money." On the other hand, Comedy Central scored major ratings with its 2006 televised roast of the actor, in which the notorious ham was skewered by such friends, co-stars and fellow celebrities as Jason Alexander, Sandra Bullock, Ben Stiller, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and Kevin Pollack.
In 2007, Shatner again found himself nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for portraying Denny Crane, a feat he repeated in 2008 and 2009. Meanwhile, he was set to host "Shatner's Raw Nerve" (2007-08), a half-hour talk show on the Biography Channel where he interviewed celebrities and politicians on a wide range of topics. That was, when he was not online making his displeasure with the "Star Trek" (2009) reboot and its director, J.J. Abrams known to fans via the Internet thoughout late 2007 and into 2008. When Nimoy was attached to the film, Shatner found numerous ways to voice his displeasure over not being included - to the point where Abrams was forced to address the issue in interviews, insisting it was nothing personal. Rumors abounded that it was more a financial issue, with Paramount unwilling to pony up the cash for both original "Trek" stars to appear in the reimagining. Regardless, Shatner was in the film in spirit, if not in the flesh, and the franchise enjoyed a great opening weekend and summer haul.
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