William Shatner: Stories Of Star Trek's Captain Kirk's Real-Life And His Impact

William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk in the STAR TREK episode, "The Apple." Original airdate, October 13, 1967, season 2, episode 5. Image is a screen grab. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
As Captain Kirk on Star Trek, William Shatner carved out a place in TV sci-fi history. A brooding, brawling lothario, Kirk was the id of the otherwise cerebral crew of the Starship Enterprise. Though Kirk is William Shatner's career-defining role (with Denny Crane of Boston Legal and cop TJ Hooker in second and third place), Kirk isn't Shatner. Or is he? Off screen, William Shatner has a reputation as a moody egomaniac, and he's the Star Trek actor whom seemingly no one else in the cast gets along with. Maybe Kirk and Shatner aren't so different after all.

Shatner Is A Classically Trained Shakespearean Actor

Publicity photo from 1958. Source: (wikipedia)
Shatner was born and raised in Canada in a conservative Jewish household. He attended McGill University, where he studied Economics and graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. His time as an actor began when he was the business manager for the Mountain Playhouse in Montreal. He next joined the Canadian National Repertory Theater in Ottawa, training as a classical Shakespearean actor. This led to performing at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario in 1954. By 1956 he made his Broadway debut. His film debut had occurred in 1951 in the Canadian film Butler’s Night Off and his first feature role was The Brothers Karamazov in 1958. He continued to appear in film, on stage, and on TV throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, including appearances on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.

Shatner Was Down And Out After 'Star Trek' Ended

Source: SYFYWIRE.com)
In 1966, Shatner appeared in the second pilot of Star Trek. The first run of Star Trek only lasted from 1966-1969; Though the show was initially a strong performer, NBC canceled it due to low ratings. After the show was canceled, he had a tough time finding jobs. He lived in a truck-bed camper in the San Fernando Valley and he often took odd jobs just to support himself. His career started to bounce back with the release of syndicated episodes of Star Trek in the ‘70s, which led him to become a cultural icon as Star Trek found a cult following. He also appeared in the subsequent Star Trek films until his character’s death in the 6th film. In addition to all of his film, TV, and stage credits, he has recorded music and released spoken word recordings.

William Shatner Has Been Married Four Times

With his former wife, Nerine. Source: (Worldation.cm)
Shatner has been married four times. His first marriage, to Gloria Rand in 1956, ended in divorce; she left him while he was filming Star TrekThe Original Series. His second, to Marcy Lafferty lasted from 1973 to 1996, but also ended in divorce. His third marriage in 1997, to Nerrine Kidd Shatner, ended tragically. He came home on August 9, 1999 to find her dead in the swimming pool. The coroner found alcohol and valium in her bloodstream and ruled the death an accidental drowning. Shatner has spoken out about it, explaining that she was an alcoholic and crediting Leonard Nimoy with pointing it out to him after they all had dinner one night. He married his fourth wife, Elizabeth Martin, since 2001, but filed for divorce in 2019.

Kirk And Spock Were Close In Real Life

Shatner with Nimoy. Source: (TorontoStar.com)
There was slight rivalry between William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, who played the Vulcan Mr. Spock on Star Trek. Spock, with his exotic pointy ears and unusual emotionless persona, quickly became a fan favorite, and was receiving more mail at the studio than the star of the show, which irked Shatner. He also did not like the fact that Nimoy’s character appeared to much more intelligent than Kirk. Despite these superficial issues, they were close both off and on screen, appearing together quite often. Shatner’s wife’s death brought Shatner and Nimoy together and Nimoy was Shatner’s best man for his fourth marriage. Although Shatner was unable to attend Nimoy’s funeral, he sent his daughters in his stead and created his own online memorial to Nimoy. Shatner said of Nimoy: "I loved him like a brother. We will all miss his humor, his talent, and his capacity to love." Sadly, Nimoy stopped speaking to Shatner for the last few years of his life. Shatner does not know the reason for this refusal, but he has written a book about his friendship with Nimoy and indicated in 2016 that he was helping Nimoy’s son create a documentary about Nimoy.

Shatner Has Feuded With Most Of His 'Star Trek' Co-stars

With George Takei. Source: (famosos.culturamix.com)
Shatner’s relationships with the other actors on Star Trek seem to have been less congenial. Some of them, notably George Takei, Walter Koenig and James Doohan have accused him of being difficult to work with. Shatner was in a feud with George Takei for five decades which had no apparent cause. The two continue to take occasional jabs at each other, with Takei claiming that there is no tension between them, that it only occurs when Shatner needs some publicity. Shatner has tweeted about Takei’s obsession with Shatner’s “shiny ego” and how Takei uses it to get attention.

Shatner Ruled The 'Star Trek' Set, Or Tried To

TV's first interracial kiss. Source: (stuff.nz.com)
Shatner could be domineering on the set. The first inter-racial kiss on television occurred on Star Trek and was supposed to be between Spock and Uhura, but Shatner insisted that it would be between Kirk and Uhura, so the writers rewrote the script. They also filmed an alternative scene that did not include the kiss, just in case, but Shatner kept deliberately messing up each take so that they would use the scene with the kiss.

William Shatner Was Literally The Biggest Name In The Cast

His shirt was often ripped. Source: (TheMarySue.com)
Despite the fact that Shatner’s contract stated that he needed to have the most lines per episode, Shatner never watched the show. Additionally, Shatner’s name had to be larger in the credits than the other actors. While the show did help to make Shatner’s career, he hated the uniform he had to wear on the set. As he has explained, it was too tight.

Autographs? Nah. Kidney Stone? For A Price

Source: (TrekNews.net)
Shatner is also notably unwilling to sign autographs, though he has defended this position. While some of Shatner’s behavior seems to be driven by his ego, some may just be the result of other factors in her his personality. For example, after he had a kidney stone removed, he reportedly sold the stone to a casino for $25, 000, but not for his own benefit. He donated the proceeds of the sale to charity.

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