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Creator / William Shatner

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"'Has been' implies failure. Not so. 'Has been' is history. 'Has been' was. 'Has been'... might again."
William Shatner, "Has Been"

The Kirk.

William Shatner OC (born March 22, 1931 in Montreal, Quebec) is a Canadiannote  actor and one of the most charming and 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, Shatner 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. Lesser-known is his cover of Harry Chapin's "Taxi" on The Dinah Shore Show circa 1973 (and yes, that's a timecode).

In the late 2000s, 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 Shatner's native Canada 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 his co-stars 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, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, and James Doohan. Shatner's most famous spat was with 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 Star Trek Memories, but showing genuine regret for alienating the cast allowed the two to reconcile before Doohan was incapacitated by Alzheimer's Disease. Memories also allowed Shatner to settle affairs with 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 apologies, they reconciled and remained friends. He similarly mended fences with Takei, but apparently their relationship soured again when Shatner did not receive an invitation to Takei's wedding (Takei insists that he sent an invitation to Shatner).

In more recent years, Shatner has developed a sense of humor, mostly about himself, and become 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").

Also worth mentioning is his famed "Get a Life" sketch on Saturday Night Live, wherein he berated Trek fans for living in their parents' basement; 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. Since then, he's joined Reddit (username "williamshatner"), where he refuses to be treated as a celebrity.

Shatner has 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. 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 impostor with nifty powers). The success of the Shatnerverse novels inspired him to create the non-Trek series, TekWar, with co-author Ron Goulart, and finally strike out on his own with the Quest For Tomorrow series. His latest book is an autobiography titled Up Till Now, which is Actually Pretty 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. His 1979 autobiography Shatner: Where No Man ... by William Shatner, Sondra Marshak, Myrna Culbreath was less well received.

Before Star Trek, Shatner appeared in a supporting role in the widely acclaimed film Judgment at Nuremberg, played Alyosha in the film version of The Brothers Karamazov, and was also that guy that saw something on the wing. Shatner also starred as a cop in T.J. Hooker, appeared as Commander Buck Murdock in Airplane II: The Sequel, 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 and a video game, in both of 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.

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!"
(Bonus points for doing the hand and arm motions)

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 himself has given various origins behind this unique vocal patterns:

  • 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."
  • Back in his theater days, he 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." Hey, if it ain't broke....
  • Again in theater, he would be playing to a small audience and when some of the few people remaining got up to leave, he so desperately wanted them to stay he would play up the lines in a unique way to catch their attention. And it worked, people were so caught off-guard by it they would sit back down expecting something big to happen.

Note that the more people try this, the better chance they're bad at it.

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, but no doubt someone may bring this up again in the future, when it comes time to select a new viceroy.

In May 2010, The Daily Telegraph reported that, when Shatner began doing ads for travel website 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 honorary doctorate from McGill University, his alma mater. In other words, he's a doctor, not a starship captain!

In 2014, saw the release of Chaos on the Bridge, a documentary about the difficult first years of Star Trek: The Next Generation's production, which Shatner had written, directed, and hosted.

Was also the host and narrator of a Speculative Documentary series on Syfy called Weird Or What. From 2016-2018, he appeared in a reality series on NBC called Better Late Than Never in which he traveled first Asia and then Europe with celebrities Henry Winkler, Terry Bradshaw and George Foreman, as well as relative unknown Jeff Dye.

On October 13, 2021, Captain Kirk took off for real as Shatner became the oldest person to be launched into space at age 90, on a short sub-orbital flight of Blue Origin.

His work (outside of Kirk) includes:




  • The Transformed Man (1968)
  • William Shatner Live (1977) (live double album)
  • Has Been (2004)
  • Exodus: An Oratorio in Three Parts (2008)
  • Seeking Major Tom (2011)
  • Ponder the Mystery (2013)
  • Why Not Me (2018)
  • Shatner Claus (2018)
  • The Blues (2020)
  • Bill (2021)


  • TekWar (1989)
  • Has appeared in commercials for travel website since 1997.

Tropes Applying to William Shatner’s roles:

  • Adam Westing: He's come to embrace the fact that people view him as an egotistical Large Ham with strange musical tastes so he plays to their expectations.
    • From the music video for "Online":
      Estelle Harris: ...and he [Brad Paisley] can sing!
      Shatner: I can't sing?
      Harris: NO!
  • Broke the Rating Scale: A review of Shatner's 2004 spoken-word album Has Been by Pascal Wyse of The Guardian landed in this trope's "Impossible to Rate" category. Instead of using the paper's normal 1- to 5-star scale, Wyse called it "beyond the star system".
    This CD is beyond good or bad. It is from a world where concepts such as "unique" and "indispensible" [sic] live happily alongside "hilariously, brain-tearingly wrong".
  • 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,note  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 II writer-director Nicholas Meyer said that he actually found how to make Bill give a good performance - he intentionally ran Shatner through repeated takes of the same scene until he got tired, stopped overacting, and started acting.
  • Dramatic Pause: He has...been accused of...overusing...this trope.
  • Evil Is Hammy: I'M CAPTAIN KIRK!!!
  • Fake American: He was born and raised in Montreal, attending college at McGill. He's played mostly Amercians throughout his career and lived in the US since 1954, but hasn't become a US citizen.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: He's kept in touch with that Gorn captain.
  • 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, though he also mentions that he's since become better known as Denny Crane.
    • This was brought up in his documentary The Captains, specifically in his scenes with Patrick Stewart. He talks about how he originally wanted to distance himself from the role, but eventually he finally realized how important it was to people, and as a result, it became important to him too.
  • I Was Young and Needed the Money: After his interview with Patrick Stewart for The Captains — during which Stewart revealed that, at first, he (Stewart) had taken his work on Star Trek: The Next Generation a bit too seriously — Shatner apparently had a personal revelation, realizing that he (Shatner) hadn't bothered to take his role as Captain Kirk seriously at all back in the day, and had basically been phoning in his performances.
    Shatner: While talking to Patrick about his dedication to the craft, it came to me suddenly that during the filming of the series, I'd basically been a lazy bum, turning in hack performances for an easy paycheck. I'd been doing them a complete disservice to the other actors. Unfortunately, it was too late to apologize to James Doohan or DeForest Kelley, but I did get a chance to apologize to Leonard before he died. The magnanimous son-of-a-bitch forgave me.
  • Large Ham: Some say he is, in fact, the most defining example in American television. He even adorns the page image.
  • Money, Dear Boy:
    • The decade between the end of the original Star Trek series and the beginning of the film franchise was a rough period for himnote  and saw him grabbing any work he could find. He did Made-for-TV Movie roles, guest shots on TV shows, B-movies for the likes of Roger Corman, low-budget made-in-Canada features, and the notorious Impulse, a cheesy Hitchcock-wannabe tale with him as a Bluebeard, shot in 15 days in and around Tampa, Florida.
    • His appearance on Have I Got News for You came about because he was in Europe buying horses and he appreciated being offered a last-minute, quick-paying gig in the middle of such an expensive tripnote .
  • Outsider Music: His musical career is... well... eccentric. Most of it is talking rather than singing, with odd pauses, and therefore identified by Irwin Chusid as "Outsider Music."
  • Rage Quit: He did this on a celebrity episode of Wheel of Fortune in 1997. And let's not forget the infamous chair-throwing incident on The $20,000 Pyramid....
  • Say My Name: The trope formerly known as "The Khan."
  • Shakespearian Actor: Seriously, he performed both on TV and in Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Festival, one of the classiest theater 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. He once claimed in Get a Life! that he developed the style when acting in some minor theater, to keep the audience awake.
  • Star-Making Role: Who knows what would have happened if Jeffrey Hunter had chosen to stay with Star Trek?
  • Your Costume Needs Work: According to Get a Life!, he was once told that his Captain Kirk was inferior to that of Kevin Pollack. By his daughter. The next time he saw Pollack, he got some tips from him.
  • You Say Tomato: Every time Kirk says "Nazi" in "Patterns of Force."