A Birthday Celebration Of William Shatner With A Look At His Illustrious Career

Actor, author, musician, producer, host, spokesperson, and pop culture legend William Shatner turns 86 today. No matter what kind of geek colors you wear, in the pantheon of legendary actors of geekdom, Shatner is one of the faces carved permanently into stone. Shatner’s career in creativity spans 70 years, all the way back to Canada where he began acting. Shatner’s film and TV credits stretch as far as the eye can see. The actor’s impact on pop culture is undeniable.

Happy Birthday, William Shatner!


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After graduating from McGill University in 1952, Shatner hit the stage, performing in classics and new works alike. In his time at the Canadian National Repertory Theatre, the young man honed his acting skills by mastering the most fundamental of fundamentals — Shakespeare.


During the 1950s and early 60s, Shatner moved from stage to screen, becoming a regular on TV and in movies. At one point in his young career, the actor was compared with contemporaries like Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Robert Redford. Of course, as we know now, Shatner’s career took a drastically different route than those legends. Instead of movie stardom, the “work equals work” philosophy lead the actor to take a lot of nameless, thankless roles that diminished his standing as an up and coming star.

Two of the random roles Shatner took during the early 60s were in episodes of anthology series The Twilight Zone. During “Nightmare At 20,000 Feet” Shatner sees a gremlin on the wing of a plane during a stormy flight. Madness sets in as no one else sees the figure outside. The episode is one of the most parodied of all Twilight Zone.


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In early 1966, Shatner starred in an odd little film by the name of Incubus. It’s the one and only film to be entirely produced in the language of Esperanto. Soon after, he was cast Captain James T. Kirk in the second pilot for the original Star Trek. Shatner went on to play the role for three seasons before its cancellation in 1969. For now, Star Trek was just another short-lived project.


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After Star Trek, Shatner went back to “work is work.” During the late 60s and early 70s, Shatner appeared in Kung Fu, Mission: Impossible, and The Six Million Dollar Man. Mr. Priceline Negotiator also appears in a Roger Corman flick, Big Bad Mama and the dreadful The Horror At 37,000 Feet. A once-promising career was leveling off at mediocre.

During this period, Shatner found himself on hard times. For extra money, the actor would take many an odd job, including appearing as Captain Kirk at kids parties. In 1973, Star Trek briefly returned as an animated series and Shatner returned to provide Kirk’s voice. The seeds of future fandom were just about to sprout.


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Another phenomenon began in earnest during the 1970s — conventions. At first, Shatner appeared at many of them, but as his acting work became steady again, the actor’s personal contempt for fans at the time lead him to avoid conventions more and more. However, in 1977, a man by the name of George Lucas introduced the world to Star Wars. Lucas’ seminal science fiction movie was not only a blockbuster hit; the film reinvigorated the sci-fi genre.

In 1979, after a halfhearted attempt at rebooting Star Trek on TV, Paramount produced Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The film had everything it needed to succeed: the budget was massive, the original actors were all back, and the creative team fell under the direction of science fiction legend Robert Wise. Critics mostly panned Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but it killed at the box office. Criticism of the film being uneven and cerebral was fair, but it didn’t matter, Star Trek was back.

During the 1980s, four more Star Trek films achieved box office success. Famously, Star Trek II (1982) and Star Trek IV (1986) the “even” numbered films in the series, were the standouts. The final film of the 80s, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was a disaster, mainly because Shatner tried his hand at directing.

Not only did Shatner have four successful films during the 80s, though, but he also appeared in a few others like Airplane II: The Sequel and starred in the ABC cop series TJ Hooker which ran for four seasons (yes, longer than Star Trek!).



In 1987, Star Trek evolved for the next generation with Patrick Stewart as Captain of the Enterprise. After a couple rough first few seasons, Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:TNG) found its footing, and when it did, the original Trek seemed ancient. In 1991, Star Trek VI became the final film with the original crew.

In 1994, Shatner would reprise the role of Captain James T. Kirk for the last time. Star Trek: The Next Generation enjoyed seven award-winning seasons, and Paramount was now ready to spin it off back into the film. Star Trek: Generations featured the new crew of the Enterprise in a time-bending story that brings Captain Kirk into the fold. Generations would end with Kirk’s death. Say what you will about the sequence of the film, many fans hate it, but one thing was clear — Captain Kirk was no more. Shatner once again began life after Captain Kirk.

Shatner hosted dramatic reenactment show Rescue 9-1-1 from 1989 to 1996. During this time, “Tek War,” a series of science fiction novels written by Shatner became bestsellers. “Tek War” also became a TV movie and short-lived tv show featuring the actor.

Shatner co-wrote nine “Tek War” novels with Ron Goulart. Shatner also collaborated with two other writers, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens to co-author ten books based on Star Trek.


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Whew! I’m skipping over a lot of a career that is long, varied, and never a dull moment. Read his autobiography!

Shatner’s recorded albums! In 1968 it was a borderline creepy spoken word novel with covers of “Tamborine Man” and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” while Shatner’s version of “Rocket Man” must be seen to be believed. In 2004, Ben Folds, yeah, like from the Ben Folds Five, helped co-produce Shatner’s second album. Shatner produced a third album in 2011.

Shatner’s love-hate relationship with Star Trek and its fans is all love now. But there was a time when the actor wasn’t fond of the show or its Trekkies. Shatner’s written several books and produced several documentaries about Star Trek. Chaos on the Bridge covers the first few seasons of ST:TNG. Get A Life! Is a documentary Shatner made for EPIX based on his 1999 book that centers on Star Trek fandom.

Oh, yeah, before I forget! The actor, writer, producer, singer, personality also won two Emmy Awards for his work on Boston Legal and The Practice.


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I don’t know William Shatner and would likely collapse like a board from paralysis caused by joy if I ever did meet him. But something I’ve seen in him, a quality that shows up in his books, roles, music, and more, is joyful passion. “Work equals work,” Shatner says, and it could be taken cynically, but if you love the work you do like Shatner clearly does, then “work equals work” is a beautiful mantra to live by. Beyond Captain Kirk, Priceline, or the larger-than-life personality, Shatner exudes this joyful passion, and it’s what makes him such a powerful icon in pop culture.

Ruben Diaz
Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.