Science fiction guesses at the inexplicable, and people are always interested in guessing at what the future holds.

If All The World's a Stage

William shatner boldly goes where few men have gone

By Jason Santerre

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts . . .

Willie Shakespeare’s deft summation of the human experience could also depict one player in particular, Montreal’s one and only William Shatner. After 84 years on this big, blue spinning stage we’ve all entered and will one day exit, Mr. Shatner has managed to play more parts than most. He started early. March 22, 1931 to be exact. “I was performing right from the word go,” he says. “I was a knight defending his castle upon the snow banks of Terrebonne Street in NDG, where I had many adventures.”

And every adventurer needs a horse. “Wandering along the western edge of town, I came across a field of horses. I was transfixed. Of course I couldn’t afford one, but the stable owner said that if I helped clean the stalls he’d let me ride.”

So began Mr. Shatner’s love for all things equine. “Thirty years ago, I attended the Hollywood Charity Horse Show. There was a boy who’d been affected by thalidomide. He only had one leg, yet he was holding the reins with his toes, and having the best time. It moved me to tears. When the organizers couldn’t run the show anymore, I took over.”

From the snowbanks of NDG to the Hollywood hills might seem like a long way for a little fish to swim, and it is. Timing, especially in Tinseltown, is everything. In 1966, three years before humans stepped onto the moon, a young Bill Shatner stepped onto a soundstage where everything would change. Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise brought space travel into North American living rooms and secured a spot in pop culture’s pantheon forever.

This year marks Star Trek’s 50th anniversary. “People love the series because they get to see themselves, see each other,” says Mr. Shatner today. “I’d suggest that it’s mythology, one that seeks to explain the inexplicable. Science fiction guesses at that, and people are always interested in guessing at what the future holds.”

Despite the show’s success, Mr. Shatner was eager to distance himself from the Star Trek franchise and demonstrate his thespian range. There was the hit police drama T.J. Hooker and the very first reality-based series, Rescue 911. He added to his small-screen legacy by playing the boorish yet wonderfully weird Denny Crane on The Practice, a role he reprised on Boston Legal. He was the first actor to win two Emmy awards for the same character on two different shows. Eat your heart out, Johnny Depp.

Who better to address the 2011 graduating class at McGill, his alma mater, than the Montrealer who purposely avoided the paths of least resistance? “Don’t be afraid of taking chances and striking out on paths less trodden,” he told those fresh-faced graduates. “Don’t be afraid of making an ass of yourself. I do it all the time and look at what I got.”

And just look at the eclectic collection of cover tunes he recorded on Seeking Major Tom. It certainly raised eyebrows. The song list, for one, included Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.” Hard rock guitar dude Zakk Wylde played on the track, helping Mr. Shatner win a Headbanger award from Revolver Magazine. “I’m not goofing,” he insisted in an interview with “I was trying to do heavy metal with Zakk Wylde. It’s quite a compliment to get to do that.” Who said the man took himself seriously?

Also in 2011, Mr. Shatner flew to Australia, launching his one-man show Shatner’s World. Brisk ticket sales allowed him to retool the show and perform it again Down Under four years later. He had just returned from Sydney when he spoke to us, and we asked, how do you feel?

“With people standing and applauding every night? I mean, what could make you feel better? After two hours of me, alone on stage, running and jumping and shouting, well it’s great exercise.”

Do you recommend that everyone nearing the age of 85 do a one-man show? “Every night is a huge exercise in agility and dexterity, and all of that despite arthritis and two hip replacements.”

How is twice the amount of energy of men half your age possible? “It’s funny. While touring Australia, a man came up to me and said ‘you look pretty good for an old fella.’ I took his compliment as an insult but I look at 85 with awe and think, how did I ever get here? How did I make it? The good news is I feel like I’m 30.”

Is the age of 85 a milestone? “It’s a millstone, actually, and it’s hanging around my neck. I mean, 85! It’s the age of an old man.” What keeps you motivated? “Fear.”

Ever think about retiring? “I don’t play golf. I never had time to learn.”

Winter 2016, Vol 8 N°1

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