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William Shatner, pop culture icon

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From 1966-68, William Shatner played Captain James Tiberius Kirk in the original “Star Trek” TV series. As the macho and goodhearted Kirk, Shatner displayed a unique acting style punctuated by hyper-dramatic pauses and inflections. Though many considered this style overblown (so much so that it has birthed the adjective “Shatnerian”), it fit the interesting dynamic that emerged between the series’ three principals: the passionate Kirk, the icy Spock and the cantankerous Dr. McCoy. It was this chemistry, along with the show’s futuristic premise and progressive display of a harmonious, interracial crew, that helped make “Star Trek” a pop cultural phenomenon even after the original series ended. By extension, as Star Trek films and TV spin-offs multiplied, Shatner himself gleaned a degree of immortality for having been the first captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Through the 1970s and 1980s, Shatner both worked within the “Star Trek” franchise and ventured out into the greater showbiz universe, even going so far as to spoof his own blustery acting style and cult icon status. In this way, Shatner has kept his resume varied: from the 1980s TV series “T.J. Hooker” to today’s gigs as priceline.com spokesperson and host, actor, producer and director of various series and specials (including 2001’s “50th Annual Miss America Pageant”).

William Shatner was born March 22, 1931 in Montreal, Quebec. He graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce from McGill University in Montreal, where a building (The Shatner Building) was named after him by student referendum in the 1990s. In 1956, Shatner moved to New York to pursue acting. Long before donning a Star Fleet uniform, Shatner played Alexey Karamazov in 1958’s The Brothers Karamazov, alongside Yul Brenner and Maria Schell. He also worked extensively in TV, from 1950s live programs such as “The United States Steel Hour” to the original “The Twilight Zone” series. His other film credits include Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), the utterly strange Esperanto-language horror film Incubus (1963) and Miss Congeniality (2000).

In 1966, Shatner was tapped to captain the Starship Enterprise for a five-year mission to explore space. And though the mission was cut short in 1968 due to cancellation, fans kept the torch burning for their beloved TV show. Throughout the 1970s, Paramount Studios was developing plans to revive the series. Then-Paramount executive Michael Eisner, however, opted for a feature film. While Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) received mixed reviews, it was enough of a hit to inspire innumerable sequels and (to date) four TV spin-offs. Shatner starred in Star Treks I-VI. Shatner also directed 1989’s Star Trek V, and wrote a series of sci-fi novels, the “TekWar” series, eventually directing, producing and acting in some episodes of his novels’ TV serialization as well.

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He then capitalized on his out-size persona, delivering “Shatnerian” performances in priceline.com TV ads and as host to the TV shows “Iron Chef: USA”, “One Hit Wonders” and others as well as most recently 2014’s The Shatner Project – a reality show in which he renovated his house.

William Shatner has three children, all by his first wife. Twice divorced, Shatner lost his third wife to a drowning accident in 1999. Since 2001, however, he has been happily married to Elizabeth Anderson Martin, with whom he shares a passion for horses.


Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.

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