When I was a kid in the 80's, William Shatner's disposition toward Star Trek was more like disgust than anything. If he attended a conference at all, he was remarkably put-off. He seemed to hate the fact that he was seen more as Captain Kirk than any other character he played.

(The reason for that, by the way, is clear. Anyone can put themselves into Shatner's shoes and see how annoying it would be to have most of your work ignored.)

And, yet, it's not that way today. Not at all. William Shatner, today, seems to not only like Star Trek, but embrace his role as Captain Kirk. If you catch him at a conference, he's all about Star Trek and Captain Kirk - without any hesitation.

I know Shatner is getting old, and this might just be nostalgia or something, but was there something real that turned him from that hater to this lover? Don't get me wrong, I enjoy this Shatner most. And, clearly, by reading his memoirs, he doesn't seem to be kidding.

  • 9
    If you can't beat em...
    – DavidS
    Dec 4, 2015 at 17:13
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    Its that Saturday Night Live skit where he starts out with "Get a LIfe!" to the Trekkies, then when his contract is pointed out, does an about face.
    – Oldcat
    Dec 4, 2015 at 18:22
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    For decades, he had still much of his career ahead of him and didn't want to be a has-been best known for one role in his youth. Now his career is pretty much all behind him, and who loves him best? Trekkies do. Dear, dear Trekkies! Such lovely people! He would have loved to have done something that put Trek in the shade, but you get older and you make peace with how things turned out. Dec 4, 2015 at 21:09
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    @EdPlunkett otoh, Shattner has done some really great stuff since Star Trek, many of the more interesting and lovable roles happening after he dropped that chip off his shoulder. He's Denny Crane more than James T. Kirk to a rather broad audience that isn't interested in sci-fi, for example, and performed marvelously in that role.
    – zxq9
    Dec 6, 2015 at 9:56
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    @zxq9 I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't even know about that one! You know what, if he's had that much success much later in a completely unrelated role, that might make it easier to accept Star Trek too. No worries about pigeonholing then, just one more role audiences loved. Dec 7, 2015 at 3:07

4 Answers 4


This question is answered in a documentary called The Captains.

The movie follows around William Shatner as he interviews the captains from subsequent Star Trek incarnations.

The documentary also chronicles Shatner's own six-decade career and reveals the embarrassment he felt over his role within the Star Trek franchise. During the process of the film, with help from the other Captains, Shatner overcomes his disdain and learns to embrace his best known character, Captain James T. Kirk.

There is one particular scene where Shatner tells Patrick Stewart that seeing how seriously he handled playing Picard (Stewart treated Picard as a Shakespearean character) really helped Shatner overcome his embarrassment and take pride in his role as Kirk.

How much of that is genuine and how much of that is Shatner being Shatner is left up to the viewer.

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    Why was he embarrassed in the first place? Didn't he get to kiss lots of girls... the alien girls?
    – user931
    Dec 4, 2015 at 18:14
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    And Uhura. Let's not forget Uhura.
    – Mike
    Dec 4, 2015 at 18:31
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    Whether the documentary is chronicling realistic events in the mind and life of Shatner as they occur, or not, I think part of maturing into advanced adulthood is realizing that often the things we were once "most ashamed of" helped transform us into that which we have become and might even transformed us into the people we are proud to be, today. In short, maybe Shatner has matured and realized, in spite of being "Kirk" before "Shatner", he has a lot to be thankful for from Star Trek. Almost all of his prominence is owed to Roddenberry who casted him as the infamous character.
    – RLH
    Dec 4, 2015 at 21:15
  • The film "Free Enterprise" probably contributed to his realization that he could have fun with his history with the character and was largely still respected and loved
    – NKCampbell
    Dec 4, 2015 at 21:29
  • "How much of that is genuine and how much of that is Shatner being Shatner is left up to the viewer." Indeed. :-) Dec 5, 2015 at 20:07

The problem is that Shatner expected to move on and have a career apart from Kirk and Star Trek. It was a 2 year gig to him and something he didn't take seriously it seems. He had been in movies and shows before Star Trek, he and Nimoy thought it would continue, and it did but their characters in Trek overshadowed everything they did. They never saw or anticipated their careers becoming playing these characters forever. It's easy to see how they came to resent the roles they played even more when it's the only work you receive any notoriety for. If you talk about Nimoy, you don't talk about the photographer. You talk about Spock and maybe that In Search Of program. No one talks about Shatner as TJ Hooker or Danny Crane or that guy on the plane in Twilight Zone. He's Kirk!

I think once you realize a role resonates with people, that they identify you with it, and that they are willing to give you their time and money to show their appreciation of the work you did (whatever you might think of that work), your view naturally changes. You can make it work for you and maybe take a very Zen approach to it all. This wasn't part of the plan, but this is where I find myself and that's okay.

  • Actually when I think of Leonard Nimoy, I think of Spock and Paris from Mission Impossible. He was really excellent on there! Dec 4, 2015 at 21:22
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    I always think of Nimoy as the psychologist from Invasion of the Bodysnatchers for some reason. That, and his Bilbo song.
    – RSmith
    Dec 4, 2015 at 21:34
  • Definitely the Bilbo song...
    – Francesco
    Dec 4, 2015 at 22:16
  • Especially considering that Star Trek wasn't particularly popular at the time it originally aired. It wasn't a "hit", and had quite a short lifespan. It wasn't until many years later with syndication that it grew a mass audience, and by that time Shatner had gone on to other things. In his mind it likely made no sense that now everyone everywhere seemed to know him for a failed show he was on many years prior, rather than what he was doing currently. Syndication was still a fairly new concept and nobody had a VCR, so it probably was very confusing that people even knew of that old show.
    – JVC
    Dec 5, 2015 at 0:58
  • Sort of like George Reeves and Superman, once you get identified in a role that is all you are seen as...even in another show or movie. It can be hard once you become an iconic figure, most people tend to forget that.
    – MichaelF
    Dec 6, 2015 at 12:15

His album Has Been has a couple of poignant songs in which he speaks (pun intended) to his career and coming to terms with it -


Lyrics: http://www.metrolyrics.com/real-lyrics-william-shatner.html Music (unofficial video)

Has Been

a funny one calling out his detractors

Lyrics: http://www.metrolyrics.com/has-been-lyrics-william-shatner.html Music (unofficial video)


This is only opinion but it always seemed to me that his success in The Practice and Boston Legal gave him a place to stand as an actor that had nothing to do with Kirk. Having that affirmation of his ability made it easier to come back to the Star Trek community (within which his acting style was often made a joke of).

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    Shatner was never a bad actor, in my opinion. Certainly he has a very melodramatic style, but I think that's more to do with being a stage actor, a method actor, and was in keeping with a lot of TV acting at the time. Dec 5, 2015 at 13:08
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    @JesseMcCullough agree - and he was also the victim of some terrible episodes where he had to do some really stupid things in a serious manner in that method (looking at you Omega Glory)
    – NKCampbell
    Dec 5, 2015 at 16:12

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