Star Trek is celebrating it’s 50 year anniversary this year and the franchise is still going strong, with a hit movie out this summer and a new series in development.
For many fans though the definitive ‘Trek’ was the original series, fronted expertly by William Shatner. The actor was superb as Captain Kirk, but his life and career outside of ‘Star Trek’ was, quite simply, insane
Here’s the evidence…
‘The Transformed Man’
In 1968, while the original 'Star Trek’ series was still airing on US TV, William Shatner unleashed his musical career on the unsuspecting public. His first album, a spoken word mash-up of poetry and pop lyrics named 'The Transformed Man’, is either a masterpiece of satire or one of the worst albums ever recorded.
His slow, considered dissection of classics like 'Mr Tambourine Man’ and 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ were ripe for parody, but he trumped himself in 1978 with a live performance of Elton John’s 'Rocket Man’, which was – if possible – even more bobbins. Still, it’s better than that song Leonard Nimoy sang about Hobbits.
Esperanto: The Movie
Even before he scoured the universe on missions to discover new life, William Shatner was attempting to bring the world closer together. In 1966 horror movie 'Incubus’, Shatner played a man battling the forces of evil on an island inhabited by wicked spirits.
So far, so straight-to-video, except the movie’s dialogue wasn’t spoken in English, but was entirely in Esperanto: the 'universal language’ that was cultured early in the 20th century to foster peace between nations. By the mid '60s, however, Esperanto had all but died out, meaning Incubus would be seen by few and understood by even fewer. These days you’ll probably find more people who talk Klingon.
El Capitan Kirk
William Shatner directed 'Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’ and opened the movie with Captain Kirk climbing a mountain – actually 'El Capitan’ in US national park Yosemite. Little did he know when filming a short piece to camera, explaining the allure of free-climbing, that his words would one day be turned into an irrepressibly jaunty internet ditty.
Repeating the spoken phrase “Captain Kirk is climbing the mountain, why is he climbing the mountain?” as its chorus, the track turned Shatner’s poetic descriptions into a would-be Europop classic. We’re particularly fond of the verse, too: “The climber wants to hug the mountain, he wants to envelop that mountain… he wants to make love to the mountain.” Honestly it didn’t take much to make Shatner’s love letter to climbing sound ridiculous.
Way before Jean-Claude Van Damme cornered the market in playing twin brothers who fight one another, William Shatner was doing the whole dual role thing in 1968 Western 'White Comanche’. The film, shot during the original TV run of 'Star Trek’, saw Shatner play twin brothers: Johnny Moon, a cowboy, and Notah, the 'white comanche’ of the title, who settled with the Indians and eventually fought his own flesh and blood. The sight of William Shatner baring both of his chests while engaging in hand-to-hand combat with himself is not one die-hard 'Star Trek’ fans are likely to forget in a hurry.
Blowing his top on 'The Pyramid Game’
It will come as no surprise to anyone, but William Shatner is not a very good loser. Back in 1977, Shatner was a guest star on US quiz show 'The $20,000 Pyramid’, wherein celebrities have to offer clues to contestants without revealing the answer to help them win cash.
Unfortunately, Bill helped his contestant all the way to final $20,000 clue before accidentally blurting out the answer and prematurely ending her chances. The unlucky punter took it in her stride but Shatner exploded with fury (see above) and threw his chair out of the Winner’s Circle in a fit of rage that would have had the Incredible Hulk running scared.
Shatner’s golden stones
In a move that was even more bizarre than his pre-'Star Trek’ film career, William Shatner made headlines in 2006 by selling one of his kidney stones to GoldenPalace.com – the casino website who became famous for sponsoring people to do idiotic things.
To be fair to Shatner, he was given $25,000 for his biological obstacle, which he then donated towards charity Habitat For Humanity. The location of the $25,000 kidney stone is not known, but we’re sure it’s under lock and key and not just lost in a bottom drawer somewhere at Golden Palace HQ. Reports that Leonard Nimoy later attempted to flog them a patch of his pubic hair for 50 grand have not been confirmed or denied.
Shatner’s approach to working with his 'Star Trek’ co-stars was much like that of a cat: he’d make himself as big as possible in order to make them fear him. His relentless scene-stealing didn’t go down well with the crew of the Enterprise, many of whom harboured grudges against Shatner for years – George Takei is possibly the most outspoken of Bill’s detractors, their ongoing fued fuelled by Shatner’s refusal to attend Takei’s wedding.
However, Comedy Central’s 'roast’ of Shatner gave his former colleagues plenty of chances to air their grievances; Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura on the show, said of Shatner: “He’d crap on the last piece of pizza just so no one else could enjoy it.” We think she was talking metaphorically.
Shatner in space
Such is his stature, William Shatner is synonymous with space travel in the real world as well as on screen. The actor was asked to record a message for the crew of NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery in 2011, with Shatner’s words (“These have been the voyages of the Space Shuttle Discovery…”) backed by the 'Star Trek’ theme song.
In early 2013, Shatner tweeted orbiting astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield “Are you tweeting from space?” and received the awesome response: “Yes, Standard Orbit, Captain. And we’re detecting signs of life on the surface.” It damn near brings a tear to the eye.