Actor, musician, author and horse aficionado William Shatner will make his second appearance at Wizard World Comic Con on Sunday, Dec. 2 at the Alliant Energy Center, but in an exclusive interview, he talked about his acting, his recording of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and even his annual charity horse show.
What’s the most common question he gets at shows like Wizard World Comic Con — besides ‘can you sign this’?
“How much fun can we have at Wizard World?” Shatner replied. “So, I’d say a lot!”
Shatner said there is great fun at conventions like Wizard World Comic Con, which has changed its dates during its appearances at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.
“People come dressed up and they see their favorite people, they talk, they ask questions, and they can walk around and buy things and people can sell things,” Shatner said. “I’ve been told that you can have a great deal of entertainment when you come.”
While most fans know him for his portrayal of Captain James Tiberius Kirk in the “Star Trek” TV show and movies, not many people know that he also was on the ABC-TV police show “TJ Hooker”, in addition to the legal drama “The Practice” and the spin-off show “Boston Legal” with James Spader, as well as “Rescue 911” which re-created dramatic interactions with emergency responders.
Does he ever get any questions about any of those other shows, or even see any of the cast members from those programs?
“Since it’s been so many years and a number of shows, they pretty much arrived at Shatner,” he said. “As for seeing people, you know, everybody gets busy. At the time of the show, and I refer now to ‘Boston Legal’ — James Spader and I are great buddies and had a great time for five years together — I haven’t seen him since the cancellation some years ago.
“I haven’t seen him, but I’ve talked to him several times. He’s very busy, I’m very busy — and that’s just the way it is for the most part,” Shatner added.
“I keep reading about these casts that have long-lived relationships and they’re good friends years after the show’s been over. My experience, and with others that I know, has always been ‘the show’s canceled, I’ll call you tomorrow for lunch’ and then you call that day and say ‘I can’t make it to lunch because I just got busy’ and from then on, it’s like one thing after another. And that’s just the way it is mostly with the casts I’ve worked with,” Shatner said.
Speaking of cancellations, even though it happened more than five decades ago, does Shatner remember the day “Star Trek” was cancelled? Did his agent call him?
“No — they don’t call you,” Shatner replied with a laugh, referring to agents. “They have sucked you dry, like a spider, deposit your shriveled [body] on some web. Um, no. I don’t even remember the producer coming down and saying we were cancelled.
“But on ‘Star Trek’, our ratings were never grandiose — we were always somewhere in the middle there,” Shatner recalled. “You know, in the top 40s. So, there was always a danger the three seasons we were on the air. The first season on, we were always in danger of being canceled. And so we lived like someone with a terrible disease that was going to kill them,” Shatner said with a laugh. “It was just a matter of ‘how long have I got doctor?’ You might be dead next week.
“So when the third year came around, we were pretty sure we were going to be cancelled,” Shatner said.
“What I do remember though on our last show, I had the flu — I never get sick until the show is canceled,” Shatner said. “I remember having the flu and being in bed on the set — they had a cot there for me, and I’d get up and do the scene and then crawl back into the cot. And that was how my season ended.”
He’s been “loved up” (Shatner’s words) by Trekkies — the term coined for rabid “Star Trek” fans — and asked obscure questions about the show. But with the advent of social media, has the questioning gotten better, or worse?
“Oh yes — because I do a number of these conventions, I get asked all kinds of weird questions, and I try to give them as good an answer as possible,” Shatner said. “Sometimes I’ll spin a tale that they might find amusing but like for you to ask me what episode was I ill on — and that’s 50 years ago. Yes, the questions continue and everyone tries to find a new question . . . and I do the best I can to answer being truthful or amusing them.”
Nichelle Nichols, Shatner’s co-star in the “Star Trek” series who portrayed Lt. Uhura, is also scheduled to appear at Wizard World Comic Con this weekend and will be there the same day as Shatner as well. Do Star Trek cast members make many joint appearances with Shatner?
“No, I don’t. Nichelle is failing a little bit as I understand — it’ll be nice to know that she is well enough to,” Shatner replied. “But no, I do not. I’ve kind of moved on.”
Shatner also did a show on the Bio channel called “Raw Nerve” where he interviewed a lot of people. But Shatner had a very famous guest in mind when asked about who his most unusual guest was.
“I had many,” Shatner replied. “I had Rush Limbaugh and we talked about his childhood and how he wired his whole house with speakers so he could pretend to be on the radio when he was just a kid. And we talked about his father — everybody in his family is named Rush Limbaugh — and he was in tears by the time we finished. I had touched a nerve. In fact, it was a Monday day that I did the interview, and I invited them over for ‘Monday Night Football’ to my house and he accepted. It was really an interesting interview.”
In addition to his broadcast career, Shatner is also a best-selling recording artist. His song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was included along with “Mr. Tambourine Man” on a collection of unusual recordings by TV and musical stars in a series issued by Rhino Records known as Golden Throats Volumes I and II. What does he remember about recording “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”?
“I did an album called ‘The Transformed Man’,” Shatner remembered. “The record company asked me to do an album way back then and I always loved the music — I never could sing — and I had evolved through talk shows and interview shows . . . of talking a song. If the lyric had some decent words with it, I would talk the song and the music — the melodic line — would play behind me.
“So I devised a concept album in which I would put music to great literature, like ‘To Be or Not to Be’, the soliloquy from Hamlet, put music behind that and segue into a song — in this case, I believe it was ‘That Was a Very Good Year’,” Shatner recalled. “And ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ was contrasted with Cyrano de Bergerac’s speech which ends ‘I may climb to know great heights but I will climb alone’, and then segue into the drug song, which was ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’.
“But I was asked to perform it on television for the Johnny Carson [Tonight] Show, they said the whole cut is six minutes and you can only do three — do the literature or the song. I decided to do the song,” Shatner said.
“But the song, this drug song — LSD — I performed as a drug addict because that’s the way I had done it on the album. But there was no context,” Shatner said. “So people wondered what the heck I was doing, and at that point, so was I.”
Does he still get royalties? “No,” Shatner replied with a laugh. “I don’t think I’ve ever received any royalties from any of these albums!”
His love of music inspired him to record the critically acclaimed album Has Been. The Milwaukee Ballet performed “Common People,” a dance presentation set to several numbers from the record, and bringing it back to film, the event and its preparations are featured in the documentary Gonzo Ballet.
Another Shatner musical project, “Ponder The Mystery”, with lyrics by Shatner and music by Billy Sherwood was released October 2013. It followed the well-received, space-inspired album “Seeking Major Tom”, which featured songs by U2, Frank Sinatra, Queen and Pink Floyd and was released in October 2011.
His latest work is “Shatner Claus,” a collection of Christmas music, and a country music album entitled “Why Not Me.” A “Shatner Claus” video on You Tube debuted on Nov. 27 featuring ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons and Shatner performing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”
Shatner is a published author, and his latest work is “Live Long and . . . What I Learned Along the Way,” is a take-off on the line made famous in the “Star Trek” series by Shatner’s co-star, the late Leonard Nimoy, who portrayed first officer Spock in the TV series and in the films.
A comic book series – William Shatner Presents – debuted in summer 2009. The series is based on three novels of Shatner’s: Tek War, Man O’ War, and Quest for Tomorrow, along with the title Chimera.
Not many people know that Shatner is also a horse breeder. According to his publicist, Shatner is a longtime dedicated breeder of American Quarter horses, and had enormous success with the American Saddlebred, developing and riding world champions and has won several world championships in equine events.
His passions for horses and philanthropy were united when he started the Hollywood Charity Horse Show, which benefits Los Angeles-based charities. In 2018, 16 charities benefited from the show.
“For the last 30 years, I’ve raised millions of dollars that have gone to raise money for selected charities that involve children and vets,” Shatner said, adding that individuals seeking to donate can learn more on his website, www.williamshatner.com. “It’s a great charity and I’m glad you asked me about it. This year I believe it is June 2nd, 2019.”
Does Shatner have any other projects in the works?
“Many, many new projects in the works,” Shatner replied. “I’m doing a blues album. I’ve got at least one if not two new TV shows about to come on — I can’t make that announcement yet — but you’ll hear about it shortly. I’ve got a wonderful company trying to sell wonderful things to wonderful networks — a documentary, an animated and even some dramatic shows. I’ve got another book that I’m writing, and I’ve been on tour with my one man show that I had on Broadway . . . so lots of new stuff.”
Find out more about Shatner online at www.williamshatner.com.