It took him many voyages, but William Shatner finally has the enduring appeal of Star Trek figured out.
And it's all so logical.
After boldly going to a lifetime of conventions, the 80-year-old Montreal native has discovered at last why people are so attached to the science-fiction series.
"It's part of a myth," Shatner says over the phone from Los Angeles. "Every culture needs its myth. Every culture needs its heroes. So Star Trek is part of the mythology of the culture: the actors who play the captains are the heroes and by participating in the ritual of the myth, the people who come to conventions wearing their costumes, wearing their makeup and asking for autographs are participating in the culture of the time. It's satisfies a deep-held need for something that goes beyond themselves and beyond our culture."
Shatner's revelation came to him during an interview with a university professor about fandom for a forthcoming documentary, Fan Addicts. He used to believe the show's continuing popularity was more superficial, perhaps rooted in the show's science-fiction theme, its otherworldly premises or the characters that populated deep space.
In his new book, Shatner Rules: Your Guide to Understanding the Shatnerverse and the World at Large, he admits playing the iconic role of Capt. James T. Kirk on Star Trek was simply a job he did for three years and didn't think much of it after the TV series was cancelled in 1969 due to poor ratings.
He didn't even attend Star Trek gatherings in the early days, but has since come to embrace both the show, his place in it and conventions.
"The main reason was 15,000 people were turning up and they wanted to pay me to stand in front of them.," he says. "I said, 'Fine I'll take the money, but what will I say?' Imagine facing 15,000 people with no prepared material? I can't remember the lines. I'm in front of 15,000 people and my clothes are coming off -- that's the actor's nightmare. So I had to learn."
He learned, all right, and today Shatner is not only a regular at conventions but has come up with his own spoken word show, How Time Flies: An Evening with William Shatner. He will be in Winnipeg twice next week, appearing at the Centennial Concert Hall on Tuesday for How Time Flies, then returning to the city Oct. 30 for Central Canada Comic Con at the Winnipeg Convention Centre.
The How Time Flies show will feature anecdotes about his 60-plus years in show biz while taking a philosophical look at his life and the "rules" in his new book. The Comic Con gig will be focused on Star Trek series and its spinoff films.
The local appearances are part of a busy schedule for the octogenarian that has kept him going at warp speed.
In addition to the tour, Shatner has just released the book Shatner Rules, a double music album, Seeking Major Tom, and the documentary The Captains, airing tonight in Canada on Movie Central (and available on DVD). See story in The Tab.
Those projects are in addition to his two TV interview shows -- Raw Nerve and Aftermath -- which features him interviewing celebrities and people thrust into sudden celebrity, respectively.
His schedule is no surprise to anyone paying attention to his career. Over the years he has appeared in television series such as T.J. Hooker, The Practice, Boston Legal and $#*! My Dad Says; sat in the director's chair overseeing various television and movie projects, including the film, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier; authored or co-authored the TekWar series and various autobiographies about his life and Star Trek; been the pitchman for hundreds of products; and recorded three albums featuring his trademark speak-singing.
It's all part of his No. 1 rule to just say yes to any project. If it involves poking fun at his persona, then he's comfortable with it as long as people are laughing with him, not at him.
By following that rule, he has found himself hunting wild boar, starring in a movie shot entirely in Esperanto and recording a new concept album about Major Tom's adventures in space with 20 different artists.
Of all the musicians he worked with, hanging out with guitarist Zakk Wylde for a cover of Black Sabbath's Iron Man was the biggest thrill, he says.
"I laid down my first track and went to Zakk Wylde's and realized what I had done was terrible and I had to go back to the studio days later and try to get some of his energy and his heavy metal hammer," Shatner says.
The only thing Shatner says no to is retirement and settling down on his property in Kentucky where he and his fourth wife Elizabeth raise horses.
"I feel so sorry for these guys when they get their gold watch or the equivalent and they say, 'Now I'm going to do what I've always wanted to do,' and I'm thinking that is the saddest thing I've ever heard. You mean they've spent 65 years of their life and they've not been doing what they want to do? Now they're going to retire and go fishing, and the moment they do they die of a heart attack. How dismal that fate is. Go do something you want to do."