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The seven stages of Shatner

A brief biography of cool

William Shatner is a brand of cool unto himself. In "Set Your Phasers on Stun" (Issue 19), Maisonneuve's Jonathan Kiefer examines the actor, author, songster and starship pilot's mastery of survival and rebirth. Here Maisonneuve traces Shatner's life story-set against a highly scientific assessment of his trajectory through the seven stages of cool.

[First] he was cool, then he was nerd-cool, then he was kitsch, then he was kitsch-cool, then he was knowing-wink cool, then just plain cool again, and now he's something better than cool. He made himself a punchline with such debonair cunning that-guess what?-the man is not a punchline anymore.


Montreal-born, Shakespeare-trained William Shatner lands the role that will launch his career into the outer limits. After filming Star Trek's second pilot episode, "Where No Man Has Gone Before," Shatner is cast as Captain James Tiberius Kirk.

In an episode entitled "Plato's Stepchildren," Shatner (Captain Kirk) and Nichelle Nicholls (Lieutenant Uhura) lock lips in the first on-screen interracial kiss.

Captain Kirk was appointed captain of the USS Enterprise, and captain he did. He was an Iowa-born, intergalactic space hunk unapologetically dressed in gold. He wooed extraterrestrial babes and had sex on the moon. He reversed the extinction of the world's entire whale population. It's no wonder the rest of the galaxy hated him.


Shatner releases The Transformed Man, a concept album featuring spoken-word covers of well-known songs such as "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Mr. Tambourine Man" layered with evocative sound effects (like wind).

Star Trek is cancelled after three seasons. Shatner heads into the decade he remembers as "That Period" (post-Star Trek series and before the Star Trek films). The fame of his Star Trek role eclipses any opportunity for acting work. His wife leaves him and takes everything. His acting career is relegated to small party appearances and bit parts. Shatner moves into a camper.

Star Trek is aired in syndication and becomes a pop-culture phenomenon.

The first Star Trek convention is held in New York City. Star Trek fans organize and gather at conventions to trade merchandise, meet stars, watch old episodes, quiz each other's encyclopedic familiarity with every episode and, generally, to obsess.

Shatner plays Captain Kirk's voice in the animated Star Trek series.

Mike Myers wears a William Shatner mask painted white in the horror film Halloween.


Shatner performs Elton John's "Rocketman" at the Sci-Fi Film Awards-described by Jonathan Kiefer as a performance that "went down in history or flames, depending on your allegiances."

Pressured by devout Trekfans, Paramount produces Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The film grosses $175 million.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan features a scene in which Shatner screams "Khaaaaaaaaan!" to the sky. This becomes a running joke among nerds and is later parodied on Seinfeld.


Shatner is cast in the title role for television series T. J. Hooker. This classic eighties cop drama features Shatner rolling across car hoods and acting as a mentor to Heather Locklear.

Our man receives his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Shatner hosts a Saturday Night Live episode. In a now infamous sketch, he tells a group of Trekkies: "Get a life!"

Star Trek: the Next Generation.


Shatner appears as the stoic host of Rescue 911, calmly walking viewers (in the comfort of their living rooms) through dramatic re-enactments of emergencies.

Shatner directs Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

In Episode No. 166 of Night Court, Bull wears a toupee referred to as "the Shatner 2000."

McGill University's student union holds a referendum and renames the student-union building "the Shatner." The university administration refuses to accept this name change. In a 2002 interview, Shatner says, "I had a great time at McGill. I did go to a ceremony at the student-union building and my feeling about McGill is that it's a great university and it produced many great students. Unfortunately, I was not one of them."

Parodies the character of Captain Kirk in National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1.


Almost thirty years after the Star Trek pilot episode, Captain Kirk is put to rest in Star Trek: Generations. In reflection, William Shatner says, "Captain Kirk has been a source of pleasure and income for a long time."

Shatner-who also loves horses-wins the World Harness Championship in Louisville, Kentucky. Not surprisingly, Shatner's horse in the competition is named Revival.

Shatner becomes the spokesperson for, heralded by the president and CEO for his "association with futuristic things." The company's recent renewal of their television campaign features Shatner alongside his sidekick Leonard Nimoy (Dr. Spock).

Shatner is nominated for an Emmy for his role in TV series 3rd Rock from the Sun as the Big Giant Head-an arrogant, womanizing officer who's come from the alien planet the show's main characters hail from.

Shatner releases Get a Life! The memoir reflects on the subculture Star Trek generated.

Shatner is Kellogg's All Bran spokesperson in Canada and the UK. Shatner coaxes young and old alike to "feel great in a fortnight!"


Shatner receives an Emmy award for his portrayal of Denny Crane in the final season of the legal drama The Practice.

Shatner releases his well-titled album, Has Been, produced by Ben Folds. The collaboration is received positively. In true Shatner self-referential style, the seventy-three-year-old closes a Los Angeles show with "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (a throwback to 1979's Transformed Man), raises a fist and gives the audience the finger.

September 2004
Shatner and a film crew from Los Angeles roll into Riverside, Iowa, a tiny Midwestern town claiming to be the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk. Many of the town's 928 inhabitants are hired as cast and crew for the science-fiction movie that is to be filmed there, only to find out they've been "punk'd" and the footage will appear in a reality-television series named Invasion Iowa.

Along with Lindsay Lohan, William Shatner lends his brand to Heinz Ketchup. Shatner's bottle promises the product "fixes burgers at warp speed."

October 2004
Shatner reserves a $200,000 seat aboard Virgin Galactic's VSS Enterprise, expected to launch into space in 2008.

Asked in an interview, "Do you have any dignity left?" Shatner responds: "I pissed it away long ago. If you make a fool of yourself, you can do it with dignity, without taking your pants down. And if you do take your pants down, you can still do it with dignity."

January 2005
Shatner receives a Golden Globe award for his work on Boston Legal.

March 2005
Invasion Iowa airs on SPIKE TV to positive reviews.

July 2005
James Doohan dies, making William Shatner the oldest living Star Trek cast member at age seventy-four. Shatner says, "I was built for the long run, not the short dash, I guess."

October 25, 2005
Bill passes a kidney stone but eBay regulations banning the sale of body parts prevent the actor from selling it online.

February 2006
Shatner tells Esquire magazine "Seventy-four is a foreign land. I'm an old man, but I'm still pumping weight. I'm lifting fifty pounds, thirty reps, three sets. And then squats, all the rest. I'm athletic, I ride show horses in competitions, I hunger-my passions are every bit as unbanked as they were when I was thirty-five. So I don't know what seventy-four means. I'm seventy-four. This is what it looks like. I'm ready to slug it out with the next guy.

Shatner also tells the men's magazine, "When my time comes, I will look a my death with the same kind of awe and wonder. Maybe, in that instant, the secrets of the universe will be revealed."