He needs no introduction. Canadian actor William Shatner, who turns 92 next month, has accomplished so much in his life that he has stories and experiences that surprise even devoted fans. On Thursday, Feb. 9, at Embassy Theatre, he is appearing as part of a national tour to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1982 motion picture Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Following a showing of the newly restored film on the big screen, he will take the stage. “And then after it’s over, I’ll come out on stage and entertain for an hour or so or more,” Shatner told Whatzup in a phone interview. “And questions and answers. Anything and everything is up for grabs. And it’s a wonderful evening’s entertainment.”
Definitive film Shatner played Star Trek’s James T. Kirk from the franchise’s launch in 1966, then in seven motion pictures from 1979-1994, with him leading the ensemble cast. But critics and fans agree Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the best movie of the lot. It’s dear to the heart of a generation of television and movie fans. Directed by Nicholas Meyer and featuring a breakthrough orchestral score by young composer James Horner (1953-2015), The Wrath of Khan pitted Shatner’s Admiral Kirk of the United Federation of Planets’ Starfleet against his greatest nemesis, Khan, played by the formidable Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban (1920-2009). Kahn hunts Kirk and his Starship Enterprise across the galaxy like Melville’s Captain Ahab after Moby Dick. Despite the military action, the film was really a somber meditation on Admiral Kirk facing middle age, the meaning of lifelong friendship, sacrifice, and the search for significance in life. It was a deeply grounded, human experience despite the otherworldly, interstellar setting. It goes without saying that Shatner has outlived many of the actors he collaborated with in those days. Among the more famous, we lost one of the youngest actors in Star Trek II, Kirstie Alley, who died at the age of 71 only two months ago.
The real man, not the character Shatner is not Kirk, just as his longtime colleague Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015) took pains to say, “I am not Spock.” Yet it’s fair to say that those Star Trek II themes are ones Shatner has meditated on. He has made prodigious amounts of art and entertainment out of them. To his fans, he’s a philosopher, and that might be on display at the Embassy. “And whether you want to know anything about the film, or about Socrates,” said Shatner, who then catches himself, “I’m more of an authority on the film, but I could talk about ‘the cave.’ Oh wait, that’s Plato.” You can ask him about Star Trek or T.J. Hooker, Rescue 911, The Practice, Boston Legal, or any of a number of motion pictures he has appeared in. Miss Congeniality, anybody? But what you should really ask him about is his October 2021 flight into Earth’s orbit on the Blue Origin New Shepard spacecraft. Shatner is the oldest person to leave Earth’s atmosphere, and his view of Earth from outer space transformed him. Does he have something to say about that? “I will indeed, if somebody asks that question,” he said. “It’s a wonderful story.”
Following a screening of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” on Feb. 9, William Shatner will take part in a discussion at Embassy Theatre. — Photo by Suzanne Cordeiro
Getting into music Shatner has written nearly 30 best-selling books in fiction and non-fiction, including several autobiographies and memoirs. He has topped not only New York Times best-seller lists but also the Billboard charts more than once in a music career that started in 1968 and continues today. To paraphrase Dr. Leonard McCoy, “I’m a music journalist, not a movie critic,” so I was keen to learn about the music. Riding on the fame of Star Trek, in 1968 Shatner released an album, The Transformed Man, a gentle tongue-in-cheek experience a lot of people just did not understand. Shatner, then as now, could not sing a note or carry a tune, so he declaimed dramatic monologues from Shakespeare that blended into prosodic readings of the lyrics of pop songs from Bob Dylan to The Beatles, over elaborately produced tracks. Fortunately, maybe, better acting gigs beckoned, putting the music on hiatus. Shatner’s last turn as Admiral Kirk was in 1994’s Star Trek: Generations. In 1998, hit singer-songwriter-pianist Ben Folds sought Shatner out and brought him to Nashville, Tennessee, to guest on an obscure album called Fear of Pop, Vol. I, to less-than-thunderous acclaim. Yet Shatner’s musical career became more serious in 2004 when Folds assembled an all-star cast and collaborated with Shatner on the critically acclaimed Has Been, with plenty of humor but also dead-serious soul searching and thoughts on mortality. In addition to Folds’ production, country star Brad Paisley brought in a song he wrote specifically for Shatner. Has Been was adapted into a ballet, Common People, performed in Milwaukee and filmed for a documentary which played to sold-out houses in film festivals worldwide. “Wasn’t that a wonderful album?” Shatner reminisced. “Well, now I’ve been a fan of Ben Folds ever since I got to know him. Yeah, it’s been a very fruitful relationship.” Since then, Paisley has played guitar across Shatner’s ensuing seven albums. Most of them consist of original music set to Shatner’s own text, and feature a cavalcade of stars who, we get the impression, were ecstatic to get the gig with their idol. The most recent, Bill, was released in 2021. Along the way was composer David Itkin’s orchestral and choral oratorio, Exodus, where Shatner, proud of his Jewish heritage, read from the Bible and the Haggadah. In 2011, Seeking Major Tom was a star-studded romp where Shatner covered 20 psychedelic hit songs from the ’70s and ’80s, all on sci-fi themes. In 2013, producer Billy Sherwood of the band Yes, who I interviewed for a 2022 story, wrote and produced a progressive rock opus for Shatner called Ponder the Mystery, with even more prog and jazz fusion superstars. “I love Billy Sherwood,” Shatner said. “He’s one of my favorite people, a great musician, and we had so much fun together. If you speak to him (again), send my love.” Shatner did a holiday album, 2018’s Shatner Claus. Since then, he has gone deep into country music and delta blues. Where only a few men have gone before After Amazon founder Jeff Bezos sent Shatner into space a year and a half ago, and Shatner struggled to express his feelings, Ben Folds came to the rescue. “We’ve been in each other’s ear over the years,” Shatner said of Folds. “He became the music director at the Kennedy Center (for the National Symphony Orchestra) and he asked me to come in.” On April 29, performing with Folds, “I entertained with the symphony orchestra and with a series of songs that I had written with a group,” he said. “And it was a major success. It’s going to be an album. I have made a television show, a documentary of the performance. I even include one song called ‘So Fragile, So Blue’ about my trip into space. The lyric, ‘What can we do?’ is intertwined throughout the song. We’re making a music video of it. And my hope, my fantasy is it becomes a rallying cry of global warming, and what can we do?” I was glad to tell Shatner that Ben Folds is playing The Clyde on March 28, and that we hope to interview him. “Tell him that you spoke to me,” said Shatner, “but that through you, I send him my love. “And then have Ben Folds send Billy Sherwood my love, so we get him every which way.” Could there be another supergroup album in Shatner’s future? He’s only in his 90s. At the least it’s time for a boxed set! We welcome rabid Trekkies to hold us to account for anything we failed to mention about Shatner’s illustrious achievements. Better yet, you can bring your family and friends to the Embassy on Feb. 9 and hear Shatner tell you all about them himself. We leave you with Admiral Kirk’s final line from Star Trek II. After winning his greatest battle, when asked how he felt, he said: “Young. I feel young.”
Listen to Wheat Williams’ interview with William Shatner:
William Shatner with screening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9 Embassy Theatre 125 W. Jefferson Blvd., Fort Wayne $29-$80 · (260) 424-5665