William Shatner was 35 years old when he first appeared in what would become the emblematic role of his career, creating an American icon as Captain James T. Kirk, commander of the Starship Enterprise on the original TV series, Star Trek. Today, March 22, the Canadian-born William Shatner celebrates his 83rd birthday — and one of the most interesting and varied careers in show business, that shows no signs of letting up.
From his role in one of the greatest Twilight Zone episodes, "Nightmare At 20,000 Feet," to his job as tireless pitchman for travel site Priceline.com, to his heartfelt but humorous attempts at becoming a rock and roll singer and his series of science fiction novels, there is little an entertainer can do that William Shatner hasn't at least taken a shot at.
Here are five fast facts about William Shatner, who also starred in the popular 1980s cop show T.J. Hooker, even while filming two of the Star Trek feature films.
William Shatner Had A One-Man Show On BroadwayIn 2012, William Shatner performed a two-hour retrospective of his career, entitled Shatner's World: We Just Live In It from February 14 to March 4 at Broadway's Music Box Theatre. Early in his acting career, William Shatner appeared in three Broadway shows, A Shot in the Dark, The World of Suzie Wong and Tamburlaine the Great — but not since 1962.
"My plan has always been to return to Broadway every 50 years," Shatner said, announcing the show.
Shatner Was Not Cast In The Original Star Trek PilotWilliam Shatner was a latecomer to the TV series that would make his career. The first pilot for the original Star Trek, "The Cage," starred Jeffrey Hunter as the Enterprise captain, Christopher Pike. But the NBC network rejected the pilot, reportedly because it was too cerebral for TV viewers, but also — too sexy. When the producers went ahead with a new version of the pilot, Hunter turned down the role. Shatner was then cast as the new Enterprise captain, James Kirk.
William Shatner Was A Pioneer Of "Reality Television"Long before reality-based shows became a staple of network and cable TV, Shatner hosted the series Rescue 911, which ran on CBS for seven seasons — more than twice as long as the original Star Trek. The hour-long show focused on real cases of emergency rescues and 911 calls.
Contrary To Rumors, Shatner Is Not Nearly A BilllionaireWith an estimated net worth of $100 million, it's been a long time since William Shatner wondered how to pay the rent. But when he became spokesperson in 1997 for a start-up online travel site called Priceline.com, he reportedly took stock options rather than a cash fee. Since Priceline's resurgence in the stock market, reports have claimed that in addition to his other wealth, Shatner's Priceline shares are worth $600 million. But he vehemently denies that.
"Someone stupid said a stupid thing about me making $600M," he said at one point. "Relatives are coming out of the woodwork. Too bad it never happened."
William Shatner Is A Talk Show Host, In Addition To Everything ElseHe is an actor, novelist, pitchman, singer (of sorts), reality TV host, movie star, director — and talk show host. We're probably missing some other aspect of William Shatner's career, but in 2008 he started his Biography Channel chat show Shatner's Raw Nerve. On the program, Shatner has conducted interviews with guests as diverse as conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, porn star Jenna Jameson, KISS bass player Gene Simmons and his Star Trek co-star, Leonard "Mr. Spock" Nimoy.
What hasn't William Shatner done? We can't think of anything. To mark his 83rd birthday, check out this mini-documentary about his live concert with rock stars Ben Folds and Joe Jackson.