Oh captain, my captain… you sure got old. William Shatner, most famous as the original Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek, was born on March 22nd, 1931 – 80 years ago today.
Shatner was born in Montreal, and spent his early acting years making the rounds in Canadian Shakespeare troups and festivals. His first film role came in 1951 in a small Canadian picture called Butler’s Night Off. He played various small television and movie roles for several years, with highlights including appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.
Interestingly, Shatner was not the original captain of the Enterprise – that honor goes to Jeffrey Hunter, who played Captain Christopher Pike in the original pilot episode of Star Trek. NBC rejected the pilot, so key roles were recast, including a complete rewrite of the captain character. When Hunter declined the new role, Shatner took it instead.
Shatner played Kirk for all 79 episodes of the original Star Trek, from 1966 to 1969, plus various evil twins, androids, aliens in disguise and the like. When the original series fizzled out after its third season, Shatner continued to land steady work on various TV shows and movies. His B-list status let him guest star on shows like Kung-Fu and The Six Million Dollar Man; he also reprized his role as Kirk along with the rest of the central cast for Star Trek: The Animated Series from 1973-74.
After syndicated reruns gave Star Trek a cult following, Paramount decided to reboot the series in the late ’70s. The series turned into a movie reuniting the Enterprise and her crew, and Shatner returned to his Kirk role for Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979. The movie was a surprise hit, and revitalized the series, which still continues to this day.
Shatner played Kirk in all six Star Trek movies alongside the original cast, plus a special appearance in the first Star Trek: The Next Generation movie Star Trek: Generations. The Kirk character was finally killed off, after almost thirty years of continuity. Chris Pine took over the role for the 2009 Star Trek reboot.
After Trek hit the mainstream again in the ’80s, Shatner secured several steady roles. His second-most famous character was the title police officer in T.J. Hooker, which ran from 1982-86. Shatner tried his hand at directing with the fifth Star Trek film, The Final Frontier (it wasn’t highly regarded by fans, to say the least).
Since then, Shatner has made a good solid career out of guest appearances and parodies that lampoon his most iconic role. In numerous commercials, Saturday Night Live skits and movies like Airplane II, Shatner’s instant recognition allows him to ham it up for laughs. You could say the same for most of his modern roles, like the Miss Congeniality movies, Boston Legal and The Practice. He’s also not above playing for the sci-fi audience, as evidenced by appearances on 3rd Rock From the Sun and Futurama.
Shatner’s current gig is the foul-mouthed patriarch of CBS’s $#*! My Dad Says. He also hosts William Shatner’s Weird or What?, a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not-style program on Canada’s History Television.
The role Shatner played in the final chapter of NASA’s shuttle program was a special treat for real space heroes the world over. On March 7th, Shatner recorded the wake-up call for the crew of the shuttle Discovery on their last day at the International Space Station. He recited a modified version of his most famous line:
“Space, the final frontier. These have been the voyages of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Her 30 year mission: To seek out new science. To build new outposts. To bring nations together on the final frontier. To boldly go, and do, what no spacecraft has done before.”
What’s your favorite William Shatner or Captain Kirk moment? Let us know in the comments.
Screen Rant would like to wish Mr. Shatner a Happy 80th Birthday – and many more to come!