Who Is William Shatner?

Actor, director, author, singer William Shatner is best known for his roles on Boston Legal and Star Trek.

Early Life

Born on March 22, 1931, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Shatner started his career as a child performer in radio programs for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. As a student at McGill University, he continued to pursue acting. Shatner spent his summers performing with the Royal Mount Theater Company. He graduated from the university in 1952 and joined the National Repertory Theater of Ottawa. Working with Sir Tyrone Guthrie, Shatner also appeared in productions at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario.

Early Stage and Screen Roles

In 1956, Shatner made his Broadway debut in Tamburlaine the Great, which was directed by Guthrie. He also found work in the emerging medium of television, appearing on such shows as the Goodyear Television Playhouse, Studio One, and Playhouse 90. Playing one of the title characters, Shatner made his film debut in 1958's The Brothers Karamazov with Yul Brynner. That same year, he returned to Broadway for a two-year run in The Secret Life of Suzie Wong. He won the 1959 Theatre World Award for his performance.

In 1961, Shatner had a small part in the Holocaust drama Judgment at Nuremberg, playing an army captain. He had a lead part in The Intruder (1962) as a racist who fought against school integration. On the small screen, Shatner had his first series, For the People, in 1965. He starred on the short-lived drama as an assistant district attorney in New York City.

'Star Trek' Series and Films

The following year, Shatner took on the role that made him famous around the world. As Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek, he commanded the U.S.S. Enterprise, a starship traveling through space in the twenty-third century. Kirk encountered all sorts of unusual aliens and challenging situations during his journeys. Accompanying him on these adventures was his loyal crew, which included first officer Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and medical officer Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley). The science fiction series created by Gene Roddenberry premiered on September 8, 1966, and lasted for three seasons.

During the run of the show, Shatner also made an unusual career move. He recorded an album, The Transformed Man (1968), which featured spoken word versions of contemporary pop hits. Already known for his dramatic, but earnest delivery of his lines on Star Trek, Shatner recorded renditions of such songs as the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."

Not long after the album, Star Trek was canceled. The show, however, continued to live on in syndication and became even more popular. Star Trek became a Saturday morning cartoon that ran during the mid-1970s, and it was resurrected a live action film in 1979. Returning to the role of Kirk, Shatner starred in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The film's warm reception by film-goers showed how much affection the public had for the old series. At the beginning of the film, Kirk has become an admiral, Bones has retired, and Spock has returned to the planet Vulcan. But the three return to work on a new version of the Enterprise to solve a crisis involving a mysterious cloud that has destroyed several spaceships.

In the sequel Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Kirk has to overcome an old adversary out for revenge, Khan Noonien Singh (Richardo Montalban). He followed with Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986).

The next chapter in the Star Trek film series received a lukewarm reception. For Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), Shatner not only returned as Kirk, but made his debut as a feature film director as well. The film, unfortunately, received some fairly negative reviews. Movie critic Roger Ebert called it "a mess," involving "not much danger, no characters to really care about, little suspense, uninteresting ... villains, and great deal of small talk."

Not matter what the reviews said, the Star Trek film series continued at warp speed. The next installments were Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) and then Star Trek Generations (1994). In Generations, the members of the original Star Trek hand the baton to the cast of the spin-off series Star Trek: The Next Generation, marking the end of Shatner's starring role in the franchise.

TV and Movie Roles

'T.J. Hooker'

In 1982, Shatner took on a new leading television role in T. J. Hooker, as a veteran police officer who returns to a street beat. The supporting cast included Heather Locklear and Adrian Zmed as younger officers who work with and look up to Shatner's character. Unlike the original Star Trek series, T. J. Hooker was immediately popular with television audiences.

Shatner remained a fixture on television even after T. J. Hooker went off the air, becoming the host for Rescue 911 in 1989. This was an early entry into the reality television genre, featuring reenactments of emergency situations.

'The Practice,' 'Boston Legal'

On the big screen, Shatner appeared as a beauty pageant host in Miss Congeniality (2000) and its sequel Miss Congeniality 2 (2005), with Sandra Bullock. In 2003, he made a guest appearance as a talented, but eccentric lawyer on The Practice. His turn as Denny Crane brought him his first Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series in 2004. He had been previously nominated for his guest appearance on the science fiction sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun in 1999.

The Practice creator David E. Kelley created a spin-off series, Boston Legal, featuring Shatner's character Denny Crane in 2004. Law partner and master litigator Crane acts as a mentor of sorts to Alan Shore (played by James Spader). For his work on the series, Shatner won his second Emmy — this time for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series — in 2005. More nominations in this category followed in 2006 and in 2007.

'Shatner's Raw Nerve,' 'Weird or What?'

In 2008, Shatner began work on Shatner's Raw Nerve, a celebrity interview program on the Biography Channel. He then worked on another Biography Channel project entitled Aftermath with William Shatner, which focused on the stories of ordinary citizens who became overnight celebrities, and also hosted the supernatural-themed Weird or What?

'$#*! My Dad Says,' 'Better Late Than Never'

In 2010, Shatner returned to sitcom TV in the short-lived $#*! My Dad Says, based on a Twitter feed of the same name. He began hosting the U.S. version of the stop-motion series Clangers in 2015, and enjoyed some success with the reality-travel series Better Late Than Never the following year, alongside Henry Winkler, George Foreman and Terry Bradshaw.

William Shatner
William Shatner
Photo: Justin Bettman

'The UnXplained' on HISTORY

Shatner is the host and executive producer of the HISTORY nonfiction series The UnXplained, which premiered on July 19, 2019, at 10 pm ET/PT. The series tackles subjects that have mystified mankind for centuries, from mysterious structures and cursed ancient cities to extraterrestrial sightings and bizarre rituals.

“It’s an intriguing show that will offer viewers credible answers to questions about mysterious phenomena, while also leaving other theories left unexplained," Shatner said.


Shatner has experienced great success as an author. During the writers' strike of 1987, he transformed a screenplay idea into a novel. The result was TekWar (1989), a work of science fiction featuring a middle-aged private detective working in the twenty-second century. More Tek titles followed and were later adapted for television.

Additionally, Shatner worked with Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens to create a series of Star Trek novels, and launched the Quest for Tomorrow and Samuel Lord science fiction series.

Also a veteran of nonfiction, Shatner co-authored Star Trek Memories (1993) and Star Trek Movie Memories (1994) with Chris Kreski. He and Kreski also worked together on Get a Life! (1999), a look at the whole Star Trek fan phenomenon. The actor went on to pen several nonfiction books with David Fisher, including Up Till Now: The Autobiography (2008) and Live Long And...: What I Learned Along the Way (2018).

Marriages and Personal

From 1956 to 1969, Shatner was married to Canadian actress Gloria Rand. The couple had three children together. Shatner married actress Marcy Lafferty in 1973. That marriage ended in divorce in 1996. Shortly thereafter, he married model Nerine Kidd. Kidd's life came to a tragic end in 1999, when she accidentally drowned in a pool at the Shatners' home in Studio City, California.

After such a tragic loss, Shatner was able to find happiness again with his 2001 marriage to Elizabeth J. Martin, a horse breeder. In late 2019, it was reported that the 88-year-old actor had filed for divorce.

As part of his own love of horses, Shatner started the annual Hollywood Charity Horse Show to raise funds for children's charities in 1990.

In late 2017, Canadian Governor General Julie Payette appointed Shatner an Officer of the Order of Canada for his contributions to popular culture and his charity work.


  • Name: William Shatner
  • Birth Year: 1931
  • Birth date: March 22, 1931
  • Birth City: Montreal
  • Birth Country: Canada
  • Gender: Male
  • Best Known For: William Shatner is best known for his distinctive voice and his roles on 'Star Trek' and 'Boston Legal.'
  • Industries
    • Sci-fi
    • Television
  • Astrological Sign: Aries
  • Schools
    • McGill University

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness.If you see something that doesn't look right,contact us!


  • Article Title: William Shatner Biography
  • Author: Biography.com Editors
  • Website Name: The Biography.com website
  • Url: https://www.biography.com/actors/william-shatner
  • Access Date:
  • Publisher: A&E; Television Networks
  • Last Updated: December 11, 2019
  • Original Published Date: April 2, 2014


  • The line between making a total ass of yourself and being fundamentally funny is very narrow.