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William Shatner - Biography

One of Canada's most prolific stars, William Shatner has enjoyed a career in front of the camera spanning six decades

William Shatner speaking into a microphone.
Megan Bull
TV Writer
Updated: July 14, 2023
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William Shatner's Early Life and Career

William, whose grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, was born in Montreal on March 22, 1931, to Joseph Shatner, a clothing manufacturer and Anna Garmaise. 

As a child he'd taken small roles in a radio series of children's fairytales, but had been planning to join his father's firm when the acting bug bit. Like his successor on the famous ship, Patrick Stewart aka Jean Luc Picard, the fledgling talent was trained as a classical Shakespearean actor. After leaving Montreal's McGill University, where he earned a degree in Commerce in 1952 and had become involved in student theatre productions, he joined the Canadian Repertory Company in Ottowa and Sir Tyrone Guthrie's Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario. 

He also appeared on Broadway, and found plenty of work during the 'Golden Age' of TV in the Fifties, appearing as Ranger Bob in Howdy Doody and making guest appearances on shows such as Alfred Hitchock Presents and The Twilight Zone

William Shatner's Rise to Stardom

Though he made his first movie appearance as a crook in the 1951 Canadian film The Butler's Night Off, William's big feature debut came with a supporting role in 1958's The Brothers Karamazov alongside Yul Brenner. He followed up with Roger Corman's award-winning 1962 flick The Intruder and Stanley Kramer's Judgment At Nuremberg.

In 1964 William struck up what was to be an enduring friendship with fellow actor Leonard Nimoy, with whom he co-starred on an episode of The Man From UNCLE and who later acted as best man at his third wedding. They were both signed up for new sci-fi series Star Trek in 1966, with William portraying Captain Kirk and Leonard as the elf-eared Spock at his side on a galactic mission to "seek out new worlds and new civilisations". 

The actor became famous for his hypnotic line delivery, full of dramatic pauses often referred to as 'Shatnerian'. When the moderately successful series was cut in 1969 he went through a dry period and ended up living in a camper truck. And it was during this period that his wife, Gloria Rand, with whom he had three daughters, left him. He was forced to take bit parts, although he eventually landed a starring role in Western-themed secret agent series Barbary Coast from 1975-1976 and a role in horror film The Devil's Rain

Things looked up in 1979 when he was invited to reprise his role as Captain Kirk for Star Trek: The Motion Picture in which he was promoted to Admiral. Thanks to the support of a worldwide fan base of so-called 'Trekkies', a whole series of Star Trek movies followed and William's reputation as an actor was re-established. 

Between movies, he returned to TV to star as a police officer in the popular T J Hooker series which ran from 1982 to 1986 - alongside Heather Locklear. Ironically he had more immediate commercial success with the cop show than Star Trek, which only became a cult phenomenon after years of being franchised across the world. 

A master of reinvention, he also developed his comic talents in Airplane II: The Sequel and with guest appearances in the 90s TV series Third Rock From The Sun which earned him an Emmy nomination. Another comedy vehicle, 2000's Miss Congeniality opposite Sandra Bullock, earned him a Canadian Comedy Award nomination. William eventually reprised his role in the highly-anticipated sequel, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous

While the actor has enjoyed plenty of screen time, these days he's concentrating on voice work with roles in Aliens Ate My Homework (2018), To Your Last Death (2019) and Fireheart (2022). 

William Shatner's Accolades

Despite the huge fame which Star Trek brought, it was his subsequent TV adventures which delivered the accolades. He won an Emmy in 2004 for his portrayal of eccentric but capable attorney Denny Crane in the final season of legal drama The Practice. And followed that up with a Golden Globe in 2005 for the subsequent spin-off Boston Legal. One of his greatest honours came in 2006 when William was anointed into the Television Hall of Fame. 

William Shatner's Music Career

Acting isn't William's only passion. The Renaissance Man is a prolific screenwriter, sci-fi novelist, director and producer. He's also dabbled in the music industry, starting with the 1986 spoken word album The Transformed Man, now considered a camp classic, followed by 2004's pop-driven and self-deprecating surprise hit Has Been, and another spoken word album Exodus in which he narrated an abbreviated version of the Biblical book backed by a choir and orchestra. 

William Shatner's Personal Life

Outside of showbiz, William is an expert equestrian who breeds award-winning horses at his farm in Kentucky and hosts the annual Hollywood Charity Horse Show which he founded in 1990. While his career has had its rollercoaster twists and turns, so too has his love life. 

In 1969, four years after Gloria, his wife of 13 years, left him, he wed Marcy Lafferty. Their relationship broke down in 1994, however. His third marriage ended tragically when his wife of two years, Nerine Kidd, accidentally drowned after falling into their pool. The couple had been separated due to her addiction problems but William was devastated by the loss. For a time he found happiness again with Elizabeth Martin, a former professional horse trainer, whom he married in 2001. The couple had devoted themselves to philanthropic causes, including their own charity foundation in Israel, before deciding to separate in 2019. Their divorce was finalized in January 2020. 

Through his first marriage, William is a father to three daughters – daughters: Leslie (born in 1958), Lisabeth (born in 1961) and Melanie (born in 1964). 

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