What William Shatner Would Put on His Gravestone- page 3 | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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William Shatner, who turned 81 in March, still seems possessed of boundless energy and bluster. (Stephane Cardinale / People Avenue / Corbis)

What William Shatner Would Put on His Gravestone

The modern-day Renaissance man, known for his work on the stage and the screen, provides insights from the Tao of Captain Kirk


Let’s talk about your recent one-man show, Shatner’s World. Performing live can be a huge challenge. I once read that many people would rather lose a toe than speak in public.

Well, I think it depends on which toe. If you look at the construction of the foot, that big toe really gives you a lift.

The success of Shatner's World was phenomenal. I wonder if there's a life lesson that you learned from the process of doing that show?

I'll tell you the life lesson I learned—but I don't know if I'll ever be able to use it again. I was first asked to do a one-man show in Australia. I said "Well, I’m not going to fly all the way there and do a one-man show; I've never done it." They said, "We'll send over a director, and you'll talk.

So we essentially put together a sequence of stories—an extended interview, if you will, with some songs and footage. And I had to make each of those stories dovetail. I had to have a beginning, a middle and an end. I realized, I’ve got to say something, I’ve got to have some meaning in what I’m doing. And so I spent months talking to myself, obsessed, trying to find the right words. Because if you find the right word, the rest of the sentence falls into place.

I finished the six cities in Australia and got good reviews. People clapped. And I thought, “Well, that's over; I’ve done that.” Then I was asked to tour Canada. And then I was invited to Los Angeles and New York.

The more I did it, the more rhythm it got. It started to take shape. But it still wasn't good enough. I had one week in LA, trying to put it together. Then I got to New York. We had a couple of rehearsals, and one preview. The night before the preview my wife and I went out to dinner. I wanted to be careful of what I ate, so I ordered a little hamburger. And I got a stomach flu that night.

So I’m looking at a Broadway opening, and I am frightened to death that I’m going to fail. I mean, I’m not going to die; I’ve got enough money in the bank to survive, I'll be able to pay the rent. But to be laughed at—stomach flu means you can’t go from here to there. All I know is, I've never been so frightened of anything.

What did you do?

I had to go on stage. It’s an hour and 40 minutes without an intermission. Somewhere in the middle, I had to stop the show and get to a bathroom. I said,"Ladies and gentlemen, there's been a technical difficulty. Don't move, we'll be back in 10 minutes." I dashed to my dressing room.


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