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

William Shatner, who turned 81 in March, still seems possessed of boundless energy and bluster. (Stephane Cardinale / People Avenue / Corbis)

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There's undoubtedly a life lesson in there somewhere.

The lesson is this: You never know what you can accomplish until you try. The problem is—what people don't talk about—is that a fair number of times, you fail. You try to climb K2, and you die. I faced that fear and was successful. There is a great deal to be gained by trying something that you’re horribly afraid of—because even if you do fail, you've learned something. Even if it’s that you don’t want to fail again!

It's easy to say “no.” Saying “yes” embodies risk. Yes to new ideas, yes to new opportunities, yes to doing a one-man show in whatever town I’m in. That's what my whole show is about: saying yes.

I know you’re a risk taker, but I wonder if you're also a creature of habit. Do you have a morning routine?

I love double rye bread toasted, peanut butter and tea. When my wife brings it to me in bed, it's an act of love that has to be repaid.

You’re known to be a man of many passions—and famously passionate about horses.

Yes; I run a horse show every year. The Priceline.com Hollywood Charity Horse Show, sponsored by Wells Fargo. We’ve raised a lot of money for kids, and now veterans. It benefits over 40 charities.

How did that come about?

People have an affinity towards things; you don't always know where it comes from. I got on a horse when I was about 12 years of age and started galloping around. My mother came up said, "Where did you learn to ride?" I said "This is the first time I've ever been on a horse." I just knew. I just felt the horse.

There followed a long period of time which I didn't have a horse, because horses are expensive. Now I have many, and I've been riding a long time. And on some horses, at some times, I’m in the zone: that Zen zone of unity. You can get there as an actor—and I've also gotten it as an archer. Zen in the Art of Archery [a classic Zen Buddhist text] explains how the bow unites heaven and earth, and the arrow unites you and the target. If you are really in the zone, you will lose that arrow at the most appropriate time. Riding a horse is like that. The horse is talking to you, and you're talking to the horse with your legs and your body. It's a beautiful art form, a legendary art form, as primitive as man: 10,000 years of horses.


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