What William Shatner Would Put on His Gravestone- page 5 | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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

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What can you tell me about “Get a Life!”, your upcoming documentary on the mythology of “Star Trek”?

We are hard-wired to receive information in story form. If that information is about things that are unknown—death, the future, the universe—we devise stories to fill that gap. This is called mythology, and Star Trek has become mythological. The people who come to the conventions are participating in that mythology. I thought they were coming to see me; now I realize they’re coming to see each other!

In my 1999 book [also called Get a Life!] I did what I thought was due diligence—but I didn't go deep enough. I thought "Mythology? I’m part of a mythology?”

So you now see “Star Trek” as a cultural touchstone, not just as another television show?

It's not just another television show. But what does it tap into? What is the mythology? Well, the mythology is a group of people seeking out life. They're looking for the meaning of life, and of their own lives and relationships; for an explanation of all these mystical, wonderful questions that people ask and for which they have no answer. Their life journey. In Star Trek, we are the heroes; we are Odysseus.

Do you think mythology exists to explain the unexplainable or to set a code of conduct?

Probably both. Mythology needs heroes, and it needs villains. It needs heroes to fail; it needs heroes to struggle. Oh my god, the guy I worship, the guy I love, he fails— and tries again? Fears failing, and then succeeds? Kills the minotaur? Come on!

Is there someone like that for you? Outside of myth?

No; I think maybe I’m embodying it for myself. I don't know.

If you could choose one film clip to summarize your acting career, which one would it be?

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