The Bard: William Shatner

Actor William Shatner speaking to a Dragon Con audience
Photo by Eddie Clay

On a beautiful Saturday morning, as another successful Dragon Con Parade wound down, congoers filled the Marriott Atrium ballroom and jumped on Dragon Con TV’s streaming channel to welcome and revel in the tales of “O Captain, My Captain—William Shatner” at 11:30AM. Another classic Shatner session, the hour covered tales that ranged far and wide but ultimately celebrated the complexity and beauty of the human spirit.

Shatner has built his life around work. Even at 90 he continues to develop projects and perform. COVID didn’t stop him as he worked with a team of artists, including Dan Miller (of They Might Be Giants), Jim Jonas, and Brad Paisley to produce a new album, “Bill.” The album, with songs based upon the stories Shatner has told (and the experiences at their root) ranges across the arch of life: from the fear of leaving home for the first time, to guilt, forgiveness, and the wisdom that comes when life humbles you.

Fans of Shatner know that after Star Trek he fell on hard times. The song “So Far From The Moon” is a consideration of that time in his life. In the wake of Star Trek’s cancellation and his divorce, Shatner found himself working summer stock theater along the east coast. He was living out of the back of a pickup truck with a camper topper. It was the summer of 1969, and he remembers watching footage of Neil Armstrong famously setting foot upon the moon on a portable black and white TV. He was amazed by the monumental nature of the achievement and humbled by it. For in the early days of Star Trek NASA had rolled out the red carpet for Shatner when he visited the Kennedy Space Center. The staff built a model of the USS Enterprise and presented it to him. On it they had written: “See you on the moon.” In that moment when Armstrong’s words echoed across space and time, NASA was literally on the moon, and at its peak. Not so for William Shatner. At that moment, when his star had fallen so far and so fast, Shatner was so very far from the moon.

The story of “Bill” set the tone for the Q&A that followed. A doctor, who has overcome tremendous physical challenges in her life, asked about his ability to defy age. Before answering her question Shatner applauded her, her strength of spirit, and achievements. He attributed his longevity to his parents and DNA. During his answer though he revealed another bit of insight: among his greatest fears is to die by suffocation. He contextualized this, of course, by referencing “Leonard” (Nimoy), who died of COPD. According to Shatner, one day he and a number of other actors, including Nimoy, were riding in a limousine. During that ride one after the other committed themselves to stop smoking. All gave a reason. In Shatner’s case it was because his daughter didn’t want to hug/kiss him when he smelled of smoke. Of all those in the car that day, only Nimoy declared he had no intention of giving up his cigarettes.

The passage of time and age all seem for him compressed and concentrated into a series of experiences that offer lessons and insights. William Shatner at 90 is a bard, a teller of stories and singer of tales. Using words, with and without musical accompaniment, he touches upon those essential human experiences that define us all. At one moment in the session, he asked what music was and where did it come from? Well, this morning in the Marriott Atrium Ballroom, William Shatner was making the “music” of the bard.

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