By Kate Cook
For the Times West Virginian
Have you ever wondered what’s in William Shatner’s iconic head? What makes the man best known as Captain James T. Kirk tick?
In January, you’ll have the chance to learn a little about the famous actor and horseman, right from the horseman’s mouth. On Jan. 16, West Virginia University will host the “Rocket Man” himself in his one-man show “Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It.”
The production is Shatner’s latest venture, one that showcases his memories, thoughts and anecdotes to give audiences the bigger picture of what goes on in the legendary actor’s head. If we’re lucky, we might even be treated to a few songs in his inimitable style, like his performance of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” a performance so outstanding it was parodied on “Family Guy.”
Audiences have been captivated by the production ever since “Shatner’s World” debuted on Broadway last year. Now, Shatner is bringing his story to locations across the nation, including right here in Mountaineer Country.
According to show information, Shatner will discuss his days as captain of the Starship Enterprise, his time catching bad guys as T.J. Hooker, his award-winning performance as attorney Denny Crane and many of his other roles. He’ll also discuss his passion for horses and the 19 times his characters have died on screen. Hopefully, he’ll also discuss his charity work, such as the time he sold one of his kidney stones for more than $20,000 and donated the proceeds to benefit a housing charity.
With his varied roles and dynamic pop culture presence, it’s become something of a game to ask people from where they know William Shatner.
Some might say he convinced them to buy competitively priced airline tickets during his turn as a pitchman for Priceline.com. Who wouldn’t want to buy from the website that employed the hard-nosed “Negotiator” who knocked out the big-priced competitors?
Some might say they know him from his turn on “Boston Legal” and “The Practice,” where he played attorney Denny Crane, a giant in the courtroom, who never lost a case. Crane even said his own name after some of his best ideas as kind of a spoken signature. (Crane once explained some people don’t realize they’re in the same room as a legend, so he said his name to let them know it’s true.)
But for most people, it’s his turn as Captain James Tiberius Kirk that turned Shatner into a household name. That role was groundbreaking in almost every way. There’s even a marker at the city limits of Riverside, Iowa, the hometown of the fictional Kirk, proclaiming it the “future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk, March 22, 2228.”
Not only did the series pioneer the science-fiction television genre, but the cast was unheard of in the United States in 1966. When show creator Gene Roddenberry cast the characters, he brought people from different races together with a shared purpose: “to go where no one has gone before.”
Shatner and costar Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura, hold the distinction of sharing the first interracial kiss on American television.
The original “Star Trek” series spawned a cultural phenomenon with spinoff television series, movies, video games, books and countless forms of memorabilia, from lunch boxes to underwear.
When Shatner took the helm of the Enterprise and rode the continuing wave of pop culture, he became a geek icon, recognizable by generations of fans.
He’s also a polarizing force. One of the greatest geek debates is “Star Trek” versus “Star Wars,” with Capt. Kirk’s devoted followers looking askance at those who prefer the teachings of Jedi Master Yoda.
In 2011, Shatner took up the mantle for all of Starfleet when he pointedly stated “Star Trek” was superior to “Star Wars.” That’s something Princess Leia didn’t take kindly to. Carrie Fisher, the actress who brought the princess to life, drew her light saber and fought like she was trying to defend Alderaan from the Death Star. The result was a battle played out on YouTube and in interviews.
The arguable winner was Shatner’s “Star Trek” costar George Takei, who released his own YouTube video encouraging all fans of both franchises to band together to fight “Twihards,” those die-hard fans of the “Twilight” series.
More than two years later, Shatner still occasionally fires a shot across Fisher’s bow via his Twitter account. Even though he’s nearing age 83, Shatner is a regular feature on Twitter, with some 1.6 million followers. He tweets daily on a variety of subjects, usually letting you know which food holiday it is. (On Nov. 11, not only was it Veterans Day, it was National Sundae Day.) Sometimes he even answers a few questions from fans.
Tickets to “Shatner’s World” are available at the Mountainlair and Creative Arts Center box offices, all Ticketmaster outlets and via Ticketmaster.com.