Today we continue my silly annual tradition of wishing a happy birthday to William Shatner, a Canadian actor of some note who played my first childhood hero in an obscure old television series with which the readers of this blog may or may not be familiar.
At the age of 85, Shatner is — or at least presents himself as — more active and engaged with life than I am at slightly more than half that many years old. I envy him that. And yet…
It’s dangerous to make assumptions about the emotional state of a person you don’t know, especially one who pretends to be other people for a living. But I have to say that Bill Shatner seems really sad to me these days. (As in, he feels sad, not that he is sad, you smart-alecks.) He strikes me as a lonely man coming into the final stretch of his life with the dawning realization that he’s missed out on something deeply important. While the rest of his Star Trek costars have appeared to enjoy a lively camaraderie with one another over the years and have taken genuine pleasure in being part of such a cultural landmark, Shatner, for whatever reason, has held himself aloof from all of it until very recently, and even now his convention appearances tend to be… awkward. (Full disclosure: I’ve met him twice in convention settings and found him far more cordial than his reputation would suggest, but he’s still not at all comfortable interacting with fans, a tremendous contrast to all the other Trek alumni I’ve encountered.) By his own admission, his only real friend among the Trek cast was Leonard Nimoy. And now Leonard is gone… and in his recent book about his friend, Shatner reveals they weren’t even speaking at the time of Nimoy’s death. That little tidbit really breaks my heart.
I keep thinking of a line delivered by his alter ego in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier — easily the worst of the original-cast Trek features, but one that nevertheless has its moments. In one of those moments, following yet another narrow escape, Captain Kirk tells Spock and Bones that he wasn’t afraid because the two of them, his closest friends, were with him. “I’ve always known that I would die alone,” he says. The boundary between the character and the actor often seems pretty thin anyhow, but now that Leonard and Deforest Kelly, who played Bones, and Jimmy Doohan, who was Scotty, are gone… with Nichelle Nichols diminished from a stroke and Walter Koenig not looking very well at all when I met him last fall… well, I wonder if Bill ever thinks about that line and gets a cold sensation in the pit of his stomach, and regrets the choices he made when he was younger.
I’m just speculating, and maybe I’m even projecting some subconscious fear of my own onto a man I only feel like I know. I’ve got no grounds and no right to have any of these ideas on behalf of another person who wouldn’t know me from Adam. Besides, George Takei will probably outlive all of us.
And yet… these are the impressions I get whenever I see The Shat these days. I hope I’m wrong.
In closing, I’ll just repeat what I wrote for this occasion last year:
If I could, I’d buy him a drink. And I would be honored to raise a glass with him…
To absent friends.
To life going on.
May you have many more happy returns, Bill.