What would you do if you were a healthy 91-year-old and had achieved more than most people ever will? If you're William Shatner, the answer is simple. Keep doing more of the same. From early morning flights to another comic-con, to filming a documentary about himself to, oh, I don't know, designing a watch, writing a book, recording a song or going into space, this Canadian nonagenarian is like that battery-fueled bunny on the commercials: wind him up and he just keeps going.
In a phone chat from his California home, Shatner says he's always lived life that way; stumbling forward without a plan, other than to do the next thing that appeared before him. And though his Jewish immigrant family upbringing in Quebec didn't hint at what might lie ahead for young Shatner, (who got a commerce degree from McGill University), the acting bug soon bit, which led to small screen and stage work in 1950s Canada, which led to Hollywood and Captain Kirk, which led to...the rest, as they say, is history.
"I've always been very active, but the idea of saying 'yes' to all life's experiences has only become more important with age," said Shatner, who says his perspective now includes taking 15 minutes to have a lovely conversation with a writer named Lucy in Canada, and being present; in the moment for the experience.
It's similar to how the actor/director/writer describes the overwhelming emotions of rocketing into space aboard Jeff Bezos' spaceflight company, Blue Origin, in 2021. Becoming the oldest person to go to space aside (he was 90 at the time), the real-life rocketman says he was sobbing when he came out of the spaceship because seeing the earth from a distance--its frailty and beauty--felt "sacred and holy. It's life and it's gone."
Shatner admits he feels the clock ticking: it's why he made the new documentary You Can Call Me Bill (released in March) and why he spends time with his grandchildren (the youngest, Sebastian, is just three months old). The film, directed by Alexandre O. Phillippe, covers Shatner's career, from the Star Trek series and films, to T.J. Hooker and Boston Legal, to meditations on his life: marriages (he's had four) and children (three daughters) and acting idols (Brando and Olivier).
"I don’t have long to live. Whether I keel over as I'm speaking to you or 10 years from now, my time is limited," he said about the intimate 90-minute portrait--Shatner's personal journey over nine decades on earth, stripped away of all the masks he has worn and revealing the man behind it all. "This documentary is a way of reaching out after I die."
It doesn't seem Shatner is going anywhere anytime soon, though. While he swims and rides (his horses--a longtime passion) each week, Shatner says he deals with tinnitus and arthritic aches and pains not uncommon for one of an advanced age. "My shoulders hurt, so I've stopped skiing. I think I'm doing well, but then I see someone a great deal younger, and I'm reminded of my age. But what can do? If you don't keep going, then you stop."
An exceptional (and unusual) life
Shatner has had one heck of an unpredictable life; inhabiting a make-believe starship captain, tv cop and lawyer, but also becoming an avid horseman and real-life recording artist, offering up dramatic recitations of songs including Bohemian Rhapsody, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins. He may make these recordings seriously, but Shatner has also found a way for longevity in his career by poking good-natured fun of his earnest, dramatic actor self. That staying power has earned him stars on both the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Canada's Walk of Fame, among other accolades.
He's also stayed sharp by keeping his mind active, claims Shatner. "I read newspapers and books all the time. I'm feeding my mind," he said. "But the sad thing is the older a person gets the wiser they become, and yet they die with all that knowledge. It's gone."
Well, not quite gone, thanks to shows like The UnXplained, a television series on History channel that claims to 'explore subjects that have mystified mankind for centuries'. Shatner is host and executive producer of the show, which interviews scientists, historians, engineers, witnesses, and researchers about various "mysterious" topics. It started a fifth season this spring.
Enjoying every moment
As for any life regrets, Shatner doesn't focus on those. He dismisses the supposed rift between he and his Star Trek co-stars (much was made about missing Leonard Nimoy's funeral) and acknowledges he doesn't like being 'tugged at' by fans at comic-cons. Instead, the veteran performer is skilled at bringing things back to the moment, 'trying to have a good time on the set, doing a commercial for a watch I designed, or coming back to Canada."
And Canada remains dear to his heart. Shatner is proud to still have his Canadian passport (living decades with a well-used U.S. Green Card) and though he lives in California, he visits the Great White North often--B.C. is up next for a fall event.
When he contemplates the twilight of his life, Shatner must certainly turn to that which has long provided meaning to him: his animals. "Horses are more than animals, and like dogs, they are magnificent, sentient beings," said Shatner, whose sprawling horse farm works with the Central Kentucky Riding for Hope, "Horses for Heroes," program, among many other charitable causes.
And, as with a lifetime of firsts and moments he's treasured, (yes Alberta, he even served as Grand Marshal at the Calgary Stampede Parade in 2014), the colourful Canadian has given (and still does) joy to fans the world over.
Shatner acknowledges it's something bigger than being part of sci fi television history too; it's embracing whatever lies ahead with gusto. As Kirk himself once said, "There's no such thing as the unknown, only things temporarily hidden."