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Captain’s Log: William Shatner Talks About Leonard Nimoy’s Funeral and the Price of Fame

David Pogue
·Tech Critic
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This story is being featured as part of our “Yahoo Best of 2015” series. It was originally published on June 22, 2015..

William Shatner, man. He was Captain Kirk on the original “Star Trek”—an acting gig on a three-season show that nobody at the time thought would amount to anything.

Since then the man has become a legend. He’s 84 years old and still insanely busy. In fact, this week the former Starfleet Commander is about to embark on a 2400-mile trek from Chicago to Los Angeles on a three-wheeled motorcycle he designed himself!

And yet he found the time to sit down with me for a Yahoo Tech Mix interview. He had a cold, and he was jetlagged—fresh off a flight from Dubai—but even under the weather, the man is fascinating.

You’ve probably already read about the bombshell he dropped in his interview—the revelation of the $30 billion Kickstarter campaign he wants to launch, to build a water pipeline from Seattle to California. (You can read about that here.)

Here’s the rest of the interview—in which he talks about:

  • The myth of reinvention.

  • The annoyance of being bothered by fans in public.

  • His Web interview show (“William Shatner’s Brown Bag Wine Tasting”).

  • The hot-rod, three-wheeled motorcycle that he co-designed after a nasty riding accident.

  • His horseback-riding career (he actually still wins riding competitions—in his 80s).

  • His take on phone-camera and Vine culture.

  • His four-album singing career.

  • The upcoming tour of his one-man show, “Shatner’s World.”

  • Internet hate culture.

A long slow Trek to fame

There were some tough times right after the original Star Trek series was canceled; for awhile, Shatner, unable to get work, lived in a truck.

But somehow, he managed to outlive the Kirk typecasting. In the early 80s, he landed the title role in another series, “T.J. Hooker.” Then, in the 2000s, he starred in two more series—“The Practice” and its spinoff, “Boston Legal.” And then there are the Priceline.com commercials, and the books he co-authors, and the motorcycle he co-designed, and the animated shows he voices, and the horses he raises and rides, and even the albums he recorded.

In this interview, Shatner defends himself from the attackers who descended on him for failing to attend Leonard Nimoy’s funeral.

“Obviously, I didn’t know he was going to die,” he said. “Many months prior, I’d said yes to go to a Red Cross convention fundraiser in Miami, 3000 miles away, to which a thousand people were paying a lot of money. Leonard’s funeral fell on the same day. I chose to raise funds for needy people. I will always remember my dead friend—but this was a way of honoring the living. I helped raise several million dollars.

“I was castigated quite severely. I don’t understand it. To me, there’s no choice. Because you don’t make an appearance at a funeral, doesn’t mean you don’t remember, love, honor, any more or less. It’s the grief inside you.”

Shatner is no stranger to Internet hate speech, but he manages to ignore the worst of it.

“I don’t read the nasty stuff,” he says. “What’s released by being anonymous is all the ugly vapors being breathed by a personality who feels liberated to say anything in any language about someone they envy, or don’t like. It’s a sickness. It’s a hole in somebody’s personality.”

He also weighs in with some sage observations about today’s phone camera culture.

“That camera has changed society completely,” says Shatner. “The revolution’s all over the world. History no longer has to be written in word. You can’t burn those ‘books.’”

In the end, Shatner confessed that keeping up the kind of schedule he does isn’t without drawbacks. “It costs a lot, in terms of social sacrifice,” he said. “Relationships can go up in flames because of the amount of time devoted. Being successful and having some money brings a whole host of other problems that people who can’t pay the rent would like to have. All your relationships go through a change.”

So I asked him why he keeps up with his schedule. “What drives you? It’s not for the money any more. It’s not the fame…”

“The chauffeur,” Shatner cracked.

David Pogue is the founder of Yahoo Tech. On the Web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s poguester@yahoo.com. He welcomes non-toxic comments in the Comments below.