William Shatner, the man, the legend, will be remembered for his performances as Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise on Star Trek and in the Original Series features. And, yes, he is in equal parts beloved and mocked for some of his odder choices, acting in Incubus (spoken completely in Esperanto) or singing “Rocket Man,” among them. Here are some of Shatner’s FINEST non-Trek work.
Shatner landed the role of a lifetime, or the second role of a lifetime, as Denny Crane, first on several episodes of The Practice and then on the spin-off series Boston Legal. Shatner was brilliant and often heartbreaking playing a self-absorbed, famously womanizing legal eagle exhibiting early signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s or, as he called it, “mad cow” disease. Quite deservedly, Shatner won Emmy Awards for his efforts on both The Practice and Boston Legal.
One of TV’s early reality shows, Recue 911 featured reenactments of real-life emergencies that led people to call the 9-1-1 hotline. Shatner hosted the program, which ran on CBS from 1989 to 1996. The show ended up helping save lives, reportedly more than 350 of them worldwide, a figure in which Shatner has always taken — and quite understandably — tremendous pride.
The Brothers Karamazov
This 1958 MGM drama based on the Fyodor Dostoyevsky novel casts Shatner, Yul Brynner and Richard Basehart as the disparate sons and would-be heirs of Russian patriarch Fyodor Karamazov (Lee J. Cobb). Critics didn’t embrace director Richard Brooks’ adaptation, but Cobb earned an Oscar nomination and Shatner, in his feature debut, won praise for his portrayal of the gentle monk, Alexei.
The Twilight Zone
Here’s a fun debate starter. Was Shatner better as Bob Wilson, the man who thinks he sees a gremlin on the wing of his plane in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” or as Don Carter, the guy who very nearly invests one penny too many in the Mystic Seer of “Nick of Time”? For what it’s worth, our money is on Don Carter, the more nuanced, less frenzied of the two performances.
Saturday Night Live
December 20, 1986. It’s a date that shall live in infamy. This was the night that Shatner hosted SNL. He was pretty funny, and Lone Justice was the musical guest. But, in one infamous Star Trek convention sketch, Shatner told fans to “Get a life!” Have you forgiven him yet?
Airplane II: The Sequel
Everyone loves Airplane, the spoof of Airport and movies of its ilk. Not everyone loves Airplane II. However, Airplane II features a hysterical extended cameo appearance by Shatner, who plays the pompous Commander Buck Murdock. Best lines: “I guess irony can be pretty ironic sometimes” and “Get me a complete file on everyone who’s seen The Sound of Music more than four times.” And, of course, there’s the quick glimpse of the Enterprise.
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