Shat Trek part 2: Courage in the Face of Illness

T he filter through which William Shatner sees the world is so unbelievably distorting that he borders on schizophrenic.  He is literally the only person in the universe I can think of who can see a set of clear, undeniable events, and actually experience something totally, narcissistically different from the rest of humanity.  For instance, many of you may remember George Takei delivering about fifty years of pent-up, thinly veiled aggression towards Shatner at Shatner’s Friar’s Club Roast a few years back.  Here’s the clip:

George:  Despite our tensions, I’m honored that you invited me to be here with you tonight.  I can finally say what I’ve waited forty years to say.  “F-K YOU, AND THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON.”   

Shatner:  (under his breath)  I always knew he wanted to f-k me.

Of course, it is well known that, of all the Star Trek cast, Sulu to this day harbors the most vitriolic hatred of Shatner due to Shatner’s pervasively unapologetic selfishness on set.  This will all be discussed in depth in my next installment, “Shat Trek part 3 – The Shatspat”, but for the purposes of understanding the story I am about to tell, the underlying cause of that exchange must first be examined. 

So what, pray tell, is the reason for Shatner’s near total inability to hear or process anything that doesn’t please or directly aggrandize him?  This is well documented by thousands of actors, directors, associates, friends, wives, etc. who have worked with him over the years, so I will spare you any further examples short of telling you that to witness this firsthand you need go no farther than simply paying attention when the man’s mouth is moving.   However, when I saw the following excerpt from a Shatner interview regarding Takei, it turned me onto the fact that something more serious might be going on.  Take a listen:

You’d think there’d have been an epiphany, at some point, where you’d say, where George might have said…’ Poor Bill Shatner.  He is such a lonely, desperate, unhappy man that he did all these terrible things to me’…which I can’t remember, I presume he can remember all of these terrible things that I must have done when I said ‘hello’  or something to him –   but you’d think he’d have this epiphany and say, ‘God, I hope that…I wish him well.   

Bill Shatner: A poor soul who has a great deal of difficulty remembering past events. And is kind of a dick about it. Hmmm.   That’s illuminating.  That almost sounds…pathological?  Given that his egomaniacal empowerment is so advanced, I long assumed he almost HAD to have a chemical imbalance of some kind, but is it conceivable that he actually has some rare form of narcissistically selective Alzheimer’s?  I did some digging…

Lo and be-f-king-hold.   Shatner IS deserving of our pity!  As it turns out, Poor Bill Shatner is the tragic sufferer of a chronic illness called tinnitus.  No, seriously, the man has a medically verifiable condition, and I tell you this with the spirit of utmost medical gravity.  What is tinnitus?  Well:   

Tinnitus is defined by the AMA as:  the perception of sound within the human ear in the absence of corresponding external sound.  Tinnitus is not a disease, but a symptom that can result from a wide range of underlying causes.



WELL THAT F-KING EXPLAINS A LOT.  Is one of those underlying causes, possibly, “unbelievable  self-importance?”   For the record, this is not a f-ing joke.  Shatner has been officially diagnosed with a mild version of this disease.  Seriously.  The man literally walks the earth basting himself in the whispered flattery of his own demented psychosis.

Look, these jokes could go on forever, but as you will see, Shatner’s rare and curious form of tinnitus appears to be so extreme that his mind can actually fabricate entire swaths of his life out of thin air.  Nowhere is this more pronounced that in his retelling of:


When Star Trek III, the Search for Spock was in production, Shatner was also under contract to begin filming a new season of TJ Hooker.  According to William Shatner, these two events were the most important occurrances in the history of the entire universe up to that moment, and as I understand it both jobs were contractually obligated to allow him to use the same hairpiece for both productions so it wouldn’t appear obvious that he was wearing a skull merkin.  At this point in the film, things were getting tight for Shatner as he had about a week left for his parts in the film to get wrapped up before he had to leave to start production on the show.  As I’m sure you can imagine, the pressure felt by the Star Trek crew was minimal.  The pressure Shatner felt the crew should feel was immense.  Many conversations about lunch and childcare were interrupted by Bill’s non-sequitor interjections to this effect.   

Then, one fateful morning as everyone was arriving at the studio, someone noticed smoke coming out of the studio doors.  Everyone rushed to the set, grabbed some hoses, made sure everyone was OK, and then the fire department arrived to take over.  Apparently the incident was relatively minor considering how devastating it could have been if the entire place went up in flames, but through the collective efforts of various cast and crew members the damage was minimal. 

And that’s what happened…according to everyone but William Shatner.  Suprisingly enough, his tinnitus appears to manifest itself in terms of visual, and historical details as well.  I would like you to compare and contrast the above version with what I’m going to tell you now, which is as close to an accurate retelling of the story as I heard from Shatners own mouth.

“I remember the fire very well.  At that time I was filming Star Trek III (note the conspicuous lack of the words “involved in” in reference to the filming.  Apparently tinnitus also effects speech), and I had one week left before I was scheduled to begin filming a television series and would have to leave Star Trek III for a month.  I simply could not be late, because I HAD to be there.  I had to.  It was too important that I be there for the series.  If we couldn’t finish filming in time it would be a complete disaster and it would upset several major producers. 

Then one morning as I was arriving at the studio, I noticed a wisp of smoke coming out of the crack between the studio doors.  Instantly, a jolt of fear shot through me, because I knew if the studio was on fire there was no way I would be able to get to the set of TJ Hooker in time.  Panicked, I raced over to the doors and flung them open.   Billowing black smoke came pouring out into my eyes and lungs.  I grabbed a hose, raced onto the set, the smoke burning and blinding me, and began fighting that fire with all my strength. 

Now I tell you: I had no thought for the safety of anyone else.  None.  All that mattered was that I save that set.  I had no thought of anyone else who might be trapped in the building, and no thought for that the fire would spread and burn down the entire lot.  No.  All that mattered to me, the only thought in my head, was that I had to save that set, because I knew if it all burned down I would never be able to finish production in a week and the TV show would be ruined.  (Jesus f-king CHRIST…) I did battle with that fire, and I fought those flames with every fiber of my being.  

Finally, as the last of the flames were dying out, the fire department arrived.  I must have looked terrible, covered in soot and smoke from fighting off that fire.  I handed the hose to him as a battle-worn soldier gives his rifle to the reinforcements, and as he took it I saluted him as one does a comrade in arms.  I asked him if there was anything else I could do, and he said ‘No, we’ll take it from here.”  As I walked off the studio lot, exhausted from my efforts, I knew…I KNEW…I had done everything I could to save that movie.  To this day, I believe I can honestly say that I saved that film.  It is because of me that Star Trek III was ever finished.”

Tinnitus prognosis:  Terminal

Shatner, BY HIS OWN ADMISSION, placed the necessity of his presence on TJ Hooker above the lives of other human beings.  Furthermore, he considers this action grounds for taking full credit for the entire film.  As a matter of fact, he values himself so highly that, for all intents and purposes, his behavior is indistinguishable from that of a sociopath.  Oh, and incidentally, HE DOESN’T EVEN REMEMBER ANYONE ELSE EVEN BEING THERE.   Frankly, I’m surprised he didn’t recall how he ran into a f-king phone booth first and stripped down to his red and blue tights before he grabbed the f-king hose.  It’s no wonder Sulu hates him.  For the first ten years after the movie he probably thought Takei was the quaint gay Asian janitor who periodically dusted off the consoles while the camera was rolling.  Christ, given how distorted his memory is, Shatner probably couldn’t fathom that the reason Spock spent so much time off camera dressed in circa 1984 clothing was because he was the f-king director of the f-king film. 

Now I suppose we can never be sure how much of Shatner’s story is fact and how much is fiction, but I can point to one other tantalizing incident which may inform our image of Shatner’s bravado in the face of fire.  In his own words:

Messy” was how William Shatner described his Thanksgiving to Conan O’Brien Monday night. Charged with cooking the family bird, Shatner said, he decided to deep fry it and something went terribly wrong.

“I had forgotten one major rule,” he said. “You use peanut oil and you have this fire going under the five-gallon thing of peanut oil and you take the turkey and immerse it in the oil. You’re supposed to keep the neck down and the reason for that is that with the neck up, it forms a spout. And boiling oil could come squirting up and catch fire and act like a volcano.”

Of course that’s exactly what happened, but luckily Shatner’s family was on hand to help save him.

“The oil squirted up, and I ran for my life, and I caught fire,” he said. “The whole family knew something amusing was going to happen so they all stood around and threw things at me, some of which were fluids. And they put the fire out.”

After all that, the turkey was “quite good.”


That’s right.  Shatner.  On fire.  Running away screaming like a little bitch with his polyester hair melting to his bald little f-king head.  Because of a F-KING.  TURKEY.  And I do believe that turkey was pretty delicious for your family.  Given the advancement of his tinnitus some twenty years on from Star Trek III, he probably doesn’t remember that the towels and Sprite his family threw at him were actually rocks and lighter fluid.

  Savior of Star Trek III:  My balls.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at

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