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William Shatner’s Transformation Over The Years From 25 To 92

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Star Trek actor William Shatner has enjoyed many decades in Hollywood after starting out as a stage actor in Canada before moving to Broadway and then Los Angeles. He has managed to remain relevant through the changing times since the ‘50s, earning multiple accolades, including Golden Globes and Primetime Emmys.

Born March 22, 1931, William Shatner has made a concentrated effort to stay up to date with the world around him, embracing everything from social media — his X account has over 2.5 million followers — to new technologies, one example being his views on Artificial Intelligence — he welcomes the idea of his likeness being used in movies when he’s long gone. “I would advise my family to say yes,” he said.

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All in all, Shatner has gone through quite the transformation from his 20s to his 90s, and you’ll see below.

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Shakespeare Shatner (1950s)

THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, William Shatner, 1958

Young Shatner partook in Canada’s Stratford Festival, performing in several Shakespeare plays until he shot to fame after understudying Christopher Plummer in a 1956 production of Henry V. He was underprepared, but gave such a stellar delivery that he went from supporting to leading roles during subsequent festivals. In 2013, Shatner returned to Stratford to receive a legacy award and recalled his humble beginnings. “I look back on that, and I think I would never do that now. Are you kidding me?” he gushed.

RELATED: William Shatner’s Honest Response About His Role As ‘Star Trek’s’ Captain Kirk

Broadway to Hollywood (1960s)

TWILIGHT ZONE, Nick Cravat (as The Gremlin), William Shatner, in the ep: ‘Nightmare At 20,000 Feet,’ 10/11/63. Season 5

In the late ‘50s, Shatner starred in Broadway’s The World of Suzie Wong and, in 1961, A Shot in the Dark. He set his sights on Hollywood in the ‘60s, appearing in films like The Brothers Karamazov and Judgment at Nuremberg, where he co-starred with Spencer Tracy and Judy Garland. Soon enough, Shatner was a known face on television, his credits include several episodes of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, among them “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” where he plays an airline passenger who insists that there’s a monster on the wing of the plane — which no one else sees.

Unknown to some, Shatner has released music/spoken word albums since 1968, among them The Transformed Man (1968), William Shatner Live (1977), Has Been (2004), Seeking Major Tom (2011), Shatner Claus (2018), and Bill (2021).

Shatner’s life-changing role (1960s)

STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, front from left: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy; back: Avery Brooks, Terry Farrell, ‘Trials and Tribble-ations’, (S5.E6, aired Nov 4, 1996) ©Paramount Television / Courtesy Everett Collection

In 1965 he was cast in what was the second pilot for the television series Star Trek, portraying Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise in an episode titled “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” That pilot went to series, with the show debuting in 1966 and running until 1969. Admittedly it struggled in terms of ratings, but creatively it provided a wide variety of opportunities for Shatner and it would soar in popularity once it went into reruns. On the downside, the actor, like his costars, found himself terribly typecast and, as a result, was limited in his acting opportunities. He did star in the short-lived TV series The Barbary Coast in 1975, made guest appearances on different series and game shows, and shifted to the big screen for efforts like Big Bad Mama (1974) and Kingdom of the Spiders (1977). “It was the early 1970s, and I was recently divorced. I had three kids and was totally broke … I lived out of the back of my truck,” he once recalled.

Reprising Captain Kirk (1980s-1990s)

STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK, William Shatner, 1984, ©Paramount / courtesy Everett Collection

The growing fanbase and demand for Star Trek finally birthed the 1979 movie Star Trek: The Motion Picture and its success led to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) and Star Trek: Generations (1994), the latter of which saw him team up with Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Author Shatner (1990s)

3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN, from the left: William Shatner, John Lithgow, ‘The Big Giant Head Returns’ (Season 5 | Episode 12, aired 22 February 2000), 1996-2001, ph: Michael Yarish. ©Carsey-Werner/Courtesy Everett Collection

The 1990s also saw the author side of Shatner, who, as of now, has written about 40 books, which include Star Trek-themed novels as well as memoirs and original fiction. He also explored more comedy, playing himself in Free Enterprise, the Big Giant Head in 3rd Rock from the Sun, Sandra Bullock’s Miss Congeniality, and 2002’s Showtime alongside renowned comedian Eddie Murphy.

Music, loss, and a Broadway comeback (2000s-2010s)

BOSTON LEGAL, William Shatner, (Season 5), 2004-08. photo: Andrew MacPherson / © Fox / courtesy Everett Collection

Shatner lost his wife, Nerine Kidd, to drowning in 1999 following her longtime battle with alcoholism and two rehab stays. He paid tribute to her with a Los Angeles home for people in recovery called The Nerine Shatner Friendly House. By 2008, Shatner played his second-favorite role as Denny Crane in the The Practice spin-off, Boston Legal, with each series earning him an Emmy Award. “How extraordinary — what a character to play,” he gushed to NPR.

Over five decades after his Broadway debut, Shatner returned in 2012 for the one-man show Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It. “My plan has always been to return to Broadway every 50 years. I can’t ask my fans to wait for me longer than Halley’s Comet, so I’m coming back,” he said in a statement at the time.

Shatner’s 90s

LOS ANGELES – AUG 2: William Shatner at the NBCUniversal TCA Summer 2016 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 2, 2016 in Beverly Hills, CA

Now that he is in his nineties, and having recently actually gone into space, Shatner — who returned to TV in 2023 for the Fox reality show Stars on Mars — has learned to “take it easy,” as “nothing matters in the end, what goes up must come down.” However, he is glad to have learned so later in life because “if I’d known that at 20, I wouldn’t have done anything!”

The legendary actor is set for the release of his fan-fueled biopic, You Can Call Me Bill, ahead of his 93rd birthday. He released a statement ahead of its theatrical debut in March, which reads, “This film was made possible by fans. Fans of independent film, fans of documentaries, and fans whose support has given me a career in this industry… I’m honored to stand with those who invested and proud to be a part of the work they helped create.”

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