William Shatner is good at lots of things. He's a novelist, a film director, a competitive rider, an animal lover and, of course, an actor who made his most famous character, Capt. Kirk, into a national icon.
In spite of all his accomplishments, Shatner says his real talent lies in his ability to enjoy life.
After 30 minutes with him, you realize that's probably true. "I've always been that way pretty much," he says, seated in a side chair in his spacious office in Studio City, Calif., his devoted Doberman, Charity, resting her chin on his knee.
Indeed, it's hard to keep up with Shatner, who seems busier since he beamed off the deck of the Starship Enterprise for more earthly pursuits. "I'm running around. I'm riding competitively Friday morning at the L.A. Equestrian Center, then Friday afternoon my daughter and her significant other and my wife and I will fly to Monterey to see the road races, then I and a group of other people will ride motorcycles from Monterey to L.A. by way of Santa Barbara to raise money for charity, and that's just the next few days. . . . There's so much in a day to do and to live."
The 70-year-old actor seems forever turning up where he's not expected. He was the wonderfully droll beauty pageant organizer in "Miss Congeniality," and today will show up as the "Chairman" in UPN's first "Iron Chef" special to be telecast from Las Vegas. (And he participated in the "bonus extras" on the new debut DVD release of "Star Trek — The Motion Picture," the first of the "Star Trek" movies.)
While Shatner loves the curious melding of martial arts and cooking, he's not a very good cook himself. That doesn't keep him from relishing the chance to champion some of the world's most famous chefs in their feats of gastronomic gold.
Though he's had some tough times in his life, he's not a man to entertain regrets, he says. "I think regret is the toughest word in the English language, and one should try to live one's life so you don't feel regret. You commit yourself totally to an action realizing that what you're doing at this moment — which you may not do in the next moment — is only a result of the forces acting on you at that moment, forces that might change should there be a knock on the door. . . . "
Shatner heard that knock when his third wife, Nerine, drowned in the family pool two years ago while under the influence of alcohol and Valium.
It was a long time before he could even open the sympathy cards he received after her death. "Grief passes by and the hard edges — the razor sharp edges of grief — begin to dull," he says.
"And it becomes just a knife wound that remains. You can get through the day, then the week, then you can get through your life while this presence is always there, never forgotten, you can continue your life," he says, resting his Birkenstock-shod feet on the pine coffee table.
Of course, Shatner's fame, and the tragic circumstances of his wife's death, didn't help. "There are aspects to the pain, like trying to grieve and being hounded by the press. You think: 'Just let me get through, let me live because the next headline will be my death, if you really want to know.' That's terrible, that goes for even joyful events. 'Just let me be alone with my person for the moment, will you?' No. I see some of these long lens photographs of people who are trying to get away. The violation. I feel like they feel. It's a sense of violation — that's the toughest thing about being a celebrity."
Shatner, who is the father of three daughters, recalls his first divorce was almost as traumatic as Nerine's death. "The pain of the responsibility, the loneliness, the aloneness. The death of Nerine brought me to the point — you question your mortality all the time, but there are certain precipices that you reach where you say, 'I have to face the fact that I'm going to die. And what does that mean, where do I go, what do I do?' "
Twice in the conversation he mentions loneliness, describing himself on the road with his one-man show and facing the emptiness of 41 cities in 43 days.
That loneliness was stanched eight months ago when he married his fourth wife, Elizabeth, a horse trainer he'd met in Santa Barbara. "We'd met before and I'd been unable to get to my mail," he explains. "After some months I started opening it. I saw a letter from her there and I thought, 'Maybe I'll call her.' She'd had her problems. She'd lost her husband. She knew about grief. I'd never felt the pain, the grief that I had felt. So she helped me through that."
Now his only regret is that there isn't enough time to do everything he wants to do. There are things he would change if he had the time, he smiles.
"I don't like the way I look, don't like my age. I have a long list. I don't have anything painful physically. I'm a little shorter of breath, I can't run as long or as far as I used to. I think, 'Well, if you get yourself in better shape, you idiot, you would.' I don't feel my age. So when I say 'my age' I don't want to go back to the mistakes I made when I was younger. It's just that I don't have that many years left and I regret that because I'm enjoying living."
When it's pointed out that there are barbells of various weights tucked under his desk, he starts to laugh.
"You notice they're UNDER the desk. I can kick them around and make great leg muscles."