The Shady Side Of William Shatner

Canadian actor William Shatner rose to pop culture fame thanks to his iconic role as Captain James T. Kirk on the original Star Trek television series and subsequent films. While the beloved science fiction franchise is known for its bright futuristic outlook on polarizing topics—humanity overcoming its differences to "boldly go where no man has gone before"—Shatner isn't exactly known for being a paragon of inclusiveness or progressive thought. In fact, you're more likely to find the former starship captain trolling the dark corners of the internet or feuding with his co-stars.

His Star Trek castmates hated working with him

When Star Trek first aired in 1966, it wasn't a hit for NBC. The show lasted only three seasons, and it didn't become popular until reruns in the '70s propelled the series to its massive pop culture status. Those humble beginnings supposedly didn't stop Shatner from being a demanding star during the show's production. According to Uproxx, nearly the entire crew of the Enterprise had problems working with him.

Though Star Trek became known for bridging racial divides, actress Nichelle Nichols (Lieutenant Uhura) would have left after the first season because of Shatner's behavior. She decided to stay following a chance encounter with Martin Luther King Jr., who loved the show and told Nichols she was an important role model for young African-American women. Even Walter Koenig and James Doohan, Trek's Chekov and Scotty, reportedly refused to speak with Shatner because of their experience with him on the show. 

But it turns out that the one person who Shatner clashed with the most was Captain Kirk's on-screen best friend: Mr. Spock.

He was jealous of Spock's popularity

As the popularity of Star Trek grew, one character stood out "ears" and shoulders above the rest: Leonard Nimoy's Spock. Fan mail poured in for the Vulcan, and John Wayne even dropped by the set just to see him, according to the New York Post. Shatner was reportedly not happy, and in later years, he admitted to feeling jealous of his co-star and not handling the situation in the best of ways.

For starters, Shatner often hid Nimoy's bike, which the Spock actor used to get around on set quickly during the cast's short breaks. Then Shatner began stealing Nimoy's lines, and eventually, the two nearly halted production after Shatner refused to let a Life magazine photographer who was profiling Nimoy into the Paramount makeup room. (The London Express reported that Shatner didn't want pictures taken of makeup artists applying his hairpiece.) Nimoy reportedly refused to get into makeup until the photographer was allowed back in.

Despite Shatner's ego causing considerable friction, the co-stars reportedly became allies after Nimoy sued Star Trek producers for using his likeness to sell Heineken beer in England. The pair even took on Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, who supposedly demanded a large percentage of Nimoy's convention appearances, according to Shatner's 2016 book about his late co-star. The actors renegotiated their contracts together and became close friends for decades until, once again, Shatner apparently took things too far.

Nimoy stopped talking to him

At the time of Nimoy's death in 2015, he reportedly hadn't spoken to his Star Trek co-star for nearly five years, thanks to Shatner pulling a shady move with his 2011 documentary The Captains.

"Apparently, Shatner had asked Nimoy to make an appearance in the documentary. Nimoy refused," reported ThoughtCo. "Despite that, Shatner's cameraman filmed Nimoy secretly during a convention appearance to include as footage without Nimoy's permission. There was never a final argument or blow out over it, but that seemed to have been the last straw. They never spoke again."

In his book Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship With a Remarkable Man, Shatner wrote that he thought Nimoy was "kidding" about no longer speaking to him and referred to it as "such a small thing." Except Nimoy wasn't messing around. According to ThoughtCo, Shatner said he attempted to repair their friendship over the years, but to no avail. After Nimoy's death, Shatner said in his book that the Spock actor was his only "real friend" in life, yet Shatner made an odd choice when it came time to honor the passing of his friend.

He skipped Nimoy's funeral

Shortly after Nimoy's death, Shatner made headlines for skipping his friend's funeral in California, which earned Shatner the nickname "Captain Jerk," according to CNN. In his defense, Shatner was in Florida for the Red Cross Ball, but to many fans, that was not a worthy excuse. 

In the wake of the controversy, valid points were made on Shatner's behalf, reinforcing that mourning is a deeply personal process and the media should leave Shatner alone to grieve as he saw fit. Not to mention, he missed the funeral to do charity work.

Things got shady, as they often do with Shatner, when the actor reportedly landed in Los Angeles just two hours after Nimoy's funeral began, leading many to assume that Shatner may have been able to make it back in time for the service if he'd really wanted to. It was a conflicting end to a conflicting relationship, but it wasn't the only public rift between Shatner and a former Star Trek castmate.

He had a 40-year feud with George Takei

George Takei's popularity exploded in recent years thanks to his strong social media presence and his decision to come out of the closet. At the time of this writing, Takei has more Twitter followers than Shatner, which probably hasn't helped their 40-year feud.

According to Takei's 1994 autobiography To the Stars (via the New York Post), Shatner acted like he didn't know who Takei was on the set of the original series. Takei claimed Shatner even changed the script for Star Trek V so Takei's character, Sulu, wouldn't be in command of a starship.

The situation grew volatile in 2008 when Shatner ranted in an interview that he wasn't invited to Takei's wedding. "There's such a sickness there, it's so painfully obvious that there's a psychosis there," Shatner said. "I didn't know him very well on the series, he'd come in for a day or two, as evidenced by the role he played." Takei claimed Shatner was invited but never responded. 

The two traded many barbs over the years, but in 2016, they managed to settle their differences for a reunion photo at Destination Star Trek Europe. It's anybody's guess how long they'll keep the peace.

He went after J.J. Abrams

If you thought Shatner kept his Star Trek feuds contained to the original cast, think again. In 2008, director J.J. Abrams reportedly found himself in Shatner's crosshairs after the actor learned that Nimoy would appear in Abrams' Star Trek reboot, which would be decidedly Shatner-free.

The problem intensified when Abrams claimed his team tried to fit the original Kirk into the reboot film but Shatner "wanted the movie to focus on him significantly," according to The Guardian. Shatner responded with a video post claiming he was never contacted by Abrams. The situation grew tense for Star Trek fans.

Eventually, Shatner and Abrams worked out their differences, and Shatner even became a big fan of Chris Pine, who played Kirk in the new series of Star Trek films. In fact, when Pine landed the role, he wrote a letter to Shatner, who responded with an arguably uncharacteristic amount of class and poise. It was a rare moment for the generally stubborn Shatner.

And then he discovered Twitter.

He started a weird flame war with Outlander fans

While Takei's rise to social media fame can easily be attributed to his witty observations, hilarious memes, and championing of progressive causes, Shatner's reputation on Twitter is a bit more controversial. 

For starters, the original Kirk really gets into his TV shows. In June 2016, CollegeHumor reported that the then 85-year-old actor seemed to have a special affinity for live-tweeting teen dramas, including Once Upon a Time and almost everything on The CW, but where Shatner really goes off the deep end is "shipping."

According to Vox, shipping is when fans of a TV show or movie really want to see two characters or even real-life actors get together. This seems innocent enough, but on Twitter, things can get downright ugly when obsessive shippers create intricate conspiracy theories about how their favorite actors and actresses are allegedly involved in secret relationships. This behavior is especially heated around Outlander stars Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe, and Shatner made it his personal crusade to stop Outlander shipping. It didn't go well.

As Vox reported, Shatner was initially trying to help Heughan, whose personal life was being affected by crazed fan theories, but soon, Shatner had essentially sicced his two million followers on Outlander fans whose tweets he didn't like. It got messy fast, and some users even wrote to Starz in hopes of escaping Shatner's harassment. The situation also raised some serious questions about Shatner's online activity, and the answers weren't pretty.

He got way into 4chan

As Shatner's Twitter war with Outlander fans grew to include other TV shows, as well as "social justice warriors," The Daily Dot noticed that the actor was apparently an avid user of the controversial message board 4chan, which had some disturbing implications: Captain Kirk might be a troll.

According to The Mary Sue, Shatner has "contributed nothing substantial to the world beyond playing a character whose ideals he now appears to be in direct opposition with. His last gasp of relevancy is trolling kids on Twitter who joyfully live in a more socially progressive time than his retrograde brain can process."

Despite being repeatedly taken to task for his aggressive Twitter tactics, Shatner didn't let up, and the situation only got worse.

His tweeting got out of control

On July 30, 2017, Shatner's tweets began furiously attacking progressive causes, which put him deeply at odds with the Star Trek fan base, according to Salon. Even more disturbingly, the Advocate noticed that Shatner was using "alt-right language" to attack Outlander fans and feminists, which would explain why the actor was noticeably absent from an open letter signed by past and present Star Trek cast-members denouncing Donald Trump's less than inclusive policies. Although, in fairness, Shatner considers himself "apolitical," according to Page Six.

Shatner's pugilistic stance on social issues made headlines, but Inverse Culture noticed an interesting coincidence about the timing of his particularly volatile tweets in late July. They happened on the same day that he fell off a horse at the Kentucky State Fair. While there's no proof that the two are related, Shatner has confessed many times over the years to having a fragile ego. Did that embarrassing fall fuel his fire? Was he simply not feeling too good? Nobody but Shatner will ever know for sure, but his rhetoric dramatically softened in the days following the incident.

An epic ego for an epic captain

While Shatner's ego has often gotten the best of him, he has repeatedly admitted that his narcissistic personality was the cause of his trouble over the years and thus, assumed some responsibility for it. He took the souring of his friendship with Nimoy to heart after the iconic on-screen duo failed to reconcile before Nimoy's death. It's worth noting that without Shatner's oversized bravado—that might be leaning more toward crotchety in his old age—pop culture would not have had Captain Kirk and the adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise, which has captivated generations and encouraged them to strive for a brighter future.