William Shatner on divorce, alcoholism and becoming immortal

My wife drowned in my pool. It still haunts me… He’s been married FOUR times, but Star Trek legend William Shatner insists third wife Nerine was the great love of his life

Marriage, divorce, death and Klingons… it’s fair to say that Star Trek actor William Shatner has seen it all in a career straddling almost seven decades.

Aged 88 and with an estimated £75 million fortune, he continues to travel the globe at warp speed, including a trip to Britain in March for a special Star Trek event. ‘I believe in saying yes to life,’ he says. ‘I know how brief life is and so I’m trying to make as much of it as possible.’

Shatner confesses he became painfully aware of just how transient life can be when he found his then wife, model Nerine Kidd, dead at the bottom of the swimming pool at their California home in August 1999. An autopsy concluded she had drowned after diving in and hitting her head. Her blood-alcohol level was three times the legal driving limit.

William Shatner as Captain James T Kirk in the original Star Trek series in 1968. Aged 88 and with an estimated £75 million fortune, he continues to travel the globe at warp speed, including a trip to Britain in March for a special Star Trek event

In 2017 Shatner had experts in virtual-reality technology record his movements, ‘and they photographed me with 250 cameras doing everything’

Just 40, Nerine had been an alcoholic, and although Shatner had been warned by many friends, including his fellow Star Trek actor, the late Leonard Nimoy, that her condition could cause problems in their relationship, he nonetheless married her in 1997, only for her to die two years later.

Consumed with grief, Shatner retreated from the public eye for almost two years, and even now, some 20 years later, he reveals that he still feels her loss deeply. ‘Her death still haunts me,’ he says, though he continues to live in the home where she died. ‘Sometimes I’ll see someone who resembles her and I’ll think, “Oh my God, that looks like Nerine.” And the nightmare of the event is still there. It’s always there.’

At the time of her death, he admits, ‘I wanted to die. She was the great love of my life. She was a beautiful lady – model beautiful – but she was also funny and intelligent. She was a model human being except for one weakness and that killed her. I did think that my love could save her, but that wasn’t to be the case’.

Although never a suspect in her death, he was questioned several times by police after Nerine’s body was discovered. ‘I understood why they had to do it, but once they learned that I was 50 miles out of town and that I’d tried to reach Nerine by phone, it was fine.’

Did he blame himself for her death? ‘No, I didn’t. Drowning is a huge cause of death in people who have alcoholism and sometimes it can even be in the bathtub in just six inches of water. But the loss is always there and we all grieve in our own way.’

What eventually helped him, he admits, was meeting Elizabeth Martin, a horse trainer 27 years his junior who had previously lost her husband to cancer. ‘Meeting her absolutely helped save me,’ he says.

The couple married in 2001, but announced their plans to divorce at the end of last year after 18 years together. It was Shatner’s fourth marriage (his first, to Gloria Rand, produced three daughters, followed by marriage to actress Marcy Lafferty and then Nerine), and while admitting he is someone who ‘can’t live alone’, he remains remarkably upbeat for a man embarking on a fourth divorce in his ninth decade.

‘I think romance in life is essential, but love is a peculiar emotion,’ he says. ‘To forgo it because you’ve once lost love is to lessen everything that you’ve felt before. But there are so many forms that love takes. After I talk to you,’ he says, ‘I’m going to have lunch with two of my three daughters, and I’m so looking forward to it because I love them so much. But everyone can love – it doesn’t have to be one’s daughters. It can be love of’ – his eyes alight on a cookery programme currently showing on TV – ‘a caramel muffin! The passion for life is the love I’m talking about.’

Certainly, you couldn’t accuse Shatner of lacking passion. He has gallons of the stuff and his passion for work remains all-consuming. He has more than 600 films and TV shows to his name (including the series T J Hooker and Boston Legal, and movies such as Miss Congeniality and the Oscar-winning Judgment At Nuremberg) and numerous books. He also has several well-intentioned if not always well-received albums under his belt, in which he sings everything from country and pop to rock songs. Retiring has never been an option. He is currently hosting the History Channel’s paranormal series The UnXplained and is also recording a new album.

While his constant work keeps him feeling young – he’s in tremendously good nick – is his relentless need to keep busy merely an elaborate means of keeping his loneliness at bay? ‘It might be,’ he chuckles. ‘I’ve definitely thought of that. Plus, a moving target is very difficult to hit! But even though I’m talking to you and anticipating riding my horses later and have plenty of things going on, I’m always aware of that essential loneliness of my life.’

William Shatner with his late wife, Nerine, in 1996. He found her dead at the bottom of the swimming pool at their California home in August 1999

The swimming pool at their Los Angeles home, where Nerine drowned in 1999. He still lives there today

Growing up in Montreal, Canada, the middle of three children, one of his earliest memories was as a seven-year-old asking his mother Ann if she loved him or his father more and being told, somewhat harshly: ‘Daddy, because he gives me things.’ As Shatner later admitted, it left him with a feeling of insecurity: ‘I never felt that my mother was always there.’

He subsequently attempted to fill that sense of loneliness with a procession of beautiful women and, as a young actor of exceptional good looks, that wasn’t difficult. In addition to his four wives, he has been linked to actresses Angie Dickinson, Heather Locklear (his T J Hooker co-star) and a pre-Sex And The City Kim Cattrall.

Star Trek, in which he famously played Captain James T Kirk, is of course the show with which he will forever be associated. His live Q&A session in London with fans in March will follow a screening of the 1982 classic movie Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, in which Shatner stars.

The original Sixties Star Trek ran for just three seasons, and only became a cult TV show years later. When it ended in 1969, Shatner’s first wife, Gloria, divorced him, taking the children and, he says, most of the money.

‘I was in dire financial straits for a couple of years,’ he says, ‘and ended up living in a caravan, travelling the country and performing in plays. Even though I was scared, I had too many bills to pay and I never stopped working.’

That’s not to say that he’s been all work and no play. Having lived through Hollywood in the Seventies, he admits to dabbling in drugs, from cocaine (‘it made my nose run’) to magic mushrooms. ‘I believe I had what’s called a bad trip,’ he laughs, recalling that he saw ‘grotesque figures coming out of the walls’.

The experience affected him so much that it brought him close to his greatest fear: dying. In 2017 he had experts in virtual-reality technology record his movements, ‘and they photographed me with 250 cameras doing everything’. Now Shatner may never have to cross that final frontier. ‘I can live forever,’ he says.

So fans might be able to see the actor appearing in adverts, TV shows and films in true futuristic Star Trek style even after he’s long since departed. ‘These machines can take what I’ve said and manipulate the words so that my image can be made to do anything or say anything. It’s quite miraculous in one way, and eerie in another, but I thought: what a wonderful thing to have on your gravestone in some manner, so that your loved ones can see you in your health before you died.’

And what would Shatner’s final message to his friends and family be?

‘Hmm, I don’t know what I’ll say yet.’ And then, mindful of his status as a moving target that is never hit, he adds: ‘Maybe my last words will be, “And next week I’ll be appearing at… ”’ 

William Shatner Live On Stage at the Eventim Apollo, with screening of Star Trek II, is on March 16, ticketmaster.co.uk

 

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