Cover image for Get a life!
Get a life!
Shatner, William.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York ; London : Pocket Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
321 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


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PN1992.4.S47 A33 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PN1992.4.S47 A33 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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"Get A Life!" with the possible exception of "Beam me up, Scotty," is clearly the most repeated catchphrase in the history of "Star Trek(R)." Poking fun at "Star Trek's" gung-ho fans and conventions in a now infamous "Saturday Night Live" sketch, William Shatner's comic rallying cry has been indelibly emblazoned into the collective psyche of trekkers everywhere. Through the years, the phrase has spurred laughter, anger, controversy, and far more than its fair share of debate. It's now also given birth to an honest, sentimental, insightful book.

Uncomfortable with speaking onstage, William Shatner had spent the better part of the previous quarter century steadfastly avoiding convention appearances. However, to publicize the release of "Star Trek Generations," Shatner agreed to a rare series of speaking engagements at "Star Trek" conventions around the globe. He was jolted by an unavoidable dose of reality.

Shatner was met with wild enthusiasm, love, and good humor at convention after convention. Touched and fascinated, he was overwhelmed with the realization that in almost three decades of starship hopping, he'd never really t

Author Notes

William Shatner is an actor and writer. He was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on March 22, 1931. He graduated from McGill University in 1952.

Shatner made his acting debut at the Montreal Playhouse in 1952 and performed with the Canadian Repertory Theatre in Ottawa. From 1954 to 1956 he appeared in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario and in 1956 he made his Broadway debut in Tamburlaine the Great. In 1966, Shatner was cast as Captain James Tiberius Kirk in the TV series Star Trek. The TV show inspired several film spin-offs, the early ones starring the original cast. Shatner directed Star Trek V. He also co-starred in a law-related series on television called Boston Legal with James Spader.

In addition to acting, Shatner began a career as a writer of science fiction novels. The first one, Tek War, was published in 1989. Shatner has also written his memoirs, Star Trek Memories. He was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1999 for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his performance as The Big Giant Head on the TV series 3rd Rock From the Sun.

Shatner's title co-authored with David Fisher, Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man, was a New York Times betseller in 2016.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Shatner facing life after Captain Kirk's demise is the hook. This should be rich.



April 1999 -- Somewhere over the Midwest A lot of people really love to fly. Go to any airport, in any city, on any day, and you can't help but spot them, skipping playfully along the moving sidewalks, whistling as they check their bags, always making sure they arrive at least two hours before their scheduled departure. Kids, adults, old people, these happy passengers come in all shapes and sizes. Inside the flight cabin, you'll invariably find them sitting in their assigned seats, buckled securely, smiling, sipping slowly at their little plastic cups full of 7-Up. They are courteous, well-behaved, and cheerful at all times. They keep their tray tables in the upright and locked position, and they'd never dream of causing a moment's trouble for their flight attendants. They're the lively, life-of-the-party people who'll brighten your flight by yelling "He-e-e-e-e-ere we go-o-o-o" as you take off, and later, launch into an appreciative round of applause as you land. These people make me sick, and I'd like to personally smack every one of them in the head. I hate flying; flat-out hate its guts. The boredom, the irrational fatigue, the god-awful food, the stupid little air-conditioning jets that blast you from sweltering to freezing in under five seconds, the midget pillows, the paper-towel blankets, the mile-high Porta Pottis, the flatulent fat guy who always seems to sit next to me, the fifty-fifty chance of plummeting to the ground in a massive screaming name it, I hate it. In real life, I am by no means "starship captain" material. Still, despite wobbly knees and intestines, I'm up in the wild blue horror all the time. With homes on both sides of the continent, conventions to attend, film and television locations to visit, air travel is an absolutely necessary evil for me, but it never gets any easier. In fact, anyone who's ever seen the old Twilight Zone gremlin episode, where I got to wreak havoc as an impossibly freaked out coach-class crazy, has witnessed a pretty close approximation of what I'm like every time I leave LAX. Without fail, on virtually every aircraft unlucky enough to welcome me aboard, I find myself gradually succumbing to fear, monotony, claustrophobia, and a sort of "pressurized cabin fever." In plainer terms, I go nuts. I can't sit still. I fidget, I wander, I whimper, I doodle, I hum along with those tinny airline headphones, I count how many peanuts are packed into my complimentary foil bag (It's almost always 39.), I play my Game Boy like a crazed eleven-year-old...and then the plane takes off and it gets even weirder. Let's put it this way: I may be the only passenger in the history of the airlines stir-crazy enough to sit through Home Alone 3 ...twice. Further, were it not for that legendary drink-cart-squatting, poop-flinging, drunk-out-of-his-mind businessman who made all the papers a while back, I believe I might very well qualify as single worst passenger in the history of global aviation. I believe you get the picture. But here I sit, at it again, clumsily poking at my laptop Mac and cursing the fates as today's 747 wobbles down through a layer of smoggy turbulence toward the tarmac and yet another Star Trek convention. Ears pop, babies cry, landing gear kathunks, and we're down -- at which point we taxi toward our gate for just under nineteen weeks. Finally, in a scene reminiscent of feeding time at the monkey cage, the hatch cracks open, and I immediately lunge, quite gleefully, past the faux-sincere smiles and "buh-bye now" chattering of today's flight crew, sprinting down through the gate chute and out into the fluorescent faux-sunshine of the airport. The chrome, the glass, the indestructible "industrial beige" carpeting -- never before has any place this tacky looked this good. I'm on the ground, I'm still in one piece, the FAA has made no attempt whatsoever to incarcerate flight's been an unqualified success. I take a deep breath now, and smile. Ever notice how every airport smells exactly the same? As far as I can tell, it's an endlessly recirculated mix of old coffee, fast-food french fries, newspaper pulp, and a huge collective cloud of cologne, parfum, and other upscale stinkwaters. Disgusting, yes, but I swear to you, I absolutely love it. Somehow, over the past thirty years, and countless white-knuckle plane flights, I believe my subconscious gray matter has come to equate that distinctively funky airport aroma with official notification that my airborne torture session's now over, and the terra-firma fun is about to begin. It doesn't matter what town I'm in, or what gathering I'm headed toward, William Shatner's "Star Trek Convention Experience" always begins right here, with a happy, heaping lungful of airport funk. It then proceeds pretty much like this. "SHATNER" will be black-magic-markered onto a clipboard sign somewhere within my line of vision. Behind that clipboard, my driver du jour will be smiling broadly. If I'm attending a large, well-organized convention, that smile will more than likely be plastered all over the face of a formally uniformed professional chauffeur. If I'm heading toward a smaller, fan-run gathering, that same smile might come attached to a fan, a gofer, or whatever convention volunteer owns the cleanest car. It doesn't matter. I'm always glad to see them, they're always glad to see me, and together, we're almost always late. For years, I'd scour the commercial flight schedules in an effort to time my convention travel flawlessly. Calculator in hand, I'd figure the airport-to-airport time and distance, factoring in an estimated drive time from arrival airport to convention, before finally settling upon whatever flight plan would get me into town exactly two hours before I'd be due onstage. That way I could enjoy a leisurely drive from airport to venue, arriving relaxed, happy, and comfortably ahead of schedule. These were the best-laid plans of mice and men, but they were also pitifully unrealistic. After suffering the ubiquitous slings and arrows of unannounced gate changes, airport stack-ups, weather woes, and perennially sadistic jet-stream hissy fits, my perfect little travel schedules almost inevitably turned to mush. I'd estimate that over the years my late arrivals outnumbered the "ontimes" by at least three to one. Punctuality is a bitch. That's why, once back on Earth, after kissing the ground and slapping a quick "handshake and hello" on my assigned driver, we've generally gotta run...literally. My sole and trusty travel bag is already at my side, but with navigating the airport, finding the car, and battling the inevitable traffic back toward the gathering, there's precious little margin for error. For all of those reasons, with my head down, my eyes lowered, and using my driver as a sort of moving pick, we're off, combining to plow through the airport at about warp factor six. Past the airport bookstores that seem to sell only the paperback works of Stephen King and John Grisham, past the gift shops where you can buy six aspirin tablets for $7.75, as well as the finest in shrink-wrapped, low-rent "men's magazines" and last-minute "whoops" souvenirs ("Whoops, I forgot to buy my kid a T-shirt"). Picking up speed now, we double-time it down escalators, through corridors, past the duty-free shop, the metal detectors, and the luggage carousels. Finally, we whoosh through one last pair of oversized revolving doors, before breaking out into the April-fresh bus fumes of the parking lot. At this point, at more than half the conventions I attend, there's one last momentary pause, as the driver tries to remember where the hell he parked the car. Not to worry; ten seconds, maybe twenty, it always hits them. The lightbulb goes on, the driver points, the two of us jog, and seconds later we're both diving into the car. Over the years, I've probably seen more than a hundred drivers get that panicky "Uh-oh, I'm gonna be wandering all over the parking lot with Shatner" look on their faces, but never have we failed to find our ride...yet. At any rate, once inside the car, it's time to gun the ignition and roll. I should also take a moment to note that my "ride" can come in any number of forms, from a purloined family station wagon full of baby toys, juice boxes, and half-eaten Happy Meals to a gaudy, supersized stretch limo that even Liberace would have described as "a bit much." Don't mention this to convention runners, but I usually just feel silly in those gigantic "kid at the junior prom" monsters, and would almost always prefer riding shotgun in the lived-in, kid-friendly station wagons. But whatever the car, my driver and I quickly peel away from the local airport and spend some time seeing the local sixty miles per hour. Barrelling down the highway that points most directly at today's convention hall, I often get to sneak quick, blurry glances at whatever points of interest happen to whiz past. Seattle's Space Needle, the St. Louis Arch, Nebraska's fabled "House of Mud," you name the landmark, I've more than likely spent seven to nine seconds looking at it through a speeding, passenger-side window. With no time for more conventional sightseeing, my driver and I simply continue speeding, disregarding local traffic laws until we've reached the big, bold, highlighted, italicized, starred, and underlined "main event" on today's itinerary. Barring unforeseen traffic disasters, we'll generally arrive with about thirty minutes to spare. At which point we head straight for the rancid garbage. Hotel, convention hall, theater, it doesn't matter; wherever the Star Trek convention, I always seem to get ushered inside via the service entrance, which is inevitably flanked by a fleet of dumpsters waking, pungently with the discarded remains of last Tuesday's stuffed-flounder special. Queasy? Excited? I've no idea, but for some reason, this is invariably the moment where I'm hit by my first wave of butterflies. Here and now, it's time to say good-bye to my driver, and hello to today's convention organizer: in effect, I'm handed off from one baby-sitter to the next. Another smile, another handshake, and into the kitchen we go. Pots crash, pans clang, and we press forward through a food-prep area populated by big guys, in big hats, with even bigger knives, who chop carrots, point, and whisper back and forth about whether or not I might be the health inspector. We keep moving. Down through the bowels of the building now, down through corridors more familiar to janitors than patrons, we wander like test mice in a maze. A half-dozen lefts, a half-dozen rights, we pass maid's carts, dirty-towel bins, dozens upon dozens of huge plastic garbage bags, and then, just when I'm sure we're good and lost, we'll hit the backstage area, where I'm immediately coralled into a curtained-off, makeshift "green room." The hellos and handshakes multiply now as I'm welcomed and glad-handed by convention promoters, coordinators, publicists, and stage personnel. Confirmation of my arrival begins crackling across walkie-talkies all over the building -- more often than not, delivered via some sort of cheesy code message: "The Eagle has Landed!", "The 411 on 911 is positive!", "There's a Hooker in the building!", whatever. Now it's exciting. Now we're getting close. I can hear the crowd on the other side of the curtain now. I can gauge their size, soak in their enthusiasm. A rush of adrenaline begins pounding through me, and I try to maintain my composure. I take deep, cleansing breaths. I guzzle a bottle of water. I quickly take one last look at my chicken-scratched story notes, and I'm ready. I may throw up, but I'm ready. Finally, mercifully, the house lights dim, the strains of Star Trek's theme music kick in, and my convention organizer gives me a thumbs-up. When I return the gesture, they take the stage to introduce me. "Ladies and gentlemen, William Shatner!" booms a musclebound PA system, at which point, trying very hard to look very cool, I jog in from behind a curtain, and lose my breath. Though I've been through this drill literally hundreds of times now, with every convention entrance, I'm floored all over again. There's booming applause, and a guaranteed standing ovation, but I've actually gotten used to that. What I've never gotten used to, and what I've never come close to experiencing outside of a Star Trek convention, is the palpable wave of love that invariably roars forward from these audiences, crashing down and washing over whatever "featured speaker" is lucky enough to drown under its wake. A convention ovation is unmatched, and probably best described as a loud, long, percussive "I love you." You can never get used to it. You can never prepare for it. It's a message that genuinely overwhelms me, every single time it hits. It's unique; a heartwarming, mind-boggling, ego-inflating, plainly staggering experience. Quite obviously, by the time I hit center stage, I'm walking on air. Adrenaline rushes, my energy skyrockets, and all's right with the world. For the next hour and fifteen minutes, I get to tell jokes and stories, to answer questions from the floor, to communicate one-on-one with Star Trek's biggest fans, and to kid around with my audience. There's always tremendous energy in the room, applause, laughter, goodwill, and in the middle of it all, "I'm the man," the six-hundred-pound limburger, the biggest of all possible cheeses. Seventy-five minutes later, long before the audience and I ever come close to catching up with one another, I get the proverbial hook. The audience "awwww"s at first, then cheers. I bow. We repeat those last two steps thirty or forty times, and it's over. I then usually sign a bunch of pictures, say "cheese" into a couple of hundred Instamatics, and head home smiling, at which point even the airline's turkey tetrazzini tastes good. And there you have it. We're barely fifteen pages into this thing, and I'm deeply embarassed to confess that until fairly recently, what you just read constituted the sum total of everything I knew about Star Trek conventions. Somehow, throughout more than a quarter century of "featured speaker" appearances, I managed to remain almost entirely ignorant of the bigger picture, my sole point of view coming from the podium out. In effect, while I always had a great time visiting the Trek fans' parties, I spent decades with absolutely no idea what fueled, or drove, or even necessitated these large-scale love-ins. I had no idea where Star Trek's conventions came from, nor any inkling as to how they worked, or what, if anything, they might have to offer outside the speaker's auditorium. In an even broader sense, I simply couldn't fathom why Star Trek itself invoked such rabid and undying loyalty, such enthusiasm, such public displays of affection, and such slightly aberrant behavior. Ebullience, love, friendship, goodwill -- I'd seen and felt every one of those things at every convention I'd ever attended. It was always thrilling, always enchanting, and always appreciated, but I have to admit I just didn't "get it." I simply couldn't get a handle on the driving force behind the obsession, couldn't feel the magnetism that tugged at so many fans with such fervor. In my own mind, I knew Star Trek was a pretty good television show, but c'mon already, did it really engender all of this? How could a long-dead television series still inspire seemingly normal grown-ups to paint themselves green? To wear pointed polyvinyl ears in public? To glue brown rubber omelettes onto their foreheads while grunting and scratching and posturing like Klingons? Why would any human being want to collect little plastic figurines of me or, worse, Leonard? Did people really have heated arguments over which captain was "best"? (By the way, it's Kirk.) Who were these people? Were they sane? Were they sober? Did they really need to "get a life"? To be brutally, humiliatingly honest, that now-infamous Saturday Night Live sketch was for me, at that time, equal parts comedy and catharsis. I was oblivious to the facts. I bought into the "Trekkie" stereotypes. In a nutshell, I was a dope. Not that I ever really tried all that hard to wise up. In all my years of attending conventions, I must confess I'd never actually taken it upon myself to venture offstage, away from the safety of my podium cocoon. I'd never explored, never mingled, never simply wandered through the party. No trivia contests, no dealers' room, no costume contests, no charity auctions, no socializing, no schmoozing...nothing. My appearances were always hit-and-run affairs, in and out the back of the venue like some sort of intergalactic, poor man's Elvis. (Shatner has left the building.) At the unflattering bottom line, what Star Trek's conventions really represented for me was a very bad trip, a very good time, and a very nice paycheck. Nothing less, but nothing more. Which leads me to the obvious question. Having read the last couple of pages, you've got to be asking (perhaps even yelling), "Where the hell does Shatner get off writing a book about Star Trek's fans and conventions?" The best answer I can provide begins with the statement that until very recently, I couldn't have written this book -- not by a long shot. I couldn't have even begun contemplating such a monumental task, and to be blunt, were I offered the opportunity, I probably would have avoided it like the plague. But then, kicking and screaming and completely against my will, everything changed. Just about five years ago, from out of nowhere, and without any advance warning, a series of completely unrelated events began sneaking up on me; and over time, they conspired, congealed, accumulated, smacked me in the head, grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, and yanked me into a full 180-degree attitude adjustment. But I'm getting ahead of myself. To tell the whole story, and probably to keep all of you from burning me in effigy at your next convention, I'm gonna have to shift gears, take a few steps backward, and start explaining. I'll start at the beginning, with two more uncomfortable facts: 1) Kirk is dead. 2) Shatner killed him. Here's how it happened. It took nearly three years to murder James Tiberius Kirk, but he first contracted his terminal illness during the holiday season of 1991. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, a smart, fast-paced, beautifully written and crafted film, had garnered terrific reviews, and made some money, but by the spring of '92 was limping away from the box office, dragging a "disappointing" profit margin in its wake. The numbers? All told, the film had a budget of thirty million dollars and ultimately took in just over sixty million. And while doubling one's investment is rarely described as "disappointing," in Hollywood, where collagen cheek implants and pet psychics both make perfect sense, so does that statement. Let me illustrate. Each of Star Trek's first four cinematic voyages brought home just about a hundred million dollars at the box office. Star Trek V, my own beat-up, budget-begging baby, took in just over fifty million. Star Trek VI, a smash with the critics and bearing very good word of mouth, managed sixty, but no more. To Paramount's bean counters, this was a sign from above. The glory days were clearly over. Knees jerked, numbers got crunched, backs got slapped, asses got kissed, and when all was said and done, Paramount's suits decided to punt. It was time to switch to Plan B, a plan that would bring a fresher, younger, much much cheaper Enterprise crew to the silver screen. Meanwhile, back on the television side of the Paramount lot, Star Trek: The Next Generation was rapidly making the jump from "cult favorite" to "runaway hit." With good scripts, a great cast, and terrific special effects (for television anyway), the Enterprise redux spent the better part of 1991 proving itself as much more than just a pale imitation of the original series. But you already knew all that. What you probably don't know is that even by the early spring of 1992, Paramount's suits, along with the series' Executive Producer Rick Berman, were already quietly planning to have the new series graduate to the silver screen. The film would be released two and a half years later, shortly after The Next Generation completed its initial seven-year television' run. Berman told me: Brandon Tartikoff was the executive who brought this all about. By the end of The Next Generation's fourth season, he had already initiated a plan to take the series off the air just after our seventh. Y'know, a lot of the fans have been assuming that the studio decided only at the last minute to cancel [the series] and move it into the multiplex, but in fact, by the time it finally happened, it had been in the works for nearly three years. In plainer terms, Star Trek's graying, wrinkled, "classic" cast was officially doomed to the ice floes long before any of us ever officially saw it coming. Meanwhile, given the green light, Rick Berman spent the better part of the next year facing dual dilemmas. First, he needed a whopping, surefire, motion-picture-sized storyline for his The Next Generation cast, and second, he knew that the premiere Next Gen feature would have to compare favorably with its half-dozen "classic" ancestors. It would also have to find some creative way to exorcise the ghosts of celluloid Star Treks past, to put three decades of "original series" history to bed, and to formally close the door on the "classic" franchise. At this point, the midnight oil started burning pretty frequently on the Paramount lot. Holed up with screenwriters Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, Berman spent endless hours downing takeout while tossing around rough story ideas. Hundreds of rejects found themselves wadded up in the trash bin before the trio hit upon something they liked. "What if," they supposed, "we were to find Star Trek's original cast in the U.S.S. Enterprise , battling against The Next Generation in their spiffy new Enterprise-D?" Bells, whistles, group hugs, fireworks...they'd cracked it! Ron Moore told me: This was an idea that at first glance seemed unbeatable, I mean, imagine the hype of "Two crews in the war to settle the score, the brawl for it all -- who will survive?" The best possible trailer you could ever hope to have for this picture would've found the two Enterprises battling against one another. We all loved the idea and tried our best, but we were never able to come up with any scenario that made both crews look heroic. No matter how we played around with this thing, somebody always came off looking like the bad guy. Second problem: Add up the number of regular characters inhabiting both series, and you come up with an equation proving that "Classic cast plus The Next Generation is equal to 16 paychecks, 16 egos, and about 732,000 headaches in trying to keep all those wallets and self-images happy." Despite the enormous dramatic potential, the "dueling Enterprise" storyline was scrapped in short order. Which brings us to whacking Captain Kirk. This was brilliant. Dramatic, moving, history-making, compelling to the point of becoming a "must-see" event. In plotting Kirk's death, Berman and Company had finally found their surefire gimmick guaranteed to have Star Trek fans running to the theater in droves. As an added bonus, Kirk's demise would officially and absolutely irrevocably bequeath Paramount's most indestructible franchise to The Next Generation. However, Berman, Moore, and Braga weren't celebrating just yet. In fact, at this early juncture, they were all pretty sure this idea was going to bite the dust, too. Moore told me, "We fully expected the studio would say 'No, you can't possibly kill the captain.'...But they surprised us and said, 'Do it, we're behind you.' At which point we went back to the office and waited for you to say 'NO!'" Obviously, that didn't happen. My phone rang, Rick pitched his idea, my jaw dropped, but as I recall it, the most remarkable thing about Rick asking permission to kill me is how little it bothered me. Honestly, at the time I was nose-deep in preproduction on my TekWar television series. I was also hosting Rescue 911 for CBS, writing novels, and riding my horses competitively, and with all of those irons in the fire, I kind of relegated soul-searching to the back burner. By now, I was also well aware that the franchise torch had officially been passed, and I knew that without Star Trek VII, Jim Kirk would probably never get a chance to run around the 70-millimeter, Dolby-sound, silver-screen universe again, so with all that in mind, murdering the captain didn't really upset me... at all! Instead, I got excited about it. I thought, "Why not give the old guy one last hurrah? What better way to close the book than with a great death scene? It's big, it's broad, it's memorable. It'll be great fun to play, and if it's written well, and important to the story, it'll help the film too." With that, I signed the contract that ended Kirk's life. There was not even a twinge of regret, no sadness, no waffling -- that'd all come later. For now, I saw Kirk's death simply as a great cinematic show-stopper, a great onscreen moment, and one last beautiful big-screen paycheck (I'd be lying if I'd omitted that). I didn't think about the bigger issues at all, and by day's end, I was happily joking about my alter ego's assassination. I was blind to the impending trauma, hiding for the moment behind a veneer of barrel-chested tough-guy cool. "Leonard survived dying," I thought to myself, "and he's a big baby. I should be able to kick death's ass." The second thoughts began arriving shortly thereafter. The first doubts hit me at a story conference in Berman's office. I'd read a rough draft of the Generations script, and was aghast to find Kirk getting shot in the back. Did these guys really think James Tiberius Kirk, who'd dodged countless phasers, beaten giant lizards in hand-to-hand kung fu, and single-handedly saved the universe on countless seperate occasions, could really be shot in the back? He's way too good for that. Did they really think that Soran, some run-of-the-mill evil supergenius, could really take him out? I mean a phaser in the back from a superintelligent madman might be okay for some naive "red shirt," or for Spock, but Kirk? C'mon now. Get real! It simply wasn't acceptable, and as we discussed alternative deaths, I made it clear that stabbing wasn't acceptable either, nor was an explosion, torture, fire, even an avalanche. I came away from that ghoulish little story conference feeling that I'd spent the better part of the afternoon fighting valiantly to better a script. But with the benefit of time and 20/20 hindsight...I think I was basically just looking for a way out, for any creative alteration that might provide some glimmer of hope for my now doomed captain. Obviously, I failed. Time passed, the script got finalized, we began shooting the movie, and Kirk's time slowly slipped away. As production progressed, and the day of the death scene drew closer, I found myself obsessing over the end of Kirk. I worried about doing it "right," worried about doing it "well," but underneath all that, I was growing reluctant about doing it at all. Little by little, the reality of losing Kirk was creeping up on me. What started out as "one last hurrah" was rapidly morphing into a painful and disconcerting dilemma. It was now far too late to back out, but I have to admit, I was still kind of hoping for a miracle, a call from the governor that might stay my execution. Leonard once told me that on the day we filmed Spock's death, a wave of regret overtook him at the last minute and shook him to the point where he suddenly began looking for any excuse to avoid filming. At one point, a bit unhappy with the "radiation burn" makeup on Spock's hands, he found himself yelling at everyone within earshot, and voluminously threatening to leave the set and go home. Only at that moment did he finally realize how much he was going to miss the character of Spock. I wasn't quite that dramatic, although, true to form, I did manage to come up with a last-minute plan to end-run the grim reaper. Faced with a big, fat Kobayashi Maru, I tried to bend the rules one more time. Literally as we began rehearsing Kirk's death scene, I was struck with a storyline that'd bring Kirk back from the dead to stalk Captain Picard. Granted, I was grabbing at straws now, but I have to admit my hastily concocted "Kirk lives" idea was actually not half-bad, and for a moment, I even talked myself into believing I'd come up with our next sequel. Sure, Jim Kirk might die in Star Trek VII, but come number VIII, the captain was gonna cheat death yet again. Right then and there, in the middle of the Nevada desert, I bounced my story idea off Rick Berman. "Could be a great number eight," I told him, wagging my eyebrows like a used-car salesman. Of course I expected Rick to turn cartwheels now, to kiss me, and to thank me for the greatest story he'd ever heard, but it didn't exactly work that way. Instead, I spilled my story to Rick, and he replied, " idea, write it up" -- which in Hollywoodese translates loosely into "Please go away and leave me alone, before I have to call security." The captain's future was looking bleak. Finally, seven weeks after we began shooting, on a red-sand hill, in a desert hellhole, an hour outside of Las Vegas, we shot Kirk's death scene. Backed into a corner, and completely out of options, I gritted my teeth, acted my ass off, and died. When it was all over, I was equal parts proud of my work and remorseful about what I'd just done. Most of all, though, I was astonished that by the time I realized I didn't want to kill this character, he was already dying. From the beginning, it was always crystal clear that when Kirk died, Kirk died. There was going to be no easy/cheesy/quick-fix/face-pinch/"Remember"/Genesis-planet surprise. There would be no last-minute miracles. Kirk was dead. Kirk was buried, Kirk was gone. I went back to the hotel feeling like I'd been punched in the stomach. Flash-forward five months. A rough cut of Star Trek Generations has been assembled, and shown to preliminary test audiences, who've loudly, and angrily, agreed that a phaser blast to the ass could never take down the indestructible Captain Kirk. My phone rang within hours. Rewrites were ordered, reshoots were planned, Kirk's eyes flickered open, and he lived once more...for about a week and a half. Reassembling in that same Nevada desert, on that same god-awful hill, I got to play hero one last time. Kirk no longer simply took a bullet, he saved the day, sacrificing his own life while saving this universe for the 4,639th time. It was a better ending, a more fitting ending, but one that nonetheless slugged me in the breadbasket once more. It's not often you get to murder a business partner, twice. I'd spent half a lifetime with Captain Kirk, but somehow it took killing him to make me come to terms with how important he really was to me. For thirty years, James T. Kirk was always "just a character," playing him "just a job." I rationalized to myself that it would have been silly, corny, even crazy for me to have imagined any other scenario. With that in mind, when the opportunity arose for me to involve him in a wonderful death scene, with a wonderful actor, in exchange for a wonderful payday, I'd have been foolish not to accept. All of that seemed logical. All of those facts were irrefutable, but in the weeks and months immediately following Kirk's death scene, I still found myself grieving. I felt silly -- guilty, melancholy, and depressed over a fictional funeral. It made no sense, but I actually found myself missing the dear departed captain. Had there been a deeper connection here than I'd ever been willing to admit? Was Star Trek really that important to me? Had I actually always been...a fan? Ich bin ein Trekkie?! This was getting thoroughly disturbing. I needed air, I needed to relax, and most of all, I needed some serious cheering up. I got none of those things. Instead, my career and my personal life both fell apart. In what seemed like no time, both of my television shows got cancelled, and so did my marriage. Rescue 911 was put "on hiatus" (i.e., dumped) by CBS, while TekWar, simultaneously, bounced from syndication to basic cable to the trash heap. My marriage joined it there shortly thereafter. Somewhere amid that avalanche of bad news, I can clearly recall sitting alone on my own front steps, then pulling one of my beloved Dobermans to me for comfort. He looked up, his black doggie lips smiling, brown eyes shining, stubby tail wagging, and puked into my lap. And there I sat. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day. I was now unemployed three times over, unmarried, and I had a groinful of partially digested kibble. Depressed in five different directions, I was not a happy camper. Two days later, my phone rings. It's my agent (Carmen "the Icepick" LaVia) and he wants to book me into a series of small convention appearances scattered all over the United States and Canada. I'd be bouncing around airports for weeks, putting up with forced travel throughout every forseeable weekend. I swore at him, a lot. Needless to say, I didn't exactly jump at the opportunity. However, as my agent was ultimately kind enough to point out to me, I was now divorced, unemployed, had bills to pay, and basically had nothing better to do with my weekends anyway. I swore at him some more, then started packing. Within seventy-two hours, I was I grumbling all the way to stop number one: Alberta, Canada, where everything changed. There was nothing remarkable about this particular convention, just a hall, a hotel, a few hundred Trek fans, and the usual carryings-on, but as I took the stage, and the audience stood, that reliable wave of love hit me a little more poignantly this time. It was extraordinary, and I realized that at least for the next couple of hours, here in the middle of the Alberta Hilton, Jim Kirk wasn't really "dead" at all. It sounds hokey and melodramatic, I know, but somehow it finally sank into my skull that the fans in front of me, and millions more just like them all over the world, were the very reason the good captain had survived thirty years in the first place. It also struck me that with any luck at all, they'll probably keep our boy Jim alive and well long after I'm gone. I was still triply unemployed, but I found genuine solace in that little epiphany. I also found myself smiling. And that's when the party started. Here in conventionland, there were a handful of comments expressing sadness over the death of Jim Kirk, but as the appearance progressed, the talk grew lighter. For the most part, we all just kidded about the captain, marveling together that he'd lasted this long, that no jealous alien girlfriend had ever taken him out, that Spock had never simply nerve-pinched him into oblivion. I found myself lingering on the stage that day, kidding with specific audience members, telling silly stories, it didn't matter. We were simply a roomful of people sharing a great time. In effect, the wake for Captain Kirk quickly turned into a party: a wonderful, postfunereal get-together where friends of the deceased swapped stories, laughed, hugged, and marked their collective loss with a celebration of wonderful personal memories. It was one of the single greatest afternoons of my life, and I wanted more. I decided to indulge myself. Not a half-hour after I'd said good-bye to the crowd in Alberta, I had LaVia on the phone once more. "Say yes to everything," I told him, and within days, he'd booked me into convention appearances all over the world. Big conventions, small, it didn't matter. I spent the better part of the next eighteen months traveling all around the United States and Europe; everywhere I got invited, I showed up, happily. And over time I slowly began studying the bigger picture. These conventions weren't just quickie events anymore, these weren't just halls filled with fans. I was finding friendship here, and fun, and excitement. I'd become Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning. My eyes opened, my spirits lifted, and I marveled at how astonishingly lucky I'd been to spend thirty years at the epicenter of a phenomenon so powerful it could inspire reasonable, rational human beings to forget themselves for a day or two, to let loose and to publicly revel in sharing their love for all things Star Trek. Talk about "getting a life," has anyone on the planet gotten more out of Star Trek than me? So why, then, did I spend so many years steadfastly oblivious to all this? I've no idea; I can only hypothesize that somehow, while Captain Kirk was still in the process of careering around a big-screen universe once every couple of years, some part of my brain viewed convention appearances as a work-related "duty." It was merely part of the job. It was advertising, promotional work that always came part and parcel with the bumps, bruises, and airsickness bags of involuntary travel. Now though, having been fired from the Star Trek factory, having been put out to pasture, I wasn't just doing my duty to be there, I was choosing to be there. For all of those reasons, I suppose, I now found myself looking forward to every upcoming convention, sometimes even gluttonously piggybacking two or three stops into one long weekend. At the same time, I began enjoying each convention's festivities much more fully now -- eagerly diving headlong into the blithely controlled chaos. Throughout this extended "Kirkapalooza" tour, I also began consciously squeezing the most out of my convention time, chatting one-on-one with dealers, organizers, and fans whenever I could. while simultaneously arm-twisting my embarrassed coauthor into wandering convention floors in search of hard-core fans who'd sit for an interview. At that point tucked away from the crowds in green rooms, kitchens, even glorified storage closets, I'd ask the fans why they attended conventions, and for their take on why Star Trek's fans feel the urge to occasionally gather and commune with one another. What was it about Star Trek that inspires such devotion? How come nobody ever dresses up like Jack Tripper and has a Three's Company convention? What was the big deal, anyway? I'm still not sure I have all the answers, but after scores of conventions, and hundreds of interviews, what I did learn totally floored me. Over and over again, I'd hear about how Star Trek's characters were among the most memorable in the history of television. I'd hear about how Gene Roddenberry's stories were timeless, smart, clever, and endlessly applicable to the present day. I'd hear about the classic series' great writing, about the chemistry between actors, and about how different Star Trek is from everything else on television. All points valid, all points accepted, but I wasn't content with just the obvious, face-value rationale. As the weekends wore on, I kept digging, until slowly, a handful of deeper, broader, more important messages began to emerge. The most prevalent of these was simply "belonging." Just below the surface, there seems to exist a genuine and very powerful sense of family among Star Trek's fans. Time and again conventioneers would tell me about how meeting a fellow Trekker out in the "real" world is basically the equivalent of "instant friendship." How there's an "immediate bond," an instant library of common knowledge, a future promise of heated discussions, hotter arguments, maybe even conventions to attend...together. "Together" seemed an important term as well. I learned that "together" Star Trek's family of fans has a long, proven, and utterly astounding track record for time and again saving and/or shaping the future of Star Trek. (We'll get into specifics later.) "Together" they can ignore, break down, and disprove the stereotypes and punch lines that brand them as geeks. "Together" they can appreciate Star Trek's optimistic view of the future, and take comfort in collectively celebrating a universe where logic generally wins out, where friendships matter, where allies protect one another, where the bad guys are always a bit fallible, and where even the most grave situation can miraculously find a happy ending at the fifty-eight-minute mark. As for the conventions themselves, I found that what matters most isn't the pomp and circumstance, the merchandise, the organized events, or even (gasp) the featured speaker. What lies at the heart of every halfway decent Star Trek convention is once again the opportunity to belong, to socialize with like-minded peers, to mingle with fellow fans. It's an occasion where collectors and dealers can spar, haggling back and forth for hours, where Spock grokkers can joyfully fight with Dataphiles, where green Orion slave girls can compare body makeup with half-black/half-white Frank Gorshin wannabes, where the builders of elaborate starship models can proudly display their latest absolutely astonishing creation while simultaneously complaining about how badly it turned out. None of these interactions, in and of themselves, will give you any real sense of what Star Trek's conventions are all about, but when you combine them, mix 'em up, then stand back, squint a bit, and just sort of study the canvas for a while, the unmistakable "family" imagery emerges once more. The desire for belonging appears to extend even into the realm of the conventions' "celebrity guests." Over and over again, conventioneers told me that while Trekkers were always thrilled to see a cast member speak, and many do collect autographs, their real thrill comes in chatting with the featured speakers, in asking them questions, making them laugh, perhaps even touching them with a personal insight. The interactive connection between Star Trek's fans and cast members is what really matters here. Every Star Trek convention provides an opportunity wherein any given fan, at any given moment, can chat, one-on-one, with a cast member, and wherein an entire auditorium full of conventioneers can collectively be made to feel like priveleged insiders amid Star Trek's ever-evolving universe. Again, it's all about belonging. For months, weekend after weekend, bad plane trip after bad plane trip, I'd hit whatever convention would have me. But no longer did I show up just before showtime, and no longer did I confine myself to my own little makeshift green-room hideout. Once inside the venue, I was now a walking research vacuum, sneaking in and out of the dealers' room, listening in to discussion groups, watching other speakers work the crowd that'd be mine later in the day. Tape recorder running, I also began cornering every fan, dealer, organizer, and fellow speaker who wasn't quick enough to get away. No Trekker was more hard-core than me anymore, no Trekkie more rabid. If that made me a nerd, so be it. I'd be Captain James Tiberius Kirk, king of the nerds. I was leaving no stone unturned now, no avenue unexplored. With Kirk dead and buried, I know that my days near the epicenter of the Star Trek universe are over. I also know that over time, as new Trek series emerge, and new movies get produced, the new toys will eventually push the old toward the back of the playroom. It's a fact of life that makes me wish I'd wised up, reached out, and learned about all this stuff decades ago. Time wasted can never be reclaimed. At the same time, however, the approaching twilight also makes me thankful, even thrilled, that I finally did get my eyes open in time to spend the past year or two traveling, literally around the world, neck-deep in a project that has slowly evolved into an ongoing, intensive seminar entitled "Conventions and Fans 101." There's an old adage that states, "The only good thing about writing is having written." While that's absolutely true, this project has proven the glaring exception to that rule. The process of creating this book has essentially given me an excuse to document my recent discoveries, and to interview literally hundreds of fascinating people. Fans, promoters, dealers, collectors, artists, castmates, friends; time and again, I'd squirrel myself away, notes in hand, preparing to conduct a "serious interview" only to find things rapidly degenerating into twenty minutes of me giggling helplessly at my subject's brilliantly funny convention stories. Other interviews, equally powerful, would ultimately leave me touched, or thrilled, even heartbroken. At this writing, though I still might not be able to tell you the difference between a tricorder and a triceratops, I can happily spend the next several hundred pages chronicling the history and inner workings of Star Trek's conventions. Today, I can also walk you around the dealers' room at any convention, with a pretty good eye for what's worth collecting and what's just junk. I can tell you the difference between an authentic homemade Klingon, and somebody who's taken stylistic liberties with the official uniform. I can introduce you to grandmothers and their grandkids who share a common love of Star Trek. I can tell you which "featured speakers" try hard to make their audiences happy, and which merely go through the motions in collecting a check. It's been an astounding ride -- eye-opening, surprising, frequently exhausting -- but above and beyond everything else, it's also been monumentally satisfying. Even at my age, I'm exploring new worlds. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? Copyright © 1999 by William Shatner and Chris Kreski