Death, The Final Frontier: Inside the Mind of William Shatner

by M-Gillies

"Shatner's World: We Just Live In It" opened at the Music Box Theatre on February 16, 2012. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

David Bowie has always been known as a man of many faces – he has reinvented himself time and time again, from his music to his appearance. Even shock rocker Alice Cooper, or rather the man who portrays Cooper, Vincent Furnier has been recognized for his anomalous reinventions. So what should be made of everyone’s favourite Star Ship Captain? William Shatner’s career has spanned over half a century – he was an understudy of Christopher Plummer, a classically trained Shakespearean actor – he’s been an attorney, an alien, a Roman tax collector, a starship captain, a detective and many other iconic roles. But his abilities didn’t end there. He’s performed on television, films, commercials, Broadway and has even had a unique musical career.

For everything he has done, Shatner has always maintained a candid tongue-in-cheek candour of his career – and that is just one of the many topics he  covers during his latest one-man Broadway show, Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It. It has been over 40 years since he stood on stage on Broadway, but with his new solo show, the former Captain of the Starship Enterprise performs a 100-minute set that borders on the line between self and self-parody as he traces his life, growing up in Canada, to acting, his musical career and even that dreaded D-word, death.

In fact, there’s something sardonic about how much of death Shatner has been focusing on. From his candid “Death is the final frontier”, which he spoke as part of an opening monologue, the story about the death of a beloved horse, to the mention of his third wife Nerine, who drowned in 1997, at the age of 81, he’s been periodically dwelling on mortality lately.

He tells one memorable tale of his father – Joseph Shatner, a former clothing manufacturer, and speaks of the man’s death, while at the same time removing his jacket, and precisely folding it , just as his father used to do.

“It was like (watching) a sculptor putting the last touches on his sculpture,” Shatner said during an interview with David Bianculli. “Sanding his last moment, getting the last abrasion out of the thing that he had created. This garment, to my father, was his creation. And I talk about the hands that went to loom and the material that fitted it, and it became, in my mind’s eye, a part of my father. So when I told the story of my father’s death, it came to me that I would tell it through the act of his jacket.”

And so, Shatner removed his jacket and laid it to rest in a coffin, but then, “The most moving moment for me,” Shatner continues. “Is that I come to the conclusion that life doesn’t have to end with death if love is present and I put the jacket back on.”

For Shatner, that is his view of death: “Love is the difference between the cold light of the universe and the warmth of human spirit – and life doesn’t have to end when love is present,” he said.

However, it still hasn’t dissuaded him from wondering what comes next and what is in store for life after death. Lingering on the final words of Timothy Leary’s “Of course” and Steve Job’s “Oh, wow” Shatner asks “What happens at the other end? I don’t know!”

But his curiosity toward death didn’t just begin there. In fact, back in 2004, Shatner went into a recording studio with musician and producer Ben Folds and created the song You’ll Have Time for his album Has Been. Reminiscent of Eric Idle’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, You’ll Have Time sardonically looks at death with a tongue-in-cheek candor, with a heavy emphasis on the fact that we shouldn’t let death hold us back from doing what we want, because, as Shatner so heartily sings in his lyrical recital amidst the sound of a gospel singing and the tremble of organ music,”Live life like you’re gonna die, because you are. Maybe you won’t suffer, maybe it’s quick – but you’ll have time to think, why did I waste it? Why didn’t I taste it? You’ll have time, ’cause you’re gonna die.”

While the subject matter of the song is one that most people wouldn’t like to think of, one youtube member, mossy1947 commented, “I just love it… I want this played at my funeral.”

With funeral music in a flux of change, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Shatner’s You’ll Have Time earns a spot next to songs like Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, or Dropkick Murphy’s Going Out in Style.

 

Live life
Live life like you’re gonna die
because you’re gonna
I hate to be the bearer of bad news
But you’re gonna die

Maybe not today or even next year
But before you know it you’ll be saying
“Is this all there was?
What was all the fuss?
Why did I bother?”

Now, maybe you won’t suffer maybe it’s quick
But you’ll have time to think
Why did I waste it?
Why didn’t I taste it?
You’ll have time
Because you’re gonna die.

Yes it’s gonna happen because it’s happened to a lot of people I know
My mother, my father, my loves
The president, the kings and the pope
They all had hope

And they muttered just before they went
Maybe, I won’t let go
Live life like you’re gonna die
Because you are

Maybe you won’t suffer maybe it’s quick
But you’ll have time to think
Why did I waste it?
Why didn’t I taste it?
You’ll have time
‘Cause you’re gonna die

I tell you who else left us
Passed on down to heaven no longer with us
Johnny Cash, JFK, that guy in the Stones
Lou Gehrig, Einstein, and Joey Ramone
Have I convinced you?
Do you read my lips?
This may come as news but it’s time
You’re gonna die
You’re gonna die

By the time you hear this I may well be dead
And you my friend might be next
‘Cause we’re all gonna die

Yeah, oh maybe you won’t suffer and maybe it’s quick
But you’ll have time to think
Why did I waste it?
Why didn’t I taste it?
You’ll have time
You’ll have time cause you’re gonna die
Yes, you’re gonna die
You’re gonna die, I tell you
You’re gonna die
You are gonna die

‘Cause maybe you won’t suffer maybe it’s quick
But you have time to think
Why did I waste it?
Why didn’t I taste it?
You’ll have time ’cause you’re gonna die

Live Life
Live life like you’re gonna die
Because you’re going to
Oh yes
I hate to be the bearer of bad news
But you’re gonna die

Maybe not today or even next year
But before you know it you’ll be saying
“Is this all there was?
What was all the fuss?
Why did I bother?
Why did I waste it?
Why didn’t I taste it?”
You’ll have time, baby
You’ll have time

‘Cause you’re gonna die
You are gonna die
Oh yeah

Read more:

Shatner’s World | Live on Broadway

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