Read an Excerpt: 'Up Till Now'

Read an excerpt from the actor's revealing new book: "Up Till Now."

ByABC News via via logo
February 18, 2009, 7:30 PM

May 15, 2008— -- You might know him from "Star Trek." Or, perhaps you remember him from his award-winning role in "Boston Legal." Or maybe he just looks familiar from those commercials.

Whichever it is, you surely recognize his face, as he has one of the best-known mugs in show business.

Now actor and TV icon William Shatner is telling all in his new autobiography: "Up Till Now."

You can read an excerpt from "Up Till Now" below:

I was going to begin my autobiography this way:

Call me … Captain James T. Kirk, or Sergeant T.J. Hooker, or Denny Crane or Twilight Zone plane passenger Bob Wilson or the Big Giant Head or Henry V or the Priceline Negotiator or …

Well, that's the problem, isn't it? I've been a working actor for more than half a century and I've played so many different roles on the stage, on television, and in the movies that it would be impossible to focus on just one of them. Besides, my career as an actor is only part of my story, so I realized I couldn't begin this book that way.

Then I decided I was going to start this book by telling the story of my memorable meeting with Koko the gorilla:

In 1988 to help the Gorilla Foundation encourage Californians to contribute to its Endangered Species Campaign I was permitted to visit Koko the gorilla in her quarters. Koko was an extraordinary animal who had learned to communicate with human beings. She was able to sign more than six hundred words, but more impressively, as her handlers told me, she understood the meaning of those words. She knew the signs for water and for bird and the first time she saw a duck landing on a lake she signed water bird. That displayed a synthesis of knowledge. So you see, she was obviously very intelligent. I was allowed to go into her compound, to enter a room with her all alone. As I walked into that room I was reminded that she was an imposing, powerful animal; smaller gorillas have been known to tear off men's arms in anger. I am not often afraid, but truthfully I was frightened.

There is a form of acting that teaches: feel it and say it, and that feeling will be revealed through your words. The English form is quite different: say it and then you feel it. To deal with my fear of this magnificent animal as I got closer and closer to her I found myself saying, "I love you, Koko. I love you." I said it earnestly and honestly and I looked directly in her eyes as I spoke. I crouched over a little to show submission, moving forward rather than backward to show I was not afraid. Over and over I repeated, "I love you, Koko, I love you." And as I said it, I began to feel that love. Finally I stopped directly in front of her and looked into her deep brown eyes and saw her furrowed brow and her enormous hands. I love you, Koko.And with that she reached out and grabbed me by my balls. And looked me right in the eyes. After a slight pause—in a substantially higher voice—I tried to repeat, "I love you, Koko." Obviously these words had more significance than a few seconds earlier.

Her handler at the far end of the room said, "Stand very still. She wants you to go to her bedroom." So I stood very still because I did not want to go to her bedroom. I think it is fair to say that few people in history have ever stood as still as I did at that moment. Meanwhile, in the adjoining compound a young gorilla who they hoped would mate with Koko was pounding on the door like a jealous husband. There I was, caught in the eternal triangle, with a gorilla holding onto my rapidly shrinking scrotum. Eventually she got bored …

Starting this book with that story would enable me to inform the reader that it's not going to be limited to my professional career, that it will also include stories about all the extraordinary opportunities I've been given to explore the world. I'd discuss all the amazing experiences I've had, from that dark night in Africa when I pursued a wild elephant to the afternoon a helicopter left me more alone than I'd ever been in my life on top of a twenty-thousand-foot-high glacier, and even to that memorable moment when I saw aliens in the desert. And it would also demonstrate that there are going to be a lot of laughs in this book, most of them at my expense. But then I realized that people know me primarily from the work I've done as an actor, so that wouldn't be effective as a beginning either. So I decided not to begin that way either.

Then I had a great idea. I was going to start the book by quoting the lyrics to a song I'd written about the truly tragic death by drowning of my beautiful wife, Nerine Shatner:

My love was supposed to protect her

It didn't

My love was supposed to heal her

It didn't

You had said don't leave me

And I begged you not to leave me

We did

Opening the book that way would be so meaningful to me, beginning with the great tragedy of my life. And it would immediately let readers know that this is to be a truthful book. But it would also be such a sad beginning, when my life has been filled with so much joy. And of course, I'm not known for my singing, in fact there are those who believe my performance of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" may be the worst version of a Beatles song ever recorded. Not me— of course. And this is such a personal story that it needs to be told in its entirety, so certainly I couldn't begin my book that way.

There is one extremely well-known phrase that I definitely decided I would not use to begin this book:

"Beam me up, Scotty."

In fact, I am determined that this phrase will not appear anywhere in this book.

The beginning, I knew, needed to catch the interest of the reader within a few words, to engage their curiosity, to make them wonder, perhaps, what the hell is he talking about? Which led to:

I arrived in New York City for the first time in my life in an Indian outrigger canoe, having paddled all the way from Montreal …

I liked that, but it didn't seem to convey the essence of my life. Somehow it seemed too gimmicky, too clever, so I knew I couldn't use that. Maybe later in the first chapter, I decided.

It occurred to me that perhaps I should open this book with a description of the day I took my beautiful horse, Sultan's Great Day, for his final walk in the pasture. Oh my, you should have seen him in his world-championship days. I'm telling you, this was the most magnificent stallion you've ever seen. I'm not kidding about that. Really, people were in awe of his presence. They would look at him and …

I would use that beginning to tell you about my passions, the passions that have made all the difference in my life. The passions that I've spent my life pursuing: the love of a beautiful woman, the love for my family, the love for my craft, my art, the need to experience every aspect of life. Sometimes I'm amazed to realize that I live today with the vestiges of my priorities as a young man, the desire to act, the need to be loved, the pleasures of a great meal, a great laugh, and enduring companionship.

But simply telling you about my passions—even my passion for horses and dogs—seemed far too somber an opening.

Perhaps, I thought, I should start this book by being glib, by exposing my quirky sense of humor to the readers. Make them laugh at the very beginning by quoting a newspaper story about one of the more unusual things I've ever done:

(AP) 1/17/2006 Actor William Shatner agreed on Monday to sell his kidney stone for $75,000 to an online casino. The money will go to Habitat for Humanity. "This takes organ donors to a new height, or perhaps a new low," said Shatner. The auction price includes the surgical stint and string used to permit passage of the stone. According to Shatner, the kidney stone was so big, "[Y]ou'd want to wear it on your finger. If you subjected it to extreme heat, it might turn out to be a diamond…"

While that beginning certainly would be humorous, it just seemed too frivolous to start that way. Instead, it occurred to me that the opening of this book should be thoughtful, it should be about my life. How much more sincere could I be about the life I've had than using words written by David E. Kelly for the character I play on Boston Legal, Denny Crane. Then it occurred to me, let Denny Crane write his own book! Finally, inspiration struck! I had what I believed would be a unique and perfect opening:

Are you tired of paying full price for this book? Well, you don't have to. You can buy as many copies of it as you like—and you name the price! That's right, you name the price you want to pay. At it's as simple as that. Here's the way…

Opening this book like that would be funny, yet accurate, as many people know me from my work representing various companies, such as And if we also could sell a few more copies of this book, well, I didn't think St. Martin's would object. And if Priceline was approached properly by my agent, perhaps they might even be willing to purchase the rights to the opening paragraph. For less than full price, of course.

But perhaps that was too crass for the opening of my autobiography, I decided. Is that really what I wanted to emphasize about my life and my career? And would Priceline meet my price? So that opening too, was rejected.And then it occurred to me: I don't need an opening. By the time you've reached this paragraph my autobiography has already started. Of course that was very similar to my career; I was already in the middle of it before I realized it had begun.

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