William Shatner's Life Advice

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Captain Kirk reveals that one time he got crapped on by an elephant, his superhuman handshake, and his biggest regret.

What adventure most changed your life?

I went after a wild elephant one time in Africa. This was about 10 years ago. It started to eat the thatched part of the hut I was in. When I opened the door he was black against the night sky. But I knew he was there somewhere. Actually, he pooped on me. I wanted to see him, so I ran after him with a flashlight. I ran down to the river and found hippopotamuses, or hippopotami, which are apparently more dangerous than elephants, though I didn’t know that at the time. The guides spoke very strongly to me about staying inside at night after that. I have avoided being guided ever since.

What’s your biggest vice?

My biggest vice is the grip on my hand. I have a viselike grip. It is very powerful, and I’m almost embarrassed by it.

What’s the worst physical pain you’ve ever experienced?

Passing a kidney stone. They say it is worse than childbirth, and I believe them. When it was all over I auctioned the stone for $75,000 and gave the money to Habitat for Humanity. A family is living in a house in New Orleans this moment as a result of my passing that stone. I don’t know where the actual stone is anymore. I hope the winning bidders didn’t mount it.

What’s your nickname?

Toughie. I got it as a kid by having to fight my way home from school every day. The anti-Semitism in Montreal was pretty prevalent in those days. I’ve ameliorated in my old age, so no one calls me that anymore.

Do you have a recurring dream?

Yes, of large phallic objects flying into soft balloons. I don’t really know what it means.

What was your first car?

When I was in college I put $40 down on a car that was so old you couldn’t tell what make it was. It used all the oil in the crankcase every 20 miles, so I’d have to stop and fill it up. The door was broken shut. I had to go in and out the window. One day the car stopped altogether, and I just walked away. I left it to rot on a busy intersection in Montreal. I called it the Beast.

How do you make your favorite drink?

I get a little Perrier, a little cranberry, a little ice, I shake it but I don’t bruise it, and I swallow it in one gulp.

Do you have a scar that tells a story?

I have some on my arms that look like I was in a knife fight. We were playing baseball when I was a kid, and first base was the window of a house. I put my hand out to get to first base and it went right through the window. It started bleeding a lot. Came close to the artery. I remember my father grabbing me and rushing me to the hospital and asking me not to bleed in his new car.

What skill should every man have?

A man should know how to whittle.

What’s the most scared you’ve ever been?

I was with a small group exploring a cave in Kentucky about 20 years ago when some rocks fell and blocked the entryway. An under­ground cave is the total absence of light. No residual light, no itinerant light, no ambient light. I was blind. We pushed our way out, but it was terrifying.

Do you ever wish you were someone else?

There were times. Numerous times. But not now. Fortune evolved.

What’s your biggest regret?

I like to think there are no regrets. You have to forgive yourself for everything you do in your life because you made that decision based on what was happening at that instant. But I did have an epiphany one night. I lived close enough to where Marlon Brando lived that I could have walked to his house. I always wanted to talk to him. Never did. I knew a lot of people in common with Laurence Olivier. I could have talked to him. Never did. I know they would have taken my call. I could have taken them to lunch. But because I thought they might not, I didn’t do it. I wish I had.

What experience do you want to have before you die?

I’d like to die and test it out and see if I like it.


This interview first appeared in the September 2008 issue of Men's Journal.