He boldly went where no man had gone before, rocketing to stardom and enjoying meteoric fame as Star Trek icon Captain James Tiberius Kirk.
But life for William Shatner is not how he knew it. In the three years since the death of Leonard Nimoy, who played his highly logical sidekick Mr Spock, a little of the joy has gone out of his life.
“I miss Leonard terribly. He was the brother I never had. Our lives had similar patterns in terms of marriage, divorce, death, children and the fact our careers took many years to take off,” he says.
“He was very, very funny. Sometimes he made me laugh to the point of coughing. I don’t cough any more. That laughter is gone – so I miss that more than anything.”
In Birmingham this weekend along with co-stars Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig for the Destination Star Trek convention, 87 year-old Shatner and legions of Trekkies and Trekkers – there is, apparently, an important distinction – will miss Leonard.
That he could not attend his great friend’s funeral in March 2015, after his death aged 83 of complications from COPD, is another source of sadness for Shatner.
But rumours of a rift were false. “I had what you would call a Hobson’s choice,” he says. “I had Leonard’s funeral to go to, but many months earlier, I had obligated myself to a charity event.
“It was for the Red Cross and there were millions of dollars being raised, partially in my name. So I fulfilled the obligation where I said to the audience, ‘fame is far more fleeting than you think. In days, weeks, certainly months, the ashes are forgotten, great reputations are forgotten. But what does remain is our good deeds. They reverberate until the end of time. And their good deeds that evening will be remembered long after Leonard and I pass’.”
He adds: “Strangely, ironically, the event was at Mar-a-Lago with Donald Trump – he wasn’t president then.”
Despite being Canadian born, Shatner has been an open critic of the US president. In Star Trek, the Federation is all about tolerance, compassion, peace and goodwill – even to Klingons and Romulans – hardly the current US President’s approach to life. So, does Shatner believe Trump is a bigger threat to mankind than Captain Kirk ever faced?
”Every other issue is negligible in importance compared to one, which is the existence of the Earth as we know it. We have a potential catastrophe on Earth because of climate change at its worst and we’re not doing anything about it. Trump’s verbal negation of climate change is very dangerous. We’re on the brink of the end of our civilisation as we know it.
“We’re on the verge, the cusp, of climate change changing the world in ways that we have no idea about.
“We’re being told some of the things – of drought and raising of the ocean levels. But we have no idea what this change by man is going to be like.
“And Trump’s denial of it is really unfortunate and carries with it the potential of civilisation ending. That’s something Kirk would not have liked.”
In his ninth decade – and on his fourth marriage, to Elizabeth, who is 28 years his junior – Shatner seems to be following the Vulcan mantra of “live long and prosper”, and is as in-demand, productive and lively as ever. “I’m the healthiest human being you would ever meet,” he proclaims.
I exercise, I eat well and try to think positively. And I say yes to life, yes to opportunities and new ideas, and to the passions of life. I’m more creative than I’ve ever been. More active, perhaps than I’ve ever been. And I ride horses competitively all the time.”
Despite sidelines as a writer and singer, Shatner will always be best known for Star Trek. He could fill his diary with convention dates all around the world, where he has learned to cope with fan worship.
“It’s awesome. It’s overwhelming and I don’t quite believe it or understand it. I float a little bit above the ground. It’s something that you never get used to. And there are moments, when I’ve performed on stage and there’s an enthusiastic response, and it moved me to tears, it’s so loving.”
The stratospherically successful Star Trek franchise looks set to last forever, with Sir Patrick Stewart due to return as Captain Jean-Luc Picard for a new series.
Kirk himself has no strong desire to embark on another voyage into space in a studio – or in reality. “I have been asked more than once if I would go. All I’ve said is, ‘I want a written guarantee that I will return’. No one’s ever given me the contract.
“So no, I don’t want to go into space. It’s uncomfortable. You can barely breathe. I’ve become claustrophobic the older I’ve got.”
Shatner’s talents stretch far beyond the USS Enterprise. A classically trained actor, his early career was spent performing Shakespeare.
The original Star Trek ran for only three series between 1966 and 1969, but after the moon landing, it became cult viewing and seven hit movies followed until he said goodbye to Kirk in 1994’s Star Trek Generations.
Starring roles in TJ Hooker and Boston Legal kept him in the spotlight, and his constant acting work, books and albums have won many awards and led to an $80million fortune.
Although his singing has been widely parodied (according to the Urban Dictionary, to “Shatnerize” is to do something so bad it’s good), he is on a mission to carry on crooning.
“I’ve got a country music album out and a Christmas album at the end of this month called Shatner Claus. It’s really terrific – I’m proud of the work.”