“So, here’s what I’ve been doing, OK?” joked William Shatner, kicking off a 40 minute performance on stage at the Wizard World comic con that was equal parts ad-lib and masterful stream of consciousness storytelling.
Shatner, 90, famously became the oldest person ever to travel to space last Wednesday following a quick trip aboard New Shepard, the suborbital space capsule operated by Blue Origin, the aerospace arm of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Moved by his experience, the actor took to the stage Sunday at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois, ahead of a photo opportunity with fans, to recount his experience in humorous, moving and often stunning detail.
“I said, ‘Nobody is interested in me going to space…’” recalled Shatner of his initial response to the space travel overture. “We get in there and there’s Jeff Bezos…”
As Shatner attempted to explain his initial encounter with the e-commerce billionaire, his microphone squealed with feedback. “You see, I try to say something nice about Jeff Bezos… that was Elon Musk that did that,” quipped the quick-witted actor, referencing Bezos’ nemesis in the for hire space travel game.
“We left there but then the COVID thing happened and suddenly that was a year,” the actor said, setting the table for discussions that began prior to the pandemic, ultimately sidelining his trip to October 2021. “But then they start talking again about Blue Origin. I guess I’m gonna go? But then Jeff Bezos announces he’s gonna go [first] – with his brother! Well, the second trip is like being Vice President! But they said, ‘Would you like to do the second trip?’”
Shatner famously portrayed Captain James T. Kirk during three seasons of the late-60s NBC sci-fi sitcom Star Trek and seven films which followed. The irony of the man who fictitiously commanded the starship Enterprise actually going to space was not lost on Shatner, who set the table for his outer space tale by looking back at his July appearance during Discovery’s
“A lot of people here have seen Shark Week!” exclaimed the actor to the response from suburban Chicago fans in attendance at Wizard World. “Sharks?! They’re waiting for me to jump in – I’m chum! I don’t need to go to space, OK?” said Shatner with a chuckle. “Actors exaggerate, right? This is not an exaggeration. Their mouths were 18 inches wide! Sharks are ambush predators! I’m watching these four tiger sharks…”
The actor recalled a handler placing a five foot long great white shark in his lap as he sat down underwater. “If you turn it upside down and stroke its belly, it goes into a catatonic state. I inadvertently put my finger in its gill and it swam away.”
Even at 90, Shatner remains extraordinarily busy. In addition to his dalliances with oceanic predators and the cosmos, he released a new album just three weeks ago, featuring musical contributions from artists like Joe Jonas, Eagle Joe Walsh and pedal steel savant Robert Randolph.
The new record’s 14 tracks look back on Shatner’s life, telling stories in almost autobiographical fashion.
“I have an album out there called Bill right now. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. On the album is a song called ‘So Far From the Moon,’” he said, noting a new tune which features country superstar Brad Paisley. “The album is based on things that have happened to me. ‘So Far From the Moon’ is about a trip to Cape Canaveral… When you’re so far from anything you expect, that’s the song,” said Shatner, drawing to a whisper as he described it during a poignant moment.
Getting into the new song sent the actor down an emotional road as he detailed the rigorous and physically painful process of preparing to experience weightlessness in space. While he dubbed the actual experience “indescribable,” he did his best to elaborate Sunday on the Wizard World stage.
“Weightlessness is so weird and antithetical to anything we’ve experienced. I don’t want to turn somersaults or fly through the air, I want to look out the window!” said Shatner. “So I’m looking out the window and all of the sudden we burst through the blue sky! And then there’s weightlessness. So I look out this window and I see the hole in space that this ship has punched – the magnificence of the mystery of space. What you’re seeing there is ominous. It looked like death. But then I looked down to the earth and I saw warmth and beauty – nurturing,” he continued, drawing again to a whisper. “It’s all miraculous. We take everything for granted. I got chills thinking about how connected we are with nature. It’s wholly and profoundly mystical.”
Shatner warned of the dangers of global warming and the extinction of crucial creatures. Singling out a female fan seated near the front holding a baby, the actor expressed both his fear and hope for the future as he interacted with both, ultimately drawing parallels to his recent experience.
“Wow. She’s three months old. She came out of the womb – out of total blackness – into this light. To see this child looking around for the first time – I think that’s what I felt. And it’s a beautiful thing.”
With Chicago roots dating back to the 70s, Wizard World has operated under its current name in the Windy City since 1998. Expanding to additional cities in the early 2000s, the pop culture convention, which was sold to Fan Expo this past August, now stands as one of the biggest in the United States.
Friday afternoon just outside Chicago, celebrities like actor/bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk) appeared at Wizard World, taking part in panels, autograph sessions, photo ops and more, with pop culture fixtures like Stephen Amell and Robert Patrick rounding out the weekend.
Actor Michael Rooker was a weekend highlight.
Rooker, 66, jumped down from the stage to run around the room interacting with fans while answering questions at hyper speed, looking back on roles in films like JFK, Mallrats and Guardians of the Galaxy.
Taking as many questions as he could, Rooker was hilarious in his brisk but friendly exchanges.
“Who’s your favorite character in all of the movies you’ve been in?” asked a fan. “Me!” said the actor with a smile.
Freaks and Geeks star, and Park Ridge, Illinois native, Samm Levine attempted to reign in the conversation during an on stage Q&A session. But crowd participation was key as Rooker asked a young fan in masked cosplay to stand up on his chair and address him face-to-face.
“Do you wanna be an actor when you grow up?” he asked the child. “No thank you,” came the polite response. “Smart kid!” Rooker replied.