Other celebrities immediately come to mind: Meryl Streep, Sean Connery, Jack Nicholson, etc. With megastars like these there is a dichotomy: The craft and its product, versus the person who is the celebrity. To some extent we know the person, but the most we know is the context of the person...what it is they do. Without a celebrity's ongoing body of work, the person often largely disappears from public view except to those "in the business" or personally close to those individuals.
I also mention those people because I am a huge fan of their work. Each occupies a unique spot in the entertainment world, but each knows how to deliver a successful product for the price of a ticket. I don't need to know the individuals to appreciate what they do.
William Shatner may have transcended this phenomenon of being a celebrity icon. As a disclaimer, I'm a life-long fan of Star Trek. OK, call me a Trekkie, though I'll argue against it. I'm not a convention-goer who wears costumes, and slavishly tunes in to every Star Trek series. In fact, I seldom watched "Deep Space Nine" (although it was a find show) and in frustration started tuning out "Voyager" because of some really bad scripts. I merely laughed at "Enterprise" and brushed it aside as irrelevant.
I watched all the Star Trek films. Half of them feature the original cast, and the other half the case of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," which is to me also a fine series with a superb finale ("All Good Things..."). Some of the films disappointed until the recent remake of the original story. Now THAT was what I've been waiting for, for many years! I'd even fantasy cast such an endeavor long ago with Sean Connery (Scotty) and Jack Nicholson (McCoy). I was never so tied to the original stars that I couldn't see the franchise without them.
In short, I'm not religious about Star Trek. I recognize that the genius of the original series is that Kirk and Spock are a "compound person." Each is a metaphor for a different aspect of the human psyche, both essential to the wholeness of the person. (I don't care if creator Gene Roddenberry didn't plan it that way; that's what it is to me.) That intrigued me to no end and kept me with the franchise for years.
With that in mind, I'm a fan of Shatner because he's Captain Kirk, but equally because what I know of him now is his life approach to the career itself. Shatner inverted his craft and made his backstory a Broadway production. Perhaps there are others who have done so but I don't know about it.
My wife gave me "Shatner Rules" for a Christmas present. It's Shatner's latest book that talks about many of the things apparently in the script for his Broadway show. Shatner has said "yes" to so many things that the very act of getting involved in his projects is as much or more of a story than the projects themselves.
When I think of Streep, I think of "Sophie's Choice," "Kramer versus Kramer," "The French Lieutenant's Woman" or a host of other great parts. With Nicholson I think "As Good as it Gets," "The Shining," "The Pledge," and others. Connery is always James Bond, and lately is dad to Indiana Jones. With Shatner I see James Kirk (and just a little Denny Crane...and no T.J. Hooker). But I also see a whole lot of something I don't see with the others: the person. Is it because he's more versatile or more talented? No. I think it stems from his willingness to go beyond the predictable and take chances. When a person does that to the extend Shatner does it, you begin to notice the person taking the chances, not just the end result of the venture.
To that degree, William Shatner may be unique in the entertainment world: A star who plays the real individual life behind the stardom. I predict his show will be an entertaining one, but it mght be mistaken for a self-help seminar because one comes away from him with a better grip on how to fulfill our own aspirations. His serious acting days a far behind him, but he has found a far bigger role to play: himself.
Shatner is the Transparent Icon.
[Hey, don't forget about this!]