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Outer limits 

There's a great bloopers CD, Celebrities at Their Worst, that features thespians, musicians and TV personalities showing their true colors. One highlight is a snippet of dialogue taken during the taping of a Star Trek episode, where Enterprise Captain James T. Kirk (actor William Shatner, recently in Durham for a Star Trek convention), really shows his ass.

"Just have fun with it Bill," says the beleaguered audio engineer, which garners the response, "Please don't tell me how to do it; it sickens me."

Shatner then delivers the line "Spock, sabotage the system," rhyming the end of "sabotage" with "age." The director politely corrects him: "Uh, Bill, that was great, but it's sab-o-tage" not sab-ot-age."

Shatner snaps back, "You say sabotage; I say sabotage."

Such is the hubris of Bill Shatner, aka T.J. Hooker (a cop show that made Shatner famous for his curly black toupee). He's a fixture of the Star Trek movies and recently a shill for Pricelice.com. In the ads, Shatner comes full circle: He cannily plays up his camp image by doing a Robert Goulet-esque nightclub bit, as if to say, "Yes, I'm a ridiculous pop culture artifact. Yet, by embracing my kitschiness, I remain hip and relevant."(Sorry, it doesn't work that way, Bill.)

For the 600 hardcore fans who ponied up $50 to get an autograph voucher at the Durham Marriott last weekend, his appearance was a chance to momentarily bask in the warmth of a much-loved icon--even a ruddy-faced, bloated one. The voucher, complete with photo of Captain Kirk, permitted them to stand in line for a signature from the intrepid intergalactic traveler himself: no flashes, no personal questions, no loitering.

Shatner regaled the audience with an hour-long "performance" intended to illustrate to the rapt crowd--some dressed in full sci-fi regalia--that he is just plain folks. He slayed the audience by recounting invasive airport searches; he made funny about his appearance on The Weakest Link (defending his less-than-stellar performance, Shatner said he's clueless about pop culture icons "like Justin Timberlake" but can discuss Afghanistan and complex world issues with the best of 'em); and he admitted his total lack of knowledge about the casts or plotlines of any of Star Trek spin-offs--an ingenious way to deflect questions during the Q&A that followed. He even defended a notorious version of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" featured on his 1967 musical release The Transformed Man. (In case you're wondering, he leaves The Beatles' classic flat on its back crying "Uncle!").

Afterward, Trek fans--including a family of Klingon warriors and several young blades sporting Next Generation uniforms--lined up for cast-member autographs and browsed the dealer tables where you could buy everything from tribble key chains to Star Trek figurines.

The mood was infectious and I had a crisis as I was leaving: The Captain of the Enterprise was in the building. What was $50 compared to the eternal joy afforded by having my copy of The Transformed Man signed, in person?

Too late. Shatner had left for the next convention, boldly going where no real celebrities have gone before--exploring the outer limits of show biz by making a career out of self-parody.

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