CLEARWATER — After a decades-long search, Peter Shatner has identified his biological father.
It is not the famous actor whose last name he legally took on last year.
In 1984, his biological mother told Shatner — previously Sloan, like his adoptive parents — that his birth father was either William Shatner or a man she could only remember as “Chick.” But she was more certain the dad was the man best known for portraying Captain Kirk.
For the next 36 years, Shatner lobbied the actor for a DNA test but was rebuffed time and again.
In 2009, Shatner sought answers by adding his DNA to Ancestry.com and looking for genetic matches through William Shatner’s relatives.
That is how, 11 years later, he found his connection to Chick’s children. In October, the daughter agreed to take a DNA test.
“The test came back positive that she was my half sibling,” Shatner, 63, said.
Chick was a nickname. Benjamin Freedman was a Canadian citizen who died in 2001.
It is upsetting, Shatner admitted, that he will never meet his birth father.
“I will never have the opportunity to sit and talk to him.”
But it is also fulfilling.
“I just wanted to know where I came from.”
That is also why Shatner said he is not embarrassed by his pursuit of a DNA test from William Shatner that in recent years made headlines around the world.
“It was never about wanting his money and I always made it clear I would renounce any inheritance in exchange for a DNA test,” Shatner said. “If you are not adopted, you could never understand. I had to know who I am.”
Shatner was born on Dec. 9, 1956, and then given up for adoption in New York by Canadian actress Kathy Burt, who is also now dead.
His birth certificate reads “Male McNeil,” reflecting the last name of Leonard McNeil — a man his biological mother was dating.
George and Barbara Orick adopted the boy and named him Peter. They later divorced and she married John Sloan, who adopted her son. Orick — a photojournalist with Time-Life publications — used his investigative journalism skills to help Shatner find his biological mother in 1984.
It was then that she told him about his two possible fathers, a story she retold in a 1987 letter that Shatner shared with the Tampa Bay Times in 2015.
She acted alongside William Shatner, Burt wrote, and was mending a broken heart when they slept together. A few days later, she met the man she only recalled as Chick.
Charles McNeil, Shatner’s half-brother through his birth mother, previously confirmed that story to the Times.
“My mother had no reason to lie,” McNeil said in 2015. “If anything, she was ashamed of it so kept it very private. She could have tried to make money off her story but never did, even when times were tough.”
Hollywood producer E. Arthur Kean, a friend of Shatner’s first adoptive father, brokered a 1984 meeting between Shatner and William Shatner. Shatner claims that William Shatner agreed they could be father and son.
William Shatner has publicly denied that meeting took place and his publicist in 2015 told the Times she was “not aware” of her client ever knowing Burt.
But Adrea Nairne, Kean’s ex-wife, told the Times in 2019 that the meeting did occur. There are also photographs of William Shatner and Burt acting together.
“The more they pushed back, the more it seemed they were hiding something,” Shatner said. “I wish they would have admitted they knew who I was and taken the DNA test.”
The two met one other time — when Shatner paid for a photograph with William Shatner in March 2011 at an Orlando comic convention.
He sued William Shatner in 2016 for $170 million in damages for libel, defamation, tortious interference and slander.
“They called me a fraud,” Shatner said of William Shatner and his representatives. “I was not lying.”
He lost that suit, but, in 2019, successfully petitioned a Pinellas County court to have his name legally changed from Peter Sloan to Peter Shatner.
“I will change my name again obviously,” Shatner said, likely back to Sloan.
Ancestry.com’s DNA analysis identified a possible genetic cousin who Shatner connected with a few months back.
That cousin had a relative nicknamed Chick — because he once ran a chicken store in Toronto. They put Shatner in touch with other family members, leading to the DNA test.
Once the pandemic is over, he hopes to meet his half-siblings, who asked that he not identify them for this story. They sent him photos of their father. Shatner said he doesn’t see a physical resemblance, but is tickled that that they share the same career.
“I sell life insurance,” Shatner said. “So did he.”
He also hopes other adopted children find inspiration in his story.
“I found what I was looking for,” Shatner said. “It took time and it was a fight, but I did it. I finally know where I come from.”