CLEARWATER ― His license plate still says “Shatner.”
And his driver’s license still reads “Peter Shatner” because, well, that is his legal name.
He changed it from Peter Sloan in 2019 due to a long-standing belief that William Shatner was his biological father. But it’s been two years since the 65-year-old Clearwater man learned the truth.
His biological father was Benjamin Freedman, who died two decades ago. So why does he maintain the Shatner name?
“Honestly, it’s just easier to keep Shatner for now,” he said with a laugh. “That was a real hassle to change it.”
Shatner said he is not clinging to the years when he had tabloid celebrity, dubbed by The National Enquirer as “Shatner’s Love Child.” Instead, he is focused on connecting with his biological family and learning more about his father.
Since learning his father’s identity, Shatner has spent time with his paternal brother Darren Freedman, who lives in Naples.
“This is still hard to believe,” said Freedman, 63, during a recent trip to Clearwater. “But I see the resemblance.”
Benjamin Freedman was 5 feet, 11 inches tall, just like Shatner. He had green eyes. Shatner’s eyes are hazel, bordering on green. Freedman described his father as outgoing, colorful and jovial.
“He was not an entertainer,” Freedman said. “But he liked to entertain.”
Shatner now moonlights as a professional entertainer with a singing set list that includes Herb Alpert.
Unknown to Shatner until his brother’s recent visit was that Alpert was Benjamin Freedman’s favorite musician.
Benjamin Freedman was a life insurance salesman.
“That’s the craziest similarity,” said Shatner, also a life insurance salesman. “People asked if I was upset when I learned that William Shatner was not my father. Not at all. I was not seeking publicity or money. I didn’t care if my dad was a celebrity. I just wanted to know where I came from.”
Shatner was born on Dec. 9, 1956, and then given up for adoption by his mother, Canadian actress Kathy Burt. George and Barbara Orick adopted him. They later divorced and she married John Sloan, who adopted Shatner.
In 1980, Shatner’s first daughter was born and it struck him that she was the only biological relative he’d ever met.
George Orick, who was a photojournalist with the Time-Life publications, helped Shatner learn his biological mother’s identity and meet with her. Married with three adult children, her last name had changed to McNeil and she was living in Toronto.
McNeil, who has since died, told Shatner that the biological father was one of two Canadians: either William Shatner, alongside whom she acted, or a man whom she only recalled was nicknamed Chick.
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In 1984, Shatner met William Shatner. According to Shatner, the actor admitted they could be family but later, through an attorney, said he would not go public with the connection.
Shatner went public with his story in 2015.
William Shatner’s representatives called Shatner a fraud. Shatner sued for $170 million in damages for libel and slander. He lost, but changed his name from Peter Sloan to Peter Shatner.
Then, in 2020, through DNA he provided 11 years earlier, Ancestry.com pinged him with a match to a man identified as a likely cousin.
The cousin did not respond to Shatner’s messages through the website, so he hired genealogist Pamela Vittorio.
“I took a boots-to-the-ground approach,” Vittorio said. “First, I was able to rule out William Shatner as the father. Then, using that one cousin, I built a family tree and looked for other matches.”
That led to another cousin who told her that he had a deceased relative nicknamed Chick.
“My grandparents had a chicken shop in downtown Toronto,” Freedman said. His father was known as the chicken guy, or Chick.
Vittorio was put in contact with Freedman and Beth Freedman, his sister. She agreed to the DNA test that confirmed the sibling match in late November 2020.
Shatner publicly announced the results.
“I could have lied forever,” he said. “But it was never about being William Shatner’s son. It was about being someone’s son.”
Freedman said his father never mentioned the possibility of another son, likely because he did not know he had one. Shatner agrees. “My mother did not know his name, so could not have contacted him,” he said.
Shatner said the encounter between his parents took place in March 1956.
Freedman said his parents were high school sweethearts who reconnected in Toronto in late 1956 or early 1957. They married in 1958.
He described Benjamin Freedman as “an attentive dad. He was loving, caring and friendly. He would always coach my teams and always had time for family vacations.” And he would have accepted Shatner into the family.
“That’s just who he was,” Freedman said. “He was very welcoming.”
In early November, Shatner attended a McNeil family reunion in North Carolina.
“Everyone was there,” he said. “My mother’s entire side of her family ... always treated me like a fourth son.”
He hopes to connect with others from his paternal side too.
“I’d like to travel to Canada to meet my sister, Beth,” he said.
As for the Shatner name, when will he give it up?
“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s how so many people know me.”
That’s how he is booked as a musician and that’s his name in movie credits, most recently in “Velvet Hammer.”
But he did remove Shatner from his mailbox. With a laugh, he suggested adding his full name to it.
“It’s a long one,” he said. “It would be Peter Freedman Burt Orick McNeil Sloan Shatner.”