For more than three decades, Peter Shatner, formerly Peter Sloan, believed that William Shatner was his biological father. He believed it so much that he filed a $170 million lawsuit claiming that Shatner’s refusal to acknowledge his paternity and the statements made by Shatner’s publicity team about the fraudulent nature of these claims, amounted to defamation. Though the case was dismissed by a judge in 2017, Peter Shatner stated that he was still planning to use the Shatner name as his own.
“I have every intention of taking the name from him,” he told The Tampa Bay Times in 2018. “He owes that to me. It is my birthright. Let him sue me.”
However, almost three years later, Peter Shatner’s claim to the name was proven baseless. After working with a genealogist in the spring of 2020, he discovered that his DNA did not match the Shatner familial line. The decades-long search for Peter Shatner’s father was over, as was the drawn-out legal battle.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Peter Shatner’s Mother Told him About His Paternity Possibilities
In the bio for his book, “The Search: How I Met my Father, William Shatner,” Peter Shatner, then Peter Sloan, wrote that he was born in 1956 to Katherine Burt, who changed her name to Kathy McNeil later in life. She gave him up for adoption shortly after. He was adopted by George Tilden Orick, a journalist and writer, and Barbara Lalone Byrne, an artist. When his adoptive father and mother divorced, Sloan was adopted by his stepfather and his last name was changed.
When Sloan was in his late 20s, he reunited with his first adoptive father, who encouraged him to seek out his birth parents. Sloan contacted the agency that had handled his adoption, and they were able to give him enough information to track down his birth mother.
Sloan told The Tampa Bay Times that he finally met with his mother in 1984. In their discussions, the topic of his birth father came up. McNeil told him that she wasn’t entirely sure who his father was. However, she insisted that he could be only one of two men. The first was a man she knew only by the nickname “Chick”. The second man was William Shatner, the actor famous for playing Captain Kirk in the Star Trek franchise.
McNeil and Shatner, both actors, did a few gigs together in the 1950s. She told her son that they’d had a brief tryst and that he was born nine months later. Though she admitted the man known as “Chick” could also be his father, McNeil claimed she was fairly sure that the Star Trek actor was actually Sloan’s father. She later wrote him a letter laying out the narrative, which Sloan allowed The Tampa Bay Times to print.
Based on the claims made by his mother, Sloan set out to prove that Shatner was his father.
2. The ‘Star Trek’ Actor Publicly Denied the Paternity
Shatner repeatedly denied that he was Sloan’s father in public statements about the matter. However, Sloan claimed that the actor had said something different in private.
The paperwork for the lawsuit that he filed against Shatner in 2017 alleged that the actor had acknowledged he was Sloan’s father when they met on the set of “T.J. Hooker” in 1984. That paperwork laid out Sloan’s side of the story in its entirety.
Sloan wrote that after Shatner confirmed his paternity, he invited him to come back to set the next week. When they next saw each other, they toured the set and Shatner gave Sloan his residential phone number. However, when Sloan tried to call, Shatner was supposedly very upset with him and hung up.
The summary of events in Sloan’s lawsuit went on, detailing how an associate of Shatner’s reached out to him to let him know that the actor wanted to cut off contact. This associate assured Sloan that Shatner felt very bad about doing so. He went on to say that Shatner would publicly deny any claims Sloan made about paternity. When Sloan asked about Shatner taking a DNA test, the associate supposedly said that wouldn’t happen.
For a long time, Sloan didn’t publicly pursue the issue. However, he spent the next 25 years pursuing proof of his paternity in private. In fact, he started writing a book about his search. According to Sloan’s paperwork for the lawsuit, he registered the domain petershatner.com in 2009 with the intention of building a website to publicize his book. Two years later, Sloan started a radio show and used the name, Peter Shatner.
Soon after, Sloan claimed a lawyer for Shatner reached out to him. They supposedly had several discussions about Sloan’s use of the Shatner name as a stage name. During these discussions, Sloan again requested that Shatner take a paternity test.
Shatner’s lawyer responded via an email, a copy of which Sloan included in the lawsuit. It unequivocally stated that Shatner denied being Sloan’s father and that Sloan could face legal consequences if he continued to use Shatner’s name.
However, Sloan continued to use the stage name and even registered it with The Actors Guild. When he became a screenwriter and an actor, Sloan used Peter Shatner as the name for his IMDB page.
In 2015, a publicist working for Shatner wrote a statement about Sloan’s use of Shatner’s last name. She wrote that Sloan had “fraudulently portrayed himself as Mr. Shatner’s son for years.” Soon after that, the person who managed Shatner’s social media accounts made a long post in the official Facebook group about Sloan. Basically, the post stated that Sloan was lying and that the book he’d published about his search for proof that Shatner was his father was inaccurate. Sloan included the statement and the Facebook post in the lawsuit as an example of the defamation he claimed Shatner and his staff were perpetrating.
A few months later, Sloan’s IMDB page was wiped clean. The portions of his bio stating that he was William Shatner’s son were removed from the site, as were the projects he’d listed. A letter from IMDB included in the lawsuit filing indicated that this was done because he was presenting “inaccurate” information about himself. His Twitter account was shut down as well, and Twitter informed him that they’d done so because he was violating their “policy on impersonation.”
In 2016, Shatner directly addressed the issue in a radio interview, a transcript of which Sloan included in the lawsuit paperwork. In that interview, Shatner again denied that he was Sloan’s father, and denied having known his mother.
3. Sloan Filed a $170 Million Defamation Lawsuit
This article featured in today's Tampa Bay Times regarding my father's attorney filing to have the case moved to Federal Court. pic.twitter.com/MlHsTHs7an
— Peter Shatner (@petersloan) February 15, 2017
In March of 2016, Sloan filed a lawsuit against Shatner with the 13th circuit court in Hillsborough County, Florida. He claimed that Shatner’s statements about not being his father and the statements made by Shatner’s staff on his behalf amounted to defamation, libel, and slander. The lawsuit also claimed that Shatner’s denial of paternity was harming Sloan’s career as an actor and a disc jockey since he used Peter Shatner as his stage name.
Sloan claimed that production of the film he’d been working on was scrapped because of the negative press he was receiving from Shatner and his staff. He also claimed that he was losing income because his “brand” — Peter Shatner — had been tarnished.
The lawsuit asked the court to intervene in the situation and order Shatner to pay for the damages. It asked that the court order Shatner to stop publicly claiming that Sloan was not his son and take a DNA test to resolve the issue. It then outlined the monetary damages Sloan wanted Shatner to pay, which totaled $170 million.
Shatner’s legal team responded by asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit. They argued that the entire basis of Sloan’s lawsuit was that he believed he was Shatner’s son, which had never been proven. The team also claimed that Florida didn’t have jurisdiction over the actions taken by Shatner or his staff since they didn’t live in or have business dealings in Florida. The court agreed with Shatner’s legal team and dismissed the case in August of 2017.
Sloan was told by the court that he could file an amendment to the lawsuit to address the issues, which he did. The amendment he submitted focused on the jurisdiction issue, claiming that Florida’s laws regarding business dealings could apply to out-of-staters.
The case was tied up for almost another year before the court finally decided to dismiss the case entirely in July of 2018.
4. Shatner Tried to Prevent Sloan from Changing his Name
An attorney for William Shatner objected, but a Clearwater man gets to claim the actor’s name anyway https://t.co/dEcugzhM8C
— Peter Shatner (@petersloan) August 6, 2019
The legal struggle between Sloan and Shatner was over for a while, but not forever. In January of 2019, Sloan officially petitioned to change his name from Peter Sloan to Peter Shatner. He posted photos of the paperwork on his Facebook page. Just days later, Sloan received a cease and desist letter from Shatner’s legal team.
He posted a picture of the letter on Facebook with the caption, “Well here we go again, threatening me with perjury, while simultaneously sending it to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
The cease and desist letter stated that Shatner’s legal team considered the name change petition an act of perjury because it included false information. The petition stated that Sloan was applying for the name change on the basis that Shatner was his father, which the legal team pointed out had never been proven.
Sloan and Shatner’s legal battle over the name change persisted for a few months after that. A hearing to determine whether the petition for the name change was valid was scheduled for May of 2019.
According to The Tampa Bay Times, the court dismissed the objections made by Shatner’s legal team and ruled that Sloan could officially change his name to Peter Shatner. However, the ruling also specified that the name change did not indicate paternity in any way and that it gave Peter Shatner no legal rights regarding William Shatner.
5. DNA Finally Proved That William Shatner Was NOT the Father
It is my opinion that this entire situation was created out of a single goal: money. His posts on license plates for his “Bentley” & “Maserati” cars he was buying to his daughter’s ‘payday’ posts; were constantly focused on that; never on family. https://t.co/nyYVo7uMry pic.twitter.com/dXaqj75lIx
— William Shatner (@WilliamShatner) December 4, 2020
In December of 2020, Peter Shatner gave an interview to The Tampa Bay Times, in which he admitted that DNA had proven William Shatner was not his father.
Over a decade earlier, he’d uploaded his DNA to Ancestry.com in hopes of finding a familial match to one of William Shatner’s relatives. Nothing ever came of it. According to a Facebook post he made the day after the interview came out, Peter Shatner started working with a genealogist to track down his paternity. They found a possible connection to William Shatner, so he took a different kind of DNA test. However, it showed that he was likely not related to William Shatner.
Peter Shatner and the genealogist continued the search for six months until they found a possible match — the daughter of a man known as Benjamin “Chick” Freedman. When she consented to take a DNA test, they found out their DNA matched. So, Peter Shatner’s mother was right in a way, but her intuition had favored the wrong man.
Peter Shatner, who is still using the last name at this time, posted a statement on his Facebook, addressed directly to the man he thought was his father for more than three decades.
Taken out of context, and unrelated to anything other than humor. Those two posts are from March of 2015, a year before…
For a few days, Peter Shatner’s Facebook feed was full of links to articles and videos of interviews about the paternity case. By the next week, it had returned to birthday wishes, pictures of his family, memes, and all the regular social media fare. Pictures of William Shatner were notably absent.