The day after his brief, troubled third marriage ended in tragedy, William Shatner stood outside the wrought-iron gate of his sprawling hilltop home in Los Angeles to make a statement. "My beautiful wife is dead," he quietly told reporters on the morning of Aug. 10. "She meant everything to me. Her laughter, her tears and her joy will remain with me the rest of my life." Then, his composure giving way, the 68-year-old actor famous worldwide as Star Trek's Capt. James T. Kirk quickly stepped inside to cope as best he could with Nerine Shatner's terrible fate.

At 10:15 the night before, Shatner had returned home from visiting his oldest daughter, Leslie, in nearby Orange County. He found the house he has shared with his wife since their 1997 marriage unexpectedly empty. But within minutes, to his horror, he saw Nerine, 40, a former Ford model, lying naked and unconscious at the bottom of their pool.

Shatner grabbed the phone and dialed 911. "He was very hysterical," says Steve Ruda, an L.A. City Fire Department spokesman. After the dispatcher on the line told Shatner to pull his wife out of the water immediately, the actor hung up and dove into the pool without waiting for CPR instructions. A female neighbor then redialed while Shatner tried to revive Nerine. "We kept the lines open through the neighbor," says Ruda, "and we gave her first-aid instruction to relay to him."

It was too late. Though an ambulance and a fire truck arrived shortly, there was little to do but grieve. The next morning, Shatner was seen coming out to the driveway to embrace friends who had come to console him. "I appreciate your concern," he politely told a reporter, declining to speak further.

Mike Coffey, the LAPD homicide detective in charge of the case, says the death appears, pending an autopsy, to be accidental. "There is no evidence how it occurred," says Coffey. "Nothing was apparent through the physical exam at the scene." Police add that there were no signs of a break-in or of foul play.

But Shatner's first wife cautiously suggests that alcohol may have had a role—directly or otherwise—in the death of Nerine, who was once a runner-up in the Miss World contest. "She liked to tipple a little," says Gloria Kaine, who was married to the star from 1956 to 1969 and with him raised Leslie, 41, Lisabeth, 38, and Melanie, 35. "That was the fault that did her in, I think." Nerine (who had no children with the actor) had recently been in rehab, according to the former Mrs. Shatner. "I don't know the details, but it didn't work out."

A trail of legal citations indicates a serious problem—possibly one deepened by family calamities: Her brother Howard, who was comatose after he was hit by a car in 1994, remains in a convalescent home, and in 1995 another brother, Robert, died in his 30s of a brain aneurysm. Over the past five years the former Nerine Kidd, born in Boston to Warren, a now retired longshoreman, and June, a former secretary, had her California license suspended at least twice for driving while intoxicated. In April 1997—seven months before she became the third Mrs. Shatner (the second was actress Marcy Lafferty)—she was arrested for driving drunk and ordered by the court into an 18-month treatment program.

Whatever his wife's troubles, Shatner preferred to keep them private, confiding mostly in his daughters. In fact, the marriage had deteriorated so rapidly that he filed divorce papers last October (citing irreconcilable differences), less than a year after taking her hand with the vow, "I pledge allegiance to you, Nerine, my queen."

But the couple apparently decided the union was worth preserving. If there was sorrow, there was also joy. "They were very much in love," says Shatner's assistant Stephanie Riggs. "They were always laughing and joking." Says Nerine's sister Jeanine, who lives in Palm Springs, Fla., near their mother: "Nerine told me he was great. She loved him." Adds June: "Nerine was a wonderful daughter. She loved people, people loved her. She was very giving." And Shatner, who met Nerine in Canada in the early '90s, surely prized her. He once playfully referred to her as "my trophy wife."

Now he has lost her. When the sobbing star phoned his in-laws with the news on Tuesday, "he said he was very sorry for my mother and me," says Jeanine. "And that he loved her."

Tom Gliatto
Lorenzo Benet and Lyndon Stambler in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • Lorenzo Benet,
  • Lyndon Stambler.