George Takei: Still guiding the ship

  • Article by: MICHAEL SCHULMAN , New York Times
  • Updated: June 25, 2014 - 1:40 PM

The actor who played helmsman Sulu on “Star Trek” has rebooted his fame since coming out in 2005.

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For George Takei, left, with husband Brad Takei in their New York apartment, coming out as gay set him on a course of activism.

Photo: Steven Brahms, New York Times

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– George Takei sat in a VIP room at the Waldorf-Astoria as a young makeup artist named Eryk Datura dabbed foundation on his brow.

“Are you a native of this city?” the 77-year-old actor asked him, in the booming basso profundo that helped make him famous, beginning with his role as the galactic helmsman Hikaru Sulu on “Star Trek.”

“I’m from Nashville,” Datura said.

Takei perked up. “Do you know the state senator from eastern Tennessee named Stacey Campfield?” he asked. “He tried to get a law passed forbidding teachers from using the word ‘gay’ in schools.”

He cracked a satisfied grin and continued: “On YouTube I said, ‘Well, if it’s going to be illegal to use the word “gay,” then you can simply substitute it with the word “Takei,” which rhymes with “gay.” And you can march in a Takei Pride Parade.’ ”

That brand of winking online activism is why Takei was honored last month by GLAAD, the gay rights advocacy group. Since coming out as gay in 2005 at the age of 68, Takei has used his bawdy social-media persona to build a following far beyond Trekkies. To his 7 million Facebook fans and million or so Twitter followers, he supplies an endless stream of viral diversions (like a photo of a road sign saying “Elevated Man Holes”), often accompanied by his pseudoscandalized catchphrase, “Oh myyy.”

Like Betty White, Takei has used naughty-oldster humor to fuel a late-career surge. But his ribaldry is often in the service of social causes, whether gay rights or Japanese-American visibility. In 2007, after the former basketball player Tim Hardaway said, “I hate gay people,” Takei responded with a mock public service announcement on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” telling Hardaway, “Let it be known: One day, when you least expect it, I will have sex with you.”

He concluded, with a cackle, “I love sweaty basketball players.”

This month, Takei is to appear in gay pride parades in Seattle and Columbus, Ohio.

“The moment he came out, it was all engines go,” said Wilson Cruz, an actor who appeared on “My So-Called Life” and is a GLAAD national spokesman. “He was on the ground, making his opinion known.”

Growing fame

His rebooted fame is likely to grow. A documentary about his life, “To Be Takei” by Jennifer M. Kroot, showed at the Sundance Film Festival in January and is to open in theaters in August. And he is looking for a Broadway home for “Allegiance,” a musical inspired by his childhood experiences in Japanese-American internment camps during World War II.

At the GLAAD awards, he was accompanied by his husband, Brad Takei (né Altman), a tightly wound 60-year-old who serves as Takei’s manager. A self-described “control freak,” Brad is a bustling presence in “To Be Takei,” playfully bickering with his husband and acting as a Klingon when fans get aggressive.

Given Takei’s cheeky advocacy, it is hard to believe that he came out publicly just nine years ago. For that, his admirers can thank Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, when he was governor of California, vetoed a marriage-equality bill. Watching the news on TV at home, Takei felt his blood boil.

“We agreed that I had to speak out, which meant my voice had to be authentic,” he said in an interview with his husband in their Midtown Manhattan apartment. (They also have a home in Los Angeles: “We are bi … coastal!”)

Brad added, “The fiction that I was only George’s business manager, that was getting kind of stale for us.”

The couple met in 1984, in the gay running club Los Angeles Frontrunners. Brad, who was working as a journalist for a trade publishing company, caught George’s eye during a jog around the Silver Lake Reservoir.

“For you, it was lust at first sight,” Brad recalled.

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