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Alcohol, Pills Are Blamed in Shatner Death

Drowning: Autopsy finds 'Star Trek' actor's wife, Nerine, had been drinking, taking sleeping medication the night she died.

October 13, 1999|JEFFREY GETTLEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

STUDIO CITY — Final autopsy results show that Nerine Shatner, the wife of "Star Trek" star William Shatner, had been drinking heavily and taking sleeping pills the night she drowned in the swimming pool behind her home.

The former model and aspiring actress, who had two drunk-driving convictions and had been treated several times for alcoholism, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.27%, more than three times the legal limit for driving, according to the autopsy report released Tuesday.

Doctors found bruises on her face and two cracked neck vertebrae that indicated she dived into the pool, banged her head on the bottom and lost consciousness.

The findings help explain what occurred the night of Aug. 9 when William Shatner returned to his hillside mansion in Studio City and found his wife naked at the bottom of the pool's deep end.

Nerine Shatner, 40, was known to drink a cocktail of Gatorade and vodka before swimming and had been struggling especially hard with her alcoholism in the days leading up to her death, Shatner told police.

The autopsy supports authorities' initial belief there was no foul play, said Mike Coffey, the Los Angeles police detective investigating the case.

"The totality of the whole investigation indicates an accident," Coffey said. "Drinking was definitely a problem for her. Everyone knew she was an alcoholic. She just couldn't beat her problem."

Although never a suspect, Shatner, best known for his role as Capt. Kirk in the "Star Trek" TV and film productions, was questioned several times by police, Coffey said. Shatner provided a time-stamped restaurant check to show he was dining in San Clemente with his daughter at the time of his wife's drowning, Coffey said.

Nerine Kidd (her maiden name) wasn't destined for fame, though she was determined to find it, her family said. With a thick accent and streetwise ways, they said she left her blue-collar neighborhood in Boston at 17.

"She was a typical girl from a working-class family who knew nothing about this business," said Janet Chute, the Boston modeling agent who said she taught Nerine to refer to photographs as head shots and not "pitchas." "But she was spirited," she said. "And in a business where there's a lot of deadheads, she really stood out."

It was not long before Nerine was walking down runways in Europe, shooting commercials in New York and flying her younger sister in from Boston in a helicopter she chartered with her own modeling money, The Times was told.

Family photos, with written captions on the back, trace her rites of passage, which could have been those of anyone's youth: "Xmas 1976," a pouty stare at the camera, a teddy bear in her arms; "Mother and daughter," towering over mom in dated plaid bell-bottoms; and "Prom night," her beauty clear by this point, her date's bow tie crooked.

*

Leggy, blond, with an upturned small nose, Nerine Kidd never quite emerged as a Cosmo talent. But she mixed with them. One of her beautiful people friends, Suzanne Gregard, was once married to Dodi Fayed, who died at Princess Diana's side two years ago.

Shifting from modeling to acting, Nerine moved to L.A. in 1985 and began auditioning for commercials. She landed a spot for a cologne and starred in a straight-to-video film shot in Yugoslavia that was never completed.

She dated older men, her family said, including a man who raced cars and another who designed yachts. Five years ago she met Shatner, 28 years her senior, on the set of the TV show "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues."

They wed in 1997 at a ceremony in Pasadena. Younger sister Jeanine shared a dance with best man Leonard Nimoy, Shatner's fellow "Star Trek" star.

"My hands were shaking," Jeanine Kidd said. "I was a wreck."

Brother Warren, a hospital orderly, said he ate so much sushi he "almost popped."

To a working-class family, being connected to one of the most famous men on TV proved a surreal experience that ended before family members got used to it, survivors said. Warren Kidd said he always called his brother-in-law Mr. Shatner.

Shatner did not grant an interview for this story, but from what he has told police and others, there were signs Nerine was isolated and depressed.

She wanted a baby but Shatner didn't think she was responsible enough, according to Shatner's agent, Warren Cowan. Cowan also confirmed Shatner had filed for divorce, but the couple was making an attempt at reconciliation.

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On Aug. 9, Nerine Shatner was supposed to appear in Los Angeles Municipal Court for her last court date on a drunk-driving charge from 1997. She never made it.

"I had called her the night before and I couldn't understand a word she said," said Peter Knecht, the lawyer who represented her. "She didn't appear to be in good health."

Her father, also named Warren, believes his daughter's life unraveled after she married Shatner. The father said he never approved of the marriage because he and Shatner are the same age.

"I'll never forget when I got this phone call from L.A. and my little Nerine sounded so happy," her father said. "She said to me, 'Daddy, you won't believe it! Guess who I met the other night?' "

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