By Deborah Wilker
When actor, activist, radio announcer and Internet sage George Takei is honored in Miami Beach Nov. 9 by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, he will likely ascend the stage with grace, speak eloquently and shake the hand of every last well-wisher. At no time will there be even a hint that the globetrotting 76-year-old (forever Sulu from Star Trek) might be tired or could perhaps use a break.
In the past few weeks alone, Takei’s schedule took him from his home in Los Angeles to Montreal for a Star Trek Convention; Washington, D.C., for a speech at the National Press Club; Winnipeg, Cincinnati and Oklahoma City for narration work with philharmonic orchestras; New York to record promos for his upcoming Broadway musical, Allegiance; Boston for a speech at Northeastern University; back to L.A. for a meeting at Paramount; then to Dallas for a premiere of the animated film Free Birds, in which he costars with Amy Poehler and Owen Wilson.
“I’m having the time of my life and to be able to do everything on this scale is an absolute delight,” says Takei, who stays fit with power walks and lean eating. Endless workdays do not faze him. “It’s a lot of fun.”
“Everything” also includes a new YouTube show, Takei’s Take, (youtube.com/user/TakeisTake), during which he demystifies (hilariously) gadgets like Google Glass. He also continues to put his signature voice and genial personae to work as “The Announcer” on The Howard Stern Show; for brands such as Old Navy, Nickelodeon and Sharp electronics, and on shows such as The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory.
It’s tempting to credit Takei’s later-in-life surge to his 4.6 million Facebook fans and 846,000 Twitter followers, most of whom seem to adore his jokes, memes and Karmic tales.
With a Klout score of 90, Takei is a world influencer. His reaction when told he ranks right up there with Ricky Martin, The Pope and Jimmy Fallon? A classic, heartfelt “Oh myyy.”
But Takei’s popularity had been on-the-rise long before the social media boom of 2008. One of more than 100,000 people of Japanese heritage imprisoned in U.S. detention camps during the 1940s, Takei had long been well known for his civil rights activism. It was his confirmation in 2005 that he was gay, however, and the speaking tour that followed, that brought him before new, young audiences.
Takei says credit goes to former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who campaigned on an equality platform, boasted of his “gay friends,” but then vetoed the state’s same-sex marriage bill in 2005.
“That got my blood boiling,” Takei says, still angered by Schwarzenegger’s betrayal. “I said I have to speak out on this. And my voice needs to be authentic.”
But coming out at age 68, after a lifetime of constraints, was complex.
“The words ‘coming out’ suggest you open a door and you step out. It’s not like that,” he says. “It’s more like a long, long walk through an initially darkened corridor. Then there’s a little window that lets in some light. Then there’s a door ajar that lets in a little more.
“First you come out to good friends, then family, and then the circle widens. I had never spoken to the press, because I wanted to be able to work.”
As Takei’s gay rights activism took hold, it was longtime partner and now husband Brad Altman (now Brad Takei) who encouraged him to accept Howard Stern’s offer to appear regularly on radio.
“Here I was advocating for the LGBT community – but essentially I was preaching to the choir. We maintain that the majority of people are decent and fair-minded, but they’re busy making a living. They can’t stop to think about issues that don’t affect them.
“So first we have to reach them. Our Democracy is dependent on good people being actively engaged. This is why I am also so vocal on the unjust internment of Japanese Americans. I’m always surprised by the number of people, many who seem otherwise well informed, who say ‘I had no idea something like this ever happened in the U.S.’ We must teach our history.”
No matter his raised profile and career highs of recent years, Takei says he remains forever indebted to Star Trek.
“Would you believe it’s been 47 years, 14 movies, four TV series? There are conventions galore all over the world. We could attend one every weekend.”
While he occasionally tires of those long-running spats with former co-star William Shatner (“Bill is Bill”), Takei never tires of meeting the show’s admirers.
“Gene Roddenberry created it, but the phenomenon was created by fans. It’s important to go there in person and say thank you.”
Tickets to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force 17th Annual Miami Recognition Dinner at The Fontainebleau Miami Beach are $250 and $350, available at http://www.miamirecognitiondinner.org/ or by calling 305-571-1924. Learn more about the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force at TheTaskForce.org and on Twitter @TheTaskForce.