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William Shatner in 2010Getty Images

The Big Giant Heads at Rideau Hall have decreed: William Shatner will be honoured for "lifetime artistic achievement" with the prestigious Governor General's Performing Arts Award in May.

The question is, however, which lifetime will the ever-mutable Emmy-winning Canadian actor be honoured for?

"One lives many lifetimes in a lifetime," Shatner says, in that semi-serious Zen master tone he has perfected over the past decade. "This is just one lifetime award - I expect to be back to get another in a few years."

Shatner - currently the star of the CBS sitcom - $#*! My Dad Says, the first television show ever based on a Twitter feed - is one of six 2010 recipients of the Governor General's Performing Arts Award, it was announced Thursday.

The former Captain Kirk's body of work will be celebrated at a National Arts Centre gala on May 14 alongside that of acclaimed dancer Margie Gillis; Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore; Theatre Passe Muraille co-founder Paul Thompson; Quebec monologist Yvon Deschamps; and Leslee Silverman, artistic director of the Manitoba Theatre for Young People.

Denis Villeneuve, director of the recent Oscar-nominated film Incendies, will also receive the $25,000 National Arts Centre Award for "exceptional achievement" over the past year.

Shatner is certainly the most famous of this year's crop of honorees, but the Montreal-born cultural icon is also the most difficult to pin down with a single job descriptor. In the mini-biographies the GGPAAs supply, he gets the longest string of nouns: "actor, director, producer, writer, spokesman and philanthropist" - and that omits that he is perhaps the world's most famous spoken-word artist, from his (ahead-of-its-time?) 1968 album The Transformed Man to his recent appearances on Conan O'Brien's show, reading Sarah Palin's writings over bongo drums.

A recent New York Times Magazine profile tracked "The Many Iterations of William Shatner": from young actor at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival; to the famous science-fiction captain of the Enterprise on Star Trek and in its many movies; to the late-night talk-show punch-line who took control of his own joke and spun it in into a career renaissance on television shows like 3rd Rock from the Sun (where he was the Big Giant Head), Boston Legal and now $#*! My Dad Says.

Turning 80 later this month - "writhing 80," he corrects - Shatner does not show any signs of slowing down, with a couple of TV documentary series on the go in addition to his sitcom.

"[Lifetime achievement]does suggest that you accept the award and then drop dead," he muses over the phone from Los Angeles. "But I don't want to be a bother - carting me off stage and all that."

Like his friend and fellow Montrealer, Christopher Plummer - who he visited at the Stratford Festival this summer to interview for a documentary - Shatner fully intends to be a busy octogenarian. "Chris will go on like The Sound of Music, and I will go on trying to catch him as I have my whole lifetime," he says.

The Governor General's Performing Arts Awards are described as "the ultimate recognition - from Canadians for Canadians whose accomplishments have inspired and enriched the cultural life of our country." Shatner admits that he isn't entirely familiar with the award, however - and that he doesn't recognize the names of any of his fellow Canadian recipients.

He also, after asking what the temperature is in Toronto, needs it translated out of Celsius. "I was always on Fahrenheit and never moved," he says. "It's like a language - you have to live it, you have to be involved in it, you have to absorb it."

All of which points to just how much of Shatner's lifetime has been lived in the United States. Ask about how it feels to receive a specifically Canadian award for achievement, however, and the actor reveals a strong vein of patriotism about carrying a passport with a maple leaf on it.

"To be serious for a brief moment," Shatner says - and, indeed, he does seems to, for a moment, drop the Shatner persona (or Shatner personae) - "I am in my heart a Canadian. And the values that Canada stands for are values that I recognize."

Shatner is looking forward to being back in Ottawa to receive the award in May. "To be honoured by my native country is to hark back to my youth and the joy I felt as I prepared for my life, prepared to be whatever I am now - which is apparently worthy of the honour Canada is giving me," he says. "I owe it to Canada."

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Along with William Shatner, five other artists will receive the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for lifetime achievement in May.

Yvon Deschamps Job description: Monologuist

Claim to fame: One of Quebec's best-known humorists, Deschamps has performed at Montreal's Place des Arts more than 500 times in his career. In 1968, he produced the era-defining musical revue L'Osstidcho with Robert Charlebois and Louise Forestier.

Margie Gillis Job description: Dance artist, choreographer and teacher

Claim to fame: Over 40 years, Gillis has performed and choreographed more than 100 dance works and been a guest artist with such companies the National Ballet of Canada and the Paul Taylor Dance Company. In 1979, she was the first artist to re-introduce modern dance to China after the Cultural Revolution.

Howard Shore Job description: Composer and musician

Claim to fame: Shore has won three Academy Awards for his work scoring films, notably Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy and 13 of David Cronenberg's films. The four-time Grammy Award-winning is also a conductor and has composed an opera, The Fly, based on Cronenberg's 1986 film.

Leslee Silverman Job description: Artistic director

Claim to fame: A leader in theatre for young audiences, Silverman has been artistic director of the Manitoba Theatre for Young People since 1982. She has directed over 85 productions for the MTYP in that time.

Paul Thompson Job description: Theatre creator, animator and ideal audience

Claim to fame: Co-founder of Toronto's Theatre Passe Muraille, Thompson was a pioneer of Canadian collective creation with plays like The Farm Show. He has helped establish theatre companies across the country, including Newfoundland's CODCO, Saskatoon's 25th Street Theatre and Toronto's Nightwood Theatre.