George Takei keeps cracking himself up.
Over the course of an hour-long phone interview with the 76-year-old actor, social-media icon and former helmsman of the starship Enterprise, Takei bursts into his boisterous, unmistakable laugh nearly a dozen times.
And quite frankly, why shouldn't he be happy? He's had a show business career that's spanned more than 50 years, and now Takei has become a royal fixture on social media—with a Facebook page of nearly 5.2 million likes and a Twitter account of more than 916,000 followers.
And while Takei lives to entertain, he's spent even more of his time and effort fighting for social-justice issues. In his early life, he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King and protested the Vietnam War. In 2005, he came out publicly as a gay man after spending decades of hiding to preserve his career. Since, he's led a tireless crusade for marriage equality, marrying the love of his life and partner of more than 25 years, Brad Altman, in 2008.
It's a life he cherishes, but doesn't take for granted.
'You have to approach every day like it's going to be a wonderful day," Takei says. "And sure it may rain or get cold, but you have to find something every day to be thankful for, and turn that into your salad days. Every day should be a salad day, as long as we're mindful of the fact that there's always room for improvement."
It's no surprise that he approaches life with such an optimistic outlook. George Takei had to start searching for life's silver linings at a very young age.
In 1942, at the age of five, he and his family were living in Los Angeles when they were removed from their home by American soldiers. It was just a few months after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor; President Franklin Roosevelt had signed an executive order that permitted the removal of any citizen of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast.
It's a day, Takei says, that he'll never forget.
"My brother and I were in the living room looking out the front window and I saw two soldiers with bayonets on their rifles—I remember the sparkle on the bayonets from the sun—coming up the driveway and stomping onto our porch, and we were ordered out of our home," Takei says. "My father and brother and I went outside, and my mother was the last to come out. She came out with my baby sister in one hand and a large duffel bag in the other, and tears were streaming down her cheek.
"A child never forgets that image. It was terrifying."
At the time, the construction of the camps was not yet complete, and the Takei family, along with many other Asian Americans, was taken to Santa Anita Racetrack to be housed "in this narrow, smelly horse stall." But even then, young Takei looked for the bright side. "As a five-year-old boy, I remember thinking, I get to sleep where the horsies sleep. I thought it was fun," he recalls.
The Takeis remained at Santa Anita for several months before being loaded onto a train and shipped to the Rohwer War Relocation Center in "the swamps of Southeast Arkansas," as Takei remembers. As a child, he says, he was able to view the camp with a sense of normalcy. Barbed-wire fences, searchlights following his nightly trips to the bathroom and armed soldiers in sentry towers all seemed ordinary.