Wil Wheaton

A brief tenure as a child actor, marked by stardom in "Stand By Me" (1985) and on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (syndicated, 1987-1994), preceded Wil Wheaton's more prolific and influential second act as a writer, blogger, gaming and tech enthusiast and spokesperson for what was termed in the media as "geek" culture. Born Richard William Wheaton III on July 29, 1972 in Burbank, California, he was the eldest of three children by Richard William, Jr., a medical technician, and his mother, actress Debra O'Connor. Wheaton began acting at an early age, appearing first in television commercials and then made-for-TV movies and specials. His first feature film appearance came in the low-budget comedy "Hambone and Hillie" (1983), starring Lillian Gish, which was quickly followed by supporting roles in "The Buddy System" (1984). Wheaton's breakout role came as the thoughtful aspiring writer Gordie Lachance in Rob Reiner's "Stand By Me" (1985). The nostalgic drama, based on a novella by Stephen King, made stars of its youthful cast, which included River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Kiefer Sutherland, though Wheaton's primary showcase was largely television. He was cast as Wesley Crusher, aspiring ensign aboard the USS Enterprise-D on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (syndicated, 1987-1994). The son of the starship's medical officer, Wesley was afforded a somewhat idealized storyline - described as a child prodigy, he appeared to be given opportunities at adventure and decision-making that few adults would be granted - which drew the vocal ire of a section of "Trek" fans. The criticism grew so intense that Wheaton left the series after its fourth season, and relocated to Topeka, Kansas. There, he worked for the computer software company NewTek, and provided quality control and testing as well as promotion for the Video Toaster expansion card; the experience provided with not only a more balanced perspective on adulthood, but also a growing interest in all things tech-minded. Upon his return to Los Angeles, Wheaton returned to acting, but found steadier and more fulfilling work as a blogger, writer and ardent evangelist for collector/tech or "geek" culture, including gaming, science fiction, comics and podcasting. His blog led to writing assignments or online and print outlets, and Wheaton launched his own independent publishing company, Monolith Press, to publish a memoir, Dancing Barefoot (2004), with an extended edition, titled Just a Geek, following later that same year. He was a prolific audiobook narrator and voice-over actor, lending his voice to projects ranging from "Family Guy" (Fox, 1999- ), for which he played a fictionalized version of himself, to the videogame "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" (Rockstar Games, 2015), and competed in tournament-style games of poker and the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, while also finding time to co-create and host the YouTube series "TableTop" (2012-), in which he and celebrity guests indulge in a wide array of board and role-playing games, and w00tstock, an annual variety show dedicated to gaming, science fiction, music and comedy. By 2009, Wheaton was named by Forbes as one of the most influential celebrities on the internet, with a Twitter following in excess of three million people. But he also continued to maintain a presence as an actor, often as petty heels whose antagonistic nature was a good-natured spoof of his "nice guy" persona; most notable among these roles was a recurring turn as a fictionalized and nasty version of himself, who clashed frequently with Jim Parsons' Dr. Sheldon Cooper on "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS, 2007-2018).