The late Leanard Nimoy (left) and Julie Nimoy, his daughter and writer of the new documentary.
The love for Leonard Nimoy lives long and prospers, but does the world really need two Nimoy documentaries, one from each of his biological children?
Logically speaking, yes it does.
“Our films are very different,” said Julie Nimoy, referring to her new documentary, Remembering Leonard Nimoy, and For the Love of Spock, the 2016 crowd-funded documentary by her brother Adam.
The latter film focused on the sometimes-fraught relationship between Adam Nimoy and his father, Leonard, who played the iconic Star Trek vulcan Mr. Spock on TV and films for almost 50 years. It was also an examination of how Nimoy built the character of this seemingly emotionless and exasperatingly logical starship science officer.
“Our film really is a celebration of dad’s life Leonard’s life and his career and his struggle with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease),” Julie Nimoy explained.
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Documentary co-writers and husband and wife David Knight and Julie Nimoy.
As originally envisioned, Remembering Leonard Nimoy, which premiered in April at the Newport Beach Film Festival and airs this fall on PBS, would have focused almost exclusively on COPD and the actor’s battle with the progressive disease. Nimoy and her husband David Knight had already made a handful of health-related films and saw an opportunity to continue Leonard Nimoy’s efforts to raise awareness about a disease that 11 million people, according to the American Lung Association, have been diagnosed with (though many millions more may have it and not even realize it).
I quit smoking 30 yrs ago. Not soon enough. I have COPD. Grandpa says, quit now!! LLAP
— Leonard Nimoy (@TheRealNimoy) January 30, 2014
Leonard Nimoy, a two-pack a day smoker from the age of 17 until he was 55, was diagnosed with the disease in 2013. An intensely private man, he hid his condition from the public until he was spotted in a wheelchair and on oxygen at JFK airport.
Julie Nimoy told me that, after talking to his second wife Susan, Nimoy decided to go public about his condition with Piers Morgan on CNN. That transformed him into an advocate who spent much of his last two years posting about the dangers of smoking and COPD on social media.
Nimoy was aware of Julie and David’s plan to make a film. He gave his blessing. “We thought he could narrate it, be a part of it,” said Knight.
Everything changed, though, after Leonard Nimoy’s death in February 2015 at 83. When Julie and David saw the outpouring of sympathy and intense interest in Nimoy, “we thought, let’s not just focus on COPD, let’s make it a celebration of his life,” said Knight.
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The Nimoy family.
Remembering Leonard Nimoy became a family film, exploring the relationships Leonard Nimoy had with his second wife, Susan, his children, Adam and Julie, his stepson, and six grandchildren. There is, naturally, a deeper look at the intense bond Julie had with her father.
“For many years, we had the same hobbies and likes,” said Julie, who was 11 when Star Trek first aired in 1966 and her father became an unexpected international star.
The documentary explores what that was like for Julie, but she also makes clear that she knew Nimoy the actor far outside the Star Trek stage.
Leonard Nimoy loved the stage and, especially during the lean years –in between the end of Star Trek the original series and the reboot of the Star Trek franchise on movie screens in 1979 – spent years doing the summer stock circuit with him and her mom.
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A poster for the documentary, Remembering Leonard Nimoy.
“He was involved in theater work throughout the country. I went with him and my mom to pretty much every state,” remembered Julie.
Obviously, the film also explores Nimoy’s portrayal of Spock and how Julie witnessed the making of what is widely considered his most memorable Star Trek film scene.
Trained as a Chef and caterer, Julie Nimoy worked on the set of Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn and watched as they filmed Spock’s famous death scene (spoiler: he comes back in Star Trek III).
“I was there every day. [The documentary includes] my interpretations of my feelings on the set and the impact of that scene,” said Julie.
Even though the documentary will satisfy Trek nerds, it may be a deeper and sadder journey than Adam Nimoy’s film (Adam serves as consulting producer on the Julie’s documentary).
“It is an intimate look at his life and his passing.” said Julie.
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Left to right: Adam Nimoy, Julie Nimoy, Leonard Nimoy and Susan Bay.
While they were never able to interview Leonard Nimoy for their documentary, the film does include footage from his last birthday on March 2014.
“I shot it with my phone,” she said, “I did not know it would end up in my film.”
The documentary chronicles Nimoy’s fast decline and his difficult decision to, when even the most aggressive therapies had failed, to decline further treatment.
Julie recalled that, by late 2014, the actor couldn’t breathe without oxygen.
“He made a decision about treatment,” said Knight, “Controlling his destiny.”
While Leonard Nimoy was a private person, he did enjoy his retreats, activities (photography, piloting) and time with friends, much of which COPD took from him.
The disease may also be at the root of his break with Star Trek co-star and long-time friend William Shatner. In his own book about Nimoy, Shatner recounted how, in the last few years of Nimoy’s life, they lost touch. Shatner couldn’t pinpoint the root cause.
William Shatner (as Captain Kirk) and Leonard Nimoy (as Spock) on Star Trek VI.
“I honestly don’t know,” said Julie when I asked her if she had any insight into the rift. Both she and David were aware that Nimoy and Shatner had drifted apart, but, said Julie, her father “didn’t get into detail.” She also noted how supportive Shatner has been of her efforts to complete and promote her documentary.
But then she added, “It was really hard during last year and a half of [Leonard’s] life to be real social. He had this debilitating illness and found it very hard to breath, be active, and be around a lot of people.”
Perhaps, Nimoy just retreated a bit from his world as COPD began to curtail his activities, including spending time at his beloved Lake Tahoe home. The 6,000 ft. of the elevation made breathing on his own virtually impossible. The disease, said Julie, “took away pleasure.”
Leonard Nimoy and Julie Nimoy on his boat at Lake Tahoe.
For as difficult as some of the subject matter is, Remembering Leonard Nimoy is also a celebration of his life and will offer fresh insight into the personal side of Leonard Nimoy. Julie promises video and photographs that no one has ever seen, as well as an interview with Susan Bay, whom Nimoy married in 1989. “She opens up about what it was like, marriage, health, what it impacted,” said Knight.
If nothing else, making the documentary, which airs this fall on PBS networks across the U.S. was a cathartic experience for its author, Julie Nimoy. “It kept him close to me. It was good for me,” she said, adding that it was also sad. There were a lot of hard moments looking back at all the old family photos and memories.
Ultimately, Remembering Leonard Nimoy could work on multiple levels. It’s a permanent record of the bond between a father and daughter and a call to action for smokers and others susceptible to COPD. “My goal is to continue my dad’s mission to create awareness around this disease,” said Julie.