When Leonard Nimoy passed away on Friday, February 27th 2015, at age 83, he had inspired countless actors, politicians, astronauts and ordinary people. The outpouring of tributes to the man, who truly inhabited the iconic character of Spock on Star Trek, was universal. But none more poignant than that from William Shatner in the form of his new book, Leonard – My Fifty – Year Friendship With A Remarkable Man written with David Fisher. That’s because after almost half a century of friendship, there was a rift between them that Shatner never understood and was never repaired. “The fact that my contribution to Star Trek is done carries great sadness, but that is nothing compared to the devastation of Leonard’s death before we could resolve the fraying ropes of our friendship,” Shatner, 84, admits in his book. “I am filled with sadness at the realization it will never be put back together.”
Most Trekkies can recount every nuance of many of the stories and trivia that Shatner shares; both men growing up in Orthodox immigrant Jewish families (Shatner in Montreal, Nimoy in Boston,) their first meeting in 1964 on the set of an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E; to their very competitive and sometimes combustible friendship that developed slowly during Star Trek’s original series, in their movies and on the convention circuit:
- Leonard Nimoy was always a character actor in Hollywood, and played all the ethnic roles before casting was politically correct. Shatner remembers him saying “Guys like me were playing all the ethnic roles, usually the heavies – the bad Mexicans, the bad Italians. And those were the jobs that I took and was happy to get for a long time. I played Indians in Westerns many times. The first Indian role that I took was a role that a Native Indian turned down because the Indian character was so unredeemably bad. I was happy to get the work, thank you very much.”
- Nimoy spoke fluent Yiddish. He was put in touch with some of the old Yiddish theater actors who were coming to California to do an occasional weekend of Yiddish productions with Maurice Schwartz, the founder of the Yiddish Art Theater in New York. “Speaking Yiddish in front of an audience was a great thrill for me,” Leonard said.
Between jobs Nimoy drove a cab. In 1952 he picked up Senator John F. Kennedy at the Bel Air Hotel. Writes Shatner, “When Leonard dropped him off, Kennedy tried to stiff him for the $1.25 cab fare. One thing with Leonard, when he did a job he expected to be paid and was willing to fight for what he believed he was owed. He followed Kennedy into the hotel and demanded his money. Kennedy found someone he knew, borrowed the money and handed Leonard $3.”
- Leonard really created the entire look and personality of Spock, although he told Gene Roddenberry, whom he never liked, that he had some trepidation about the ears. When NBC started to promote Star Trek, Spock’s curved eyebrows had been straightened and the tips of his pointy ears cut-off in the publicity materials. Apparently executives were concerned he looked too devilish and would offend the Bible Belt! Leonard was furious and called Roddenberry immediately to reinstate his original Spock appearance even though the prosthetic ears took 2 hours in the make-up chair every morning to apply.
Nimoy came up with the idea of the mind meld, cocking one eyebrow while saying, “fascinating” and Spock’s Vulcan greeting, “Live long and prosper.” He adapted the iconic hand gesture, a slight modification of the Hebrew forming the letter “Shin”, which represents the name “Shaddai” meaning “Almighty” (God), based upon his memories as a child seeing the Rabbi at the Orthodox synagogue blessing the congregation.
But Shatner’s candid disclosures – warts and all – about Leonard Nimoy’s other accomplishments and foibles, are the most surprising revelations. With Nimoy’s drive to constantly challenge himself and prove there was more to him than Spock and the Star Trek franchise, he became a prolific stage director; intrigued with painter, Vincent Van Gogh and his letters to his brother, Theo, Nimoy wrote and performed a one-man show, Vincent, on the artist’s life. He joined the cast of the Tony award-winning production of Equus on Broadway; directed the film, Three Men and a Baby; wrote and produced an audiobook series with actor John de Lancie (Q on Star Trek,) called Alien Voices; later, he pursued his passion for writing poetry and photography with gallery exhibitions and several coffee table books.
“Leonard was a functioning alcoholic though I never knew it at the time,” writes Shatner. He kept it secret until his divorce from his wife Sandi, after 33 years. “When I fell in love with Nerine Kidd, also an alcoholic, more than anyone else, Leonard knew what that meant… Leonard valued our friendship and was there when I needed him…He had since joined AA and even took her to meetings with him.” A life-long struggle with smoking and alcohol led to his decline in health and ultimate death from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, took its toll on his family, especially his son, Adam, who is a recovering alcoholic.
Shatner took considerable flak from the press when he was unable to attend Nimoy’s funeral due to a charitable engagement booked months in advance. So perhaps Leonard is Shatner’s way of saying mea culpa.
“LLAP my friend, my dear, dear friend.”