REVIEW: William Shatner’s “Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man”
Most of us knew Leonard Nimoy through the television screen as Star Trek’s Spock. Few of us ever saw or spoke to him in person, but that didn’t damper the crushing blow felt when the actor died on February 27, 2015. Thousands posted mournful tweets in memory of the legendary actor, and many gathered in solemn remembrance on Vulcan in Star Trek Online.
That seemed like all we could do.
But what about those who knew the man intimately? What could they do? What about the man who was his closest friend for half a century? Paying tribute to such an impactful and long-lasting bond was the momentous task William Shatner set upon himself in writing an emotional memoir to his lost friend. Who better to pay tribute than the man who had known Nimoy for fifty years?
Shatner’s book, Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man, properly eulogizes him. In fact, this is one of the most impressive – and emotional – aspects of this easy-to-read book. It feels like a lengthy eulogy, and while reading one can imagine Shatner speaking to a crowd at Nimoy’s funeral, lovingly paying tribute not just to Nimoy the actor, but to the very soul of the man whom he knew so well.
To Shatner’s credit, an enormous amount of research must have been done to so thoroughly chronicle Nimoy’s life, even his earliest days as a character actor in various Hollywood shows and movies. Of course, Nimoy is best known for portraying Spock, but Shatner faithfully details the motivations, troubles, and successes behind Nimoy’s extensive pre-Star Trek career. In this way, Nimoy is remembered not only for his world-famous Vulcan with pointy ears, but for the minor roles he had that ultimately led him to the bridge of the Enterprise and beyond.
In a move that initially seems egotistical, but in reality is an effective contextual tool, Shatner traces his own development as an actor in parallel with Nimoy’s career, which ultimately led to the start of their friendship on the set of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Shatner seems genuinely honest in his recollection of both the good and bad times experienced by the two budding friends, and he gets quite personal in discussing Nimoy’s vices, including alcoholism, divorce, and familial problems. Shatner reciprocates by explaining how Nimoy helped him through the toughest times of his own life, such as the death of his second wife in 1999. On that front, Leonard is an authentic tale of the man’s life, assisted by various interviews with cast members, friends, and professional contacts that help illuminate Nimoy’s career, work ethic, values, and personality.
Some details from his life that weren’t previously privy to the public are exposed in Leonard, to help gain an enhanced understanding of the man wearing the pointed ears. For example, what Shatner calls the moment that had the “most lasting impression” on Nimoy came during World War II, when Nimoy’s father muttered while reading the newspaper, “They are killing Jews.” As a Jewish family with Jewish friends, this was undoubtedly a shocking moment for young Nimoy. Also exposed is the complex relationship between Nimoy and his parents and siblings, which helps illustrate how he came to value supporting actor parts rather than leading roles (in contrast to Shatner, who as the only male sibling yearned for leading parts). Side stories like these are commonplace, and help flesh out a man who has universally been solely associated with his science-fiction alter ego. In that respect, Leonard stands out as an encompassing, thoughtful, and candid account of a complex man.
Beyond Star Trek (if anybody from the show could ever truly escape that phenomena), Shatner dedicates about a third of the book to Nimoy’s other passions, such as photography, singing, and touring with musical productions and stage plays. The full extent of Nimoy’s philanthropic endeavors in his later years are also narrated, further lending to the image of a generous and caring man. Nimoy’s love for acting is shown to be influential in both his roles as actor and director, and even Shatner recognizes how his friend was more experienced and more understanding of the craft than himself or most others. In short, those who believe Nimoy was merely an actor on a television show are in for an enlightenment, as Shatner portrays his friend as a committed professional who dedicated years of his life perfecting his acting style. Spock, in reality, was the sum of Nimoy’s previous seventeen years of acting experience, and the character ultimately influenced Nimoy’s life in ways few understand.
In the book’s waning chapters, Shatner pulls no punches in regards to the emotionality of Nimoy’s passing, which was intensified for Shatner because the two men weren’t on speaking terms near the end of Nimoy’s life. Reflecting on human mortality, Shatner concludes that Nimoy was an inspiring figure, a man with passion, authenticity, and of course, demons. Nimoy’s dark side is revealed to help illustrate his life. As Shatner relates, Nimoy once described himself as someone who “minored in family and majored in career,” but near the end of his life those two aspects switched, much to the joy of Nimoy’s wife, Susan, and his son, Adam.
By the book’s end, Shatner completes a legitimately emotional and in-depth account of a man famous to millions, but truly known to only a few. William Shatner was one of the latter, and in his friend’s memory, Leonard serves as an expressive goodbye to a vibrant and prosperous soul.
Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man is available in hardcover, Kindle e-book, and audiobook format.