Shatner Pays Tribute to Nimoy
Few people knew Leonard Nimoy better than William Shatner. The two men met five decades ago, even before they played Kirk and Spock on Star Trek, when they both appeared in an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Then came Star Trek: The Original Series, the TOS feature films, convention appearances and on and on. Nimoy would have turned 84 tomorrow – the same age Shatner turned on March 22 – and to commemorate the occasion, Shatner spoke to StarTrek.com about his late, great friend and co-star. Here’s what he had to say. Thank you for talking to us about Leonard.
SHATNER: Well, it’s something that should be done.
You first met Leonard in 1964, when you shared a couple of brief scenes in an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E….
SHATNER: … And I have no memory of it. I guess, at the time, his was just another face. Long and lean, but just another face.When you arrived at Trek, Jeffrey Hunter had left. It was a second pilot. Leonard had already played Spock opposite a different captain. So, you were the star, but also the new guy. How did you and Leonard handle that?
SHATNER: I can’t give you any specific, succinct information on that. We were actors who were working on a show together. It was always very pleasant. “How are you?” and “Hello.” No one could have anticipated what the future held. At the time, it was just the meeting of two actors who were hired for the job.
Your lives intersected for more than 50 years, from Man from U.N.C.L.E. to Star Trek to joint convention appearances, and from T.J. Hooker to personal dinners to his spot on your show, Raw Nerve. You did TV commercials together, talk programs together, etc. What do you think people would be surprised to know about Leonard and your friendship with him?SHATNER: His sense of humor. Leonard was very funny. We’d get on stage together and we’d start laughing. It was silly, we were laughing so hard at each other.
Many Star Trek fans consider the single most powerful Kirk-Spock scene to be the one in The Wrath of Khan in which the helpless Kirk and the dying Spock talk, with that divider physically separating them. Did you know when you did that scene that you’d hit an emotional home run? SHATNER: Yes, and the coincidence on that scene was sitting in Harve Bennett’s office, with Harve and him saying, “Spock dies and Kirk can’t get to Spock.” I kind of described what I thought -- the glass door and the hands touching – verbally, and then that worked out (in the film). It’s unusual to speculate something in an office and then have it work out practically months later on a set. But that scene seemed to me to be the contact point between Kirk and Spock, absolutely.
What’s the legacy you feel Leonard leaves behind?
SHATNER: There’s so much that he did in his lifetime. He and (Nimoy’s wife) Susan benefitted a lot of art projects. Leonard’s name is on a theater at the Griffith Observatory. He was a real patron of the arts. He was a photographer. And he leaves behind, of course, his children and grandchildren and Susan, and a coterie of friends. All of our memories of him will only die when we die.
You took heat for not attending Leonard’s funeral, instead honoring a commitment to attend a Red Cross event. How surprised were you by that reaction?SHATNER: The Red Cross had asked me some months ago to appear, and they built the evening around the celebrity appearance. Leonard died and, faced with that choice, I didn’t think anybody would notice one way or the other, quite frankly. But on Friday, when I was in Florida, I thought I’d better say something on Twitter. So I said, “I’m honoring the dead, but I’m celebrating the living by doing a good deed.” I didn’t think that anybody would notice. Well, everyone got into a debate. But to my mind there’s no debate. You and I right now are celebrating Leonard’s memory, but we’re not raising any money for people who are suffering. But in that case I could celebrate his memory and raise money. At that event, which was a 1,000-person dinner, I said, “I’d like to take a moment and remember Leonard and Maurice Hurley.” I didn’t know yet about Harve Bennett. So I had about 1,000 people think about Leonard and Maurice. To me there was no question about what I had to do.
And you’re assuming that Leonard would have understood and that he’d probably have done the same thing?
SHATNER: Absolutely. At least I hope he would have.You’ve joked with us in the past about the non-stop pace you maintain work-wise, saying it keeps you going, keeps you alive – and that it beats the alternative. Does Leonard’s passing make you want to slow down or does it reinforce that desire to keep going, keep working, keep creating?
SHATNER: The latter. The footsteps are getting louder. What was it the baseball player (Satchel Paige) said? “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” So I say keep your eyes focused on the future and not on the past.
Are you glad you lived long enough to solve the riddle of why the fans so appreciate Star Trek? Of why, as you say, it’s attained mythic proportions?
SHATNER: Yes. Star Trek is an interesting exercise on our inability to guess the future. That’s not only the show, but my curiosity as to who was in the audience at conventions. It started with the joke I made on Saturday Night Live, ‘Get a life.” Then I wrote a book called “Get a Life,” and figured out one thing about why they’re there. Then I did a documentary that gave me another reason why they’re there, and I thought that was a more in-depth reason for people attending a large conference almost 50 years later. So the initial impulse became this documentary, and the answer was they’re there to see each other. It’s like minds sharing the experience.
Any last thoughts about Leonard?
SHATNER: Just that we’ll all be the poorer for Leonard’s passing.