Author pho­to by Jonathan Melnick

The needs of the many out­weigh the needs of the few.” This famous quote uttered by Star Trek’s Mr. Spock was one of the main threads of my con­ver­sa­tion with writer and film­mak­er Adam Nimoy, son of the actor who played the beloved char­ac­ter. In his mem­oir, The Most Human: Rec­on­cil­ing with my Father, Leonard Nimoy, Adam Nimoy describes his life­long attempt to con­nect with his father, a man so revered by the pub­lic but often detached and trou­bled at home. Two men, both strug­gling with sub­stance abuse, both going through divorce and new mar­riages, both try­ing to do what was best for their chil­dren. The Most Human is just that — an incred­i­bly human sto­ry, teach­ing us how to accept the peo­ple in our lives for who they are, imper­fec­tions and all. For the ben­e­fit of those in his life, Nimoy had to learn how to accept peo­ple as they are. This mem­oir lov­ing­ly details the inter­twined lives of two men, Torah, and inter­gen­er­a­tional healing. 

Isado­ra Kianovsky: Thank you so much for meet­ing with me and for shar­ing this real­ly pow­er­ful sto­ry of your life and your expe­ri­ences with your father. Open­ing up about fam­i­ly in par­tic­u­lar is so per­son­al and intense for a lot of peo­ple, and espe­cial­ly you because your father was so well known as an actor, a char­ac­ter, and a pub­lic fig­ure. It has been real­ly inter­est­ing to hear about all sides of this icon­ic per­son. I want to start off by ask­ing what inspired you to write this mem­oir? Was there a spe­cif­ic event or moment that led you to get start­ed on it? 

Adam Nimoy: I pro­duced a doc­u­men­tary on my dad, For the Love of Spock, in 2016. It was some­thing that I was cre­at­ing with my dad to cel­e­brate Spock, specif­i­cal­ly. I came up with the idea because 2016 was the fifti­eth anniver­sary of the orig­i­nal air date of Star Trek. When my dad died in 2015, it became clear by the out­pour­ing of emo­tion about him that we need­ed to include not only the life of Spock, but the life of Leonard Nimoy: the actor, the human­i­tar­i­an, the Renais­sance man. And while we were mak­ing the film, many peo­ple who were involved or who I was talk­ing to and con­sult­ing with were pret­ty emphat­ic that I should also be focus­ing on a third aspect of my father’s life. And that was my jour­ney with him, my rela­tion­ship with him. Because it start­ed off as very prob­lem­at­ic when I was young. It blos­somed into a lot of con­flict when I was get­ting old­er and I was pret­ty much lost in a cloud of mar­i­jua­na smoke. And my dad was deep in his alco­holism, which fueled a lot of the con­flict between us.

And then he went sober. I found twelve-step recov­ery, too, and we were able to — using the tools of recov­ery — find a way to rec­on­cile with one anoth­er to the point where we had a very close and lov­ing rela­tion­ship the last years of his life. One of the exam­ples was when we went back to Boston in 2013 to chron­i­cle his mem­o­ries and real­ly to empha­size the tra­jec­to­ry of his life from the son of Ukrain­ian Russ­ian immigrants.The tra­jec­to­ry of com­ing out of that West End ten­e­ment of Boston and becom­ing this icon­ic fig­ure that’s known all over the world. In the twelve-step meet­ings I go to, we share what our jour­ney of recov­ery is, and that’s been the defin­ing rela­tion­ship of my life. And when I share that sto­ry, I get a lot of peo­ple after­wards who come up to me and say, I’m expe­ri­enc­ing the same thing. Thank you for shar­ing your expe­ri­ence with your dad, because I’m going to call my dad tonight and see if I can find a way to recon­nect.” It’s a sto­ry that res­onates with peo­ple because it’s a human sto­ry, it has noth­ing to do with my father’s celebrity.

So I real­ly felt that I want­ed to write some­thing. I’ve always been a writer. I start­ed off kind of resist­ing the Leonard aspect of it because I want­ed to do some­thing that was of my own. But Leonard’s sto­ry is my sto­ry as well. We’re deeply inter­twined with one anoth­er. I also talk about my recov­ery and rela­tion­ship to my moth­er, my ex-wife, my chil­dren — in par­tic­u­lar, my teenage daugh­ter, Mad­dy — and how recov­ery helped me with those relationships.

But the key — the grand­dad­dy, the moth­er of all resent­ments or dif­fi­cult rela­tion­ships that I had — was with my dad, and because it res­onat­ed with peo­ple, it felt like I should just delve deep­er into it in the book and share that part of my story. 

IK: Thank you. It real­ly was such a pow­er­ful look, and I think a lot of peo­ple, like you said, could relate to it. I think peo­ple don’t always talk about these resent­ments or fam­i­ly dys­func­tions. But I think it is some­thing that peo­ple need to know, that every­one has their own strug­gles with fam­i­ly and that does­n’t make it wrong, or the rela­tion­ships bad. It just means that they need work and time. 

You men­tioned you’ve always been writ­ing, but I know you’ve done a lot of work specif­i­cal­ly with­in the realms of film and tele­vi­sion as well. Is there a rea­son that you specif­i­cal­ly want­ed this sto­ry to be told as a writ­ten memoir?

AN: My jour­ney was real­ly about cre­at­ing my own path and my own iden­ti­ty. I had the abil­i­ty, the inter­est, and the dri­ve to get through col­lege and law school. I thought that was going to be it for me. I want­ed some­thing that was intel­lec­tu­al­ly stim­u­lat­ing and of inter­est. But it became clear to me after sev­en years of law prac­tice that it was not going to be that stim­u­lat­ing for me. There’s a lot about prac­tic­ing law that is very rote and mun­dane — you’re going to be work­ing iso­lat­ed at a desk all day. The fact is that film­mak­ing is a much more col­lab­o­ra­tive art form, and I want­ed to do some­thing that was more cre­ative­ly stim­u­lat­ing for me.

I’ve been jour­nal­ing all my life. There’s dozens of jour­nals back here that I’ve col­lect­ed. I did want to, in essence, fol­low in my father’s foot­steps, to express myself cre­ative­ly — and sto­ry­telling, which, for me, is tied to the Bible, it’s tied to the Old Tes­ta­ment. Spec­tac­u­lar sto­ry­telling in terms of Torah. So, when I came around to want­i­ng to write the mem­oir, par­tic­u­lar­ly in terms of my dad, it was anoth­er way of pro­cess­ing what my expe­ri­ence was with him. This is the thing about art, and I learned this from my dad, and in oth­er class­es about sto­ry­telling — the more spe­cif­ic you are about relay­ing your expe­ri­ence, the more vul­ner­a­ble and hon­est it is, the more uni­ver­sal­ly it res­onates with oth­er peo­ple It’s not ther­a­py, but it’s not too far away from ther­a­py. Because you are going through these things, these episodes, in your mind, and you’re look­ing at them and you’re try­ing to under­stand — what is the sig­nif­i­cance of these episodes, which episodes should I include? How much do I tell about my dad and what do I not say any­thing about?

I do spill some blood on the page in my book. But I’m not telling every­thing. I’m telling what I think is impor­tant, but also being mind­ful of the fact that my father is revered by mil­lions of peo­ple all over the world. They don’t want to hear him being trashed. There’s pur­pose to what I’m doing. I tried to por­tray some of these prob­lems I had with my dad as fair­ly as I could with­out point­ing fin­gers and lay­ing blame, because recov­ery is real­ly about focus­ing on our own con­tri­bu­tion to the prob­lem. I do still want to be hon­est about some of the things that hap­pened, because it makes the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion that much sweet­er and more pow­er­ful. And that is real­ly the point of the book. 

IK: To me, Star Trek has always exist­ed with­in the realm of fam­i­ly. My grand­ma is a mas­sive fan – Mr. Spock, of course, being her favorite char­ac­ter. It’s through her that I came to know the show and its impact. Star Trek is so deeply inter­twined with your own fam­i­ly life, so I am curi­ous if you want to talk a lit­tle bit more about the con­trast between the glob­al per­cep­tion of Star Trek, Spock, what­ev­er that means to you, ver­sus your own per­son­al expe­ri­ence. What was that shift like? 

AN: It’s inter­est­ing that a lot of peo­ple talk about the inter­gen­er­a­tional expe­ri­ence of watch­ing Star Trek with a par­ent or a grand­par­ent. It’s a won­der­ful thing when you can share and find some­thing that you can con­nect to with oth­er gen­er­a­tions in your fam­i­ly. I did it with my son in terms of music; I mean, I just brain­washed that kid and now he’s trav­el­ing all over the world in a rock band. And I con­nect­ed with my dad in terms of his work because I was a sci-fi-fan­ta­sy fan to begin with. So when Spock came around, I was old enough to know exact­ly what was hap­pen­ing and how excit­ing it real­ly was. (Thank God I was old enough to know that.) 

But in terms of the oth­er ways that Star Trek and Spock res­onate in the world, the phi­los­o­phy behind Gene Rod­den­ber­ry’s vision is one of a pos­i­tive future: humankind is going to be okay; we’re going to achieve [and] over­come some of our chal­lenges on plan­et Earth, and we’re going to ally with oth­er plan­ets and con­tin­ue on through the galaxy spread­ing the word that we should all get along. It’s a big umbrel­la, which, for me, is the tra­di­tion of Judaism: that we should all be tol­er­ant of one anoth­er, that we should wel­come the stranger and take care of the wid­ow, the orphan, and the poor. That’s what Torah is to me. 

IK: Tikkun olam. 

AN: Tikkun olam—heal the world. It’s that sim­ple. Star Trek just fur­thers that mes­sage, and that is what appeals to so many oth­er peo­ple who are fans of the show. Spock in par­tic­u­lar – it’s this whole idea of being the out­sider. I hear this again and again. That Spock is dif­fer­ent. Spock­’s the nerd in all of us, you know, the out­cast, the weirdo. And I’ve had that expe­ri­ence very much myself. That is Spock­’s expe­ri­ence. Because the thing that my father remind­ed me of very late in his life, while we were mak­ing the doc­u­men­tary: Spock is the only offi­cer on the Enterprise’s bridge who was from anoth­er plan­et. And as a result of that, his objec­tive for his char­ac­ter was how he can inte­grate him­self for the good of the whole, to give the best of him­self. And it works, I mean, he real­ly does give every­thing he has for the ben­e­fit of the mis­sion. He’s always ded­i­cat­ed and loy­al to the crew and the captain. 

But this is what peo­ple don’t real­ly know or under­stand: that is Leonard’s sto­ry. Because Leonard was born on the streets of Boston, a ten­e­ment neigh­bor­hood com­prised of Russ­ian Jews, Irish and Ital­ian Catholics. His par­ents came as immi­grants, out of des­per­a­tion for a bet­ter life. So his objec­tive for the tra­jec­to­ry of his life is much like Spock, as an out­sider. How can I inte­grate myself with soci­ety as a whole? How can I give the best that I have to offer of myself and achieve suc­cess with­in that soci­ety? And that is what inspired him and drove him to pur­sue his dream. He had to strug­gle and sur­vive on his own. So when the role of Spock came along, he knew exact­ly how to play that role, because it was the sto­ry of his life.

IK: I’d like to go back to some of the things that you men­tioned about Torah, sto­ry­telling, and Jew­ish­ness, and how this all relates. Your book is a sto­ry about inter­gen­er­a­tional links and pat­terns, and I thought it was so fas­ci­nat­ing how you traced it all the way back to the begin­ning, this par­al­lel between your father being Abra­ham and you being Isaac dur­ing the Akedah. Could you speak more on how you use this motif and how the use of bib­li­cal allu­sion in your sto­ry influ­ences your own Jew­ish experience?

AN: In recov­ery, we are taught not to take any­thing per­son­al­ly. That peo­ple do things for dif­fer­ent rea­sons even the stuff that hap­pened with my dad. My mom would say, As hard as he is on you, he’s hard­est on him­self.” And that, when my dad would get dif­fi­cult, more often than not it was because some­thing else was going on with him. 

In Torah, we do take things per­son­al­ly. It’s our sto­ry. It says you were slaves in Egypt; you were at Sinai; when you received the Ten Com­mand­ments in the pres­ence of Moses, in the pres­ence of God. That sur­pass­es all the gen­er­a­tions. That’s you and me. We were there. And if we don’t take it per­son­al­ly, then we don’t real­ly har­vest the incred­i­ble impact of what it means to be on this plan­et. We bring all of our inter­gen­er­a­tional expe­ri­ence with us to this giv­en moment — the good and the bad. And that is real­ly what I’m try­ing to touch on, because The Most Human is not a book specif­i­cal­ly catered to the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty, but I am a Jew and I am steeped in Jew­ish tra­di­tion, as was my father.

And there are instances where my life is an echo of what’s hap­pen­ing in Torah: The Bind­ing of Isaac is that sto­ry. I felt, some­times, when we were in con­flict with each oth­er, like I was there on the bier with the wood, tied up. The bind­ing of Isaac is the bind­ing of Adam. So it’s not just the bind­ing of Isaac, it echoes on through the fam­i­ly tree. 

So this is the ques­tion of our tra­di­tion: how do we break the cycle? Where’s my free will? God gave us free will; Torah is the man­u­al on how to use it. And for me, the answer to all of these ques­tions came through the mir­a­cle of twelve-step recov­ery. We can’t change the past. We can recre­ate it and what it means. Rab­bi Mark Borovitz, with whom I study Torah, once told me, When you make amends to your dad, you’re mak­ing amends for Abra­ham and what hap­pened with Isaac. You’re mak­ing amends for all of us.” It’s that pow­er­ful. And you have to see it that way because then every­thing becomes more mean­ing­ful, more symbolic.

This is one of the many ways that Jew­ish tra­di­tion has informed my life and my writ­ing. And the oth­er thing going through my mind is the role of women in Torah — in Exo­dus in par­tic­u­lar, it’s the women who set the sto­ry in motion. That is what’s hap­pen­ing in my book, because I need­ed the chal­lenges of relat­ing to my Jew­ish moth­er, my ex-wife, and my teenage daugh­ter. I need­ed to learn how to use my recov­ery tools in repair­ing my rela­tion­ships with them in order to be ready for the moth­er of all resent­ments and trou­ble­some rela­tion­ships, that of my father. So there’s so many echoes. And that’s why I love study­ing Torah.

In Torah, we do take things per­son­al­ly. It’s our sto­ry… And if we don’t take it per­son­al­ly, then we don’t real­ly har­vest the incred­i­ble impact of what it means to be on this planet. 

IK: You men­tioned the rela­tion­ships with the women in your life, specif­i­cal­ly your moth­er, your ex-wife, your teenage daugh­ter. I thought that the way that you wrote about these three rela­tion­ships in par­tic­u­lar were real­ly impor­tant. Any­one who’s been through divorce in some way can sort of see them­selves in what you write about. It’s not an easy thing to dis­cuss pub­licly, but I thought you were real­ly insight­ful. Writ­ing the book, you spent a lot of time try­ing to also under­stand what the peo­ple in your life were feel­ing in any giv­en com­pli­cat­ed sit­u­a­tion. Can you speak a bit about the expe­ri­ence of writ­ing about these inti­mate relationships?

AN: The divorce thing is tricky because it’s also a chal­lenge about recov­ery. The focus has to be on your­self. I had the ben­e­fit of the fol­low­ing: My ex-wife Nan­cy and I agreed that what was best for the kids was real­ly going to be the objec­tive. And we had a lot of skir­mish­es; there was a lot of back and forth. Nan­cy’s a very strong willed indi­vid­ual, and I’m attempt­ing to be even hand­ed about the way I write these things. These are things I learned from oth­er mem­oirists and oth­er writ­ers, which is to just give the infor­ma­tion. Don’t pass judg­ment, don’t point fin­gers. Just state the facts with speci­fici­ty, and let the read­er draw their own con­clu­sions. It’s more pow­er­ful and more effec­tive that way, and you don’t insult any­body’s intelligence.

So, that’s what I tried to do with Nan­cy. And some of it’s flat out com­i­cal — I read all these pas­sages to her, and I asked, Are you okay with that?” In my book, there’s that sit­u­a­tion with the police. Nan­cy said, I gave him a piece of my mind…” And I went, Can I include that?” She goes, Yeah, you bet­ter include it!” 

In terms of divorce and any inter­per­son­al con­flict, it is the objec­tive of recov­ery that we have some sort of seren­i­ty in our lives The seren­i­ty prayer is, God grant me the seren­i­ty to accept the things I can­not change (i. e. oth­er peo­ple), the courage to change the things I can (that is me), and the wis­dom to know the dif­fer­ence. Amen.” It’s a prayer that basi­cal­ly says, Show me how to accept them and change me.” And accep­tance is not approval. I’m nev­er going to change my ex-wife. I’m nev­er going to change my old man. I have to change myself. When you change your own behav­ior, every­thing around you starts to change. And that’s real­ly what it came down to with my dad. I can’t take on Leonard Nimoy. There’s just no way. He’s too pow­er­ful, because was always a tough kid from the streets of Boston. There was noth­ing that was going to stop Leonard Nimoy from his suc­cess. And he’s loved by mil­lions of peo­ple all over the world. My dad changed when I just said, I accept you. And I’m going to make an amends for my part that you think is why our rela­tion­ship is so screwed up. I’m going to just make the amends and leave it at that.” 

IK: You took respon­si­bil­i­ty and made amends for your part of it, and your father fol­lowed suit in the ways he could. And I thought it was beau­ti­ful — bring­ing you to Shab­bat ser­vices to give you a moment for your­self dur­ing a very dif­fi­cult time, and being more involved with your fam­i­ly towards the lat­er years. I thought it was a won­der­ful way to dis­cuss how we all play our own part in every relationship.

AN: It’s not easy, because I’m strong willed too and I just want to prove that I’m right. But I was told, num­ber one, to go make the amends to my dad. We call it fake it till you make it.” Just take the action and the feel­ing will come. We have a choice, to be right or hap­py, but some­times you just can’t have both. I know I was right about my dad. I know what hap­pened with me and him. In the end, it did­n’t matter. 

IK: I think it also goes back to what you were say­ing before — the char­ac­ter of Spock gave all of him­self for the bet­ter­ment of the crew. You were say­ing that so much of Spock’s char­ac­ter is like your father’s own life, but I think you also real­ly embody those same val­ues. You did it for the bet­ter­ment of your own life [and that of your loved ones]. I did­n’t know that much about recov­ery before read­ing your book, and I think I gained a lot of insight about it, and again, it’s not some­thing that every­one talks about. So it’s inter­est­ing to see how it affect­ed each area of your life and helped you learn how you want­ed to go about inter­act­ing with others. 

Spock is a char­ac­ter deeply influ­enced by your father’s Jew­ish­ness, as seen in the Vul­can salute, as well as the gen­er­al idea of Spock being con­sid­ered dif­fer­ent.” You write about this in your book, but I am curi­ous to hear more about some oth­er ways Jew­ish­ness played a part in your rela­tion­ship with your father or your per­cep­tion of him. 

AN: My par­ents were raised by Ortho­dox par­ents, but they were not as obser­vant. I think it’s a lit­tle bit of a retal­i­a­tion and rebel­lion on their part, to change the way they want­ed to go through the world. There was just an unspo­ken con­nec­tion to Judaism and Jew­ish tra­di­tion. My dad loved the fact that he knew Yid­dish, and he was read­ing all these Isaac Bashe­vis Singer books. He was very steeped in Jew­ish tra­di­tion. I spent a lot of time in shul with him and I liked that. It was one of the ways I was able to con­nect to my dad. He did take me to Beit T’Shuvah, a con­gre­ga­tion but also a res­i­den­tial addic­tion treat­ment cen­ter, and that did change my life because I’m there every Fri­day night now. I mean, I’m a board mem­ber there. That’s a part of my recov­ery; it’s a big part of my com­mu­ni­ty. So, in that way, he gave me that gift.

I want to live in the moment. The now. This is a part of the lega­cy of Leonard that you men­tioned in your ini­tial ques­tions, about under­stand­ing my father and his lega­cy through the process of writ­ing the book. The fact of the mat­ter is, lega­cy is the impact of a per­son­’s life. The thing that’s real­ly inter­est­ing for me, and it dove­tails again with Torah and what we were just talk­ing about: the con­ver­sa­tion about lega­cy came up over din­ner at my dad’s house. My step­moth­er asked me, Do you ever think about what your lega­cy will be and what is the impact of your life?” And I said, Well, quite hon­est­ly, I’m just strug­gling with liv­ing in the moment.” And my father said, Good answer.” 

Because Leonard was all about being in the moment, being on set, being in the char­ac­ter. What do I do next? Not rest­ing on your lau­rels, con­stant­ly explor­ing, con­stant­ly push­ing the enve­lope, and bring­ing our tra­di­tion with us. This is why the lessons of Torah infus­es the moment for me. Leonard was very much about this; every great artist, I believe, is this way about liv­ing in the moment. And that is the true lega­cy of what my dad stood for — to me — as an artist.

Now, the oth­er aspect is fam­i­ly. My father talked about the fact that ear­ly on in his life, all he cared about was career and his work. That was always the pri­or­i­ty to him. Sec­ond, to noth­ing, not even the fam­i­ly. Lat­er in life, it switched for him. And he acknowl­edged that the most impor­tant thing to him in terms of his lega­cy real­ly is his ded­i­ca­tion to fam­i­ly. That is square­ly in our Jew­ish tra­di­tion. Like with my ex-wife: I had Passover with her and both of our extend­ed fam­i­lies, all under the same tent together. 

And that’s my father’s lega­cy on a per­son­al lev­el. He nev­er set out to make this pop cul­ture icon, it was nev­er his inten­tion. His inten­tion was to give every­thing he could in the moment to that char­ac­ter, to bring him to life, to be spe­cif­ic about how he played that char­ac­ter. And in that speci­fici­ty, it hap­pened to res­onate — his lega­cy is that the world still knows, and will always know, Spock.

IK: Is there any sig­nif­i­cant mem­o­ry or moment that did­n’t make it into the book but that has stuck with you?

AN: There are two things that came to mind imme­di­ate­ly. When I was very young and they were mak­ing Star Trek, I was on the set, and I had my father sign auto­graphs. In ret­ro­spect, I can see in my mind’s eye how pow­er­ful the moment was. He signed these two things and he said to me in typ­i­cal fash­ion, That’s enough. No more pic­tures.” And then he went all intro­spec­tive into think­ing about the scene and the work he was going to do that day, all into Spock. I was there with Spock. I was with him! To be there with this char­ac­ter who is my father, but is not my father, in full make­up and full wardrobe. And I’m just a ten year old boy on a sound­stage. It’s just an amaz­ing­ly pow­er­ful moment for me, know­ing now how much that char­ac­ter has res­onat­ed with the world. So that, in mem­o­ry, is a very pow­er­ful thing — again, I’m not chang­ing the past, but I am recre­at­ing it, infus­ing my mem­o­ry with more meaning. 

The sec­ond thing that came to mind was some­thing that hap­pened about a year before he died. I hap­pened to be watch­ing this two-parter episode of Star Trek enti­tled The Menagerie,” it’s a phe­nom­e­nal episode and my dad is just incred­i­ble in it. And I went to his house for din­ner and I said, Dad, I just watched The Menagerie’ and you were out­stand­ing in that show.” And he said to me, When we got to that episode, I was real­ly on my game.” These moments are impor­tant because these are the ways I con­nect­ed to my dad. I did­n’t have the vis­cer­al lovey-dovey con­nec­tion that I have with my own kids. And when I had my kids, it became more appar­ent to me of what I had missed with my own father. But the things that I did have, I cher­ish now, and I real­ly hold on to very tight­ly. And that’s what I’m shar­ing with you.

[We then chat­ted more about book and film rec­om­men­da­tions for a while. But, of course, the Zoom timer was run­ning out, and we had to end the interview.] 

Isado­ra Kianovsky (she/​her) is the Devel­op­ment Asso­ciate at the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and has loved Jew­ish books since she was about eight years old. She grad­u­at­ed from Smith Col­lege in 2023 with a B.A. in Jew­ish Stud­ies and a minor in His­to­ry. Pri­or to work­ing at JBC, she interned at the Hadas­sah-Bran­deis Insti­tute, the Jew­ish Wom­en’s Archive, and also stud­ied abroad a few times to learn about dif­fer­ent aspects of Jew­ish cul­ture and his­to­ry! Out­side of work, she loves to write and spend time with her loved ones.