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He is not the son of Spock

Adam Nimoy writes about working through not-so-famous struggles in his 'anti-memoir.'

August 01, 2008|Susan Salter Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

"I'm going to write about the dark times," Adam Nimoy explained to his mother when he began working on "My Incredibly Wonderful, Miserable Life," which he calls "an anti-memoir." "Like when you and Dad were out of town on some 'Star Trek' press junket and I was strung out on the floor of that men's room downtown. . . ."

"That . . . that . . . that never happened to you!" Nimoy's mother protested.

"No, Ma, I know. But that's what people want to hear."

From his first meeting with a prospective agent, Nimoy had to hold on tight to the book he wanted to write. Agents wanted the dirt on growing up with Spock. Nimoy wanted to write about his recovery from 30 years of addiction to pot and alcohol, about the crash-and-burn of his 18-year marriage, about raising two teenage children and, yes, about finding someone to love. Writing the book was a way to pull himself out of the depressing hole his life had become. Not necessarily finding himself -- that obnoxious baby boomer phrase -- but asserting his identity, separate from his father, from the marriage, from drugs.

Back in 1975, Nimoy's father, Leonard, then 44, published his own book about the fight for identity called "I Am Not Spock." "I am identified in at least two specific roles," the elder Nimoy wrote. "Leonard Nimoy -- actor, and Mr. Spock -- Vulcan. . . . Maybe if I can get it all down on paper and see the words and ideas staring me in the face I might understand. I might get a better fix on what I am and who he is."

Adam Nimoy, 51, is a little bit surprised to discover the parallel between the two books.

"For me," he says, "the generational story is incredibly important. My father was the son of Russian immigrants. They arrived in Boston with nothing. My father sold newspapers in the winter as a boy. When he came to Hollywood in 1950, he did all kinds of jobs to support his acting career. There's nothing grandiose about my grandparents or my dad's desperation to survive and succeed or even his passion for his art. It was all about humility and fragility and the value of hard work."

In "My Incredibly Wonderful, Miserable Life," Nimoy writes gently about the consuming nature of his father's work, about the long hours and the fans. "Since the beginning, people have been coming up to Dad from every direction wanting something. . . . Naturally, Dad had to be very guarded when dealing with these types of situations and often times he forgot to let his guard down when relating to me."

He describes in the book how, for years, he would "take my old man out of the closet in my mind and give him a good thrashing for all the hateful things he has said and done through the years." It has taken decades, he writes, to stop blaming and resenting his father, mostly working on his own. "I've never had much luck arguing with him. Have you ever argued with a Pop Culture Icon? Have you ever argued with a guy who can cause a frenzy among thousands at a convention hall simply by performing a Vulcan hand salute?"

Ironically, "I Am Not Spock" reveals Leonard Nimoy's consuming nature, the extent to which the studio became home and family. While shooting "Star Trek," he worked 12 hours a day, five days a week. "My fellow artists," he writes, "were all my brothers and sisters and I had several parent figures: directors, producers and studio heads . . . when the Spock character became as successful as it did, I felt I was a son who was doing his share to carry the family load."

Thirty-three years later, his own son has had several careers: lawyer, television director, teacher and author. Writing gives him a huge sense of accomplishment -- "A book is totally yours." He has played rock guitar for years but is the first to admit that his son Jonah has all the musical talent.

"Maybe it's true that talent skips a generation. The limelight was never for me."

It's taken work for Nimoy to get here. "My Miserable Life" documents the individual therapy, the couples therapy, the AA and Marijuana Anonymous meetings, his time in a writing group. All of it is what Nimoy refers to as "process."

Much of this work has been in the name of learning to be a good father, trying, as Nimoy says, to model appropriate behavior -- patience, tolerance.

This hasn't been easy. During his separation and divorce, Adam Nimoy's children begged him to come home. He writes about it, and these passages are among the most painful in the memoir. "How's it going to feel?" his daughter Maddy yells at him one night. "How's it going to feel, to be living the rest of your life alone in that apartment?" He describes how much he misses living with his children, being able to watch them sleep and sit with them while they do their homework.

Father and son, in their writing, have similar timing; a light, comedic touch, particularly in moments of pain and fear. Both use imagined dialogue in certain passages: the elder Nimoy with Spock and the younger with his dad. In "I Am Not Spock," one of these passages reads like this:

Nimoy: Spock, What is life?

Spock: A state of being.

Nimoy: Let me put the question another way: Why is there life?

Spock: Yours or mine?

Nimoy: Anyone's.

Spock: You've missed my point . . .

Nimoy: Which?

Spock: "Yours or mine" . . . I was trying to suggest something.

Nimoy: You've lost me.

"My father's point in that book," Adam Nimoy explains, "was that he was in process constantly. I admire the process. Unfortunately, he was all about the process. He was not that good at balancing. As a child of the Depression, he had this drive to survive."

He laughs. Even as communicative as he tries to be with his own son, he suspects that Jonah complains about his father in therapy. "What's up with that?" he asks.

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susan.reynolds@latimes.com

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My Incredibly Wonderful, Miserable Life

An Anti-Memoir

Adam Nimoy

Pocket Books: 296 pp., $23

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