Star Trek icon Leonard Nimoy’s death in February put the spotlight on COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, the illness that claimed the actor’s life. Most people aren’t aware of the condition, even though it’s one of the most-prevalent lung diseases diagnosed today and despite the fact that it ranks as the third most-common cause of death in America. Nimoy disclosed his diagnosis in 2014 and spent his remaining days talking and tweeting about the illness, revealing how his years of smoking caused it, and imploring anyone who smoked to do the logical thing – and quit.
Julie Nimoy, Leonard’s daughter, and her husband, David Knight, upon learning on Leonard’s illness, endeavored to make a documentary about Nimoy and COPD. And, following his death, they redoubled their efforts. The result, when it’s finished, will be COPD: Highly Illogical – A Special Tribute to Leonard Nimoy, with John de Lancie, Nimoy's longtime friend and Alien Voices colleague, set to narrate. In order to finish the project, Julie and David are turning to the public in general and to Star Trek fans, who, via First Giving and The COPD Foundation, can donate money. The target is $500,000, and as of right now, more than $200,000 has been raised. StarTrek.com is lending our support by spreading the word about the project. Go to First Giving to donate, and read on for our interview with Julie Nimoy and David Knight.
How, when and why did you decide to make a documentary?
NIMOY: After my Dad appeared on CNN/Piers Morgan announcing that he had COPD, he actively began to post messages on his Twitter page about his illness and about the dangers and risks of smoking. It was at this time that David and I realized the impact a film on COPD could have. At the end of 2014 during the holidays, it was very clear to me that my Dad was struggling with this condition. After coming out about his illness, it was very apparent to David and myself that we needed to make people aware of COPD and how it was affecting my father and our family's life. It became important to us to produce a documentary that will help educate people who may be currently suffering with COPD and not be aware of it. In addition, once they've been evaluated by their physician, a correct diagnosis can be made. Finally and most important, we also, like my Dad, feel very strongly about getting the word out to encourage people not to smoke or to quit immediately.
KNIGHT: When Leonard appeared on Piers Morgan, that’s when it really clicked for us. Leonard was a very private man, especially when it came to his health. But when he announced that he had COPD, he became very proactive and started posting messages about his condition and encouraging people to quit smoking. He’d been a huge smoker for a long time. And that’s when we thought, “It’d be great if we could really expand on what Leonard is doing.” That’s when we decided to produce a film on COPD. We were learning so much information from Leonard about the condition, and Leonard was learning about it himself. So we decided that if Leonard didn’t know much about it, there were probably a lot of other people who didn’t know much about the condition, either. We started reading and learning about it, and decided to do the documentary. The most startling thing we learned is that over 15 million people have COPD and they either don’t know it or have never officially been diagnosed with it. That’s what happened with Leonard. He had the symptoms, but was not officially diagnosed until much later.
How involved was Leonard before he passed?
NIMOY: While my Dad was aware of the project, his health was already compromised by his illness. He gave me encouragement and believed the documentary was an important way to reach the public.
KNIGHT: So he was just involved in the early stages. There was a lot happening at that point. Sadly, my Mom had passed away. Julie and I were planning our wedding. Leonard’s health was in decline, and it really got worse around Thanksgiving, 2014. So there was a lot happening, but he was aware of us wanting to make the documentary. We told him what we were doing and he gave us some encouragement and some advice.
NIMOY: I've known about COPD for quite a long time now, since my Mother was diagnosed with it in the early 2000's. My Dad really didn't know much about the condition. He never spoke of it to me.
KNIGHT: He’d had symptoms for years, but didn’t know it was COPD. One story that I want to share, which really impressed upon us how cruel this condition is, is that Leonard and (his wife) Susan had a home in Lake Tahoe for years and years. He had a property there, and a boat, and Leonard just loved to go there. It was a passion. The family would get together and go there. But because of his condition and the higher elevation in Lake Tahoe, he was unable to go anymore and he ended up selling the property. So that really made us see the impact the illness was having on Leonard and his lifestyle. He was a very active man, so the last year or so was difficult.
How much of Highly Illogical will be educational in nature?
NIMOY: I believe that the entire film will be extremely educational, as we're planning on including some of the top lung experts/pulmonologists from around the country as well as hearing real-life patient stories. In addition, we'll be including spectacular computer-animated images depicting the lungs and showing the different stages of COPD.
KNIGHT: The pulmonologists, who are huge names in the industry, will be providing a lot of the backbone for the educational component. That’s very importance to us. We want all of it to be medically accurate. We want to provide the latest information on treatments, the best ways to manage COPD. The idea is that if you have it, you can still live a high-quality life. There are a lot of things you can do. There are things Leonard could have done if he’d known about them. People can make their condition worse without realizing it, and we want to educate people about that, too.
In what ways will Leonard and his illness factor into this? Is his story a jumping off point or is the plan to spread it across the length of the doc?
NIMOY: My Dad is the spring board for this film. It's a special tribute to him because we're continuing his message and mission by educating people about COPD. We will be interviewing Dad's personal physician as well as family, friends and caregivers.
Tell us about the crowd sourcing and how you chose to go the route you have with the organization you have?
NIMOY: After careful consideration, we decided that Kickstarter would not be appropriate for our funding efforts. Instead, we chose to partner with a non-profit called The COPD Foundation. The foundation is one of the largest organizations in the world for supporting and researching COPD. To assist with the funding, they set up a dedicated page for our tribute film located on First Giving's website. For anyone wishing to support our film, they should be aware that 10% of all donations made will go towards COPD research. Our donation page is at COPD: Highly Illogical - A Special Tribute to Leonard Nimoy.
KNIGHT: Right now, we have a goal amount of $500,000. We’ve gotten some great support already, from Novartis, who contributed $200,000. We explained to them this is strictly an educational film, no product placements or mentions, and they agreed to that. Now, it’s open to the public and we’re trying to get the word out about this film to as many people as possible. People are excited about it. We’ve been getting notes, and people are contributing $25, $50, $75… Every donation makes a big difference.
When do you anticipate the film will be completed -- and how do you hope to make it available to people?
NIMOY: Our goal is to have the film ready for the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, which will be by the end of this year (2015) or early 2016. For people wishing to view the film, we've created a dedicated website at www.nimoycopdfilm.com for a complete list of where will be having special screenings throughout the country as well as any potentially air dates/times for being broadcast on cable or TV. Finally, we're planning on making the film available for free on The COPD Foundation's website and other selected health-related sites as a VOD.
KNIGHT: I want to stress that first and foremost, the film will be available for free. We want to make it a free download to the public.
Right now, COPD is incurable. So what are your hopes here... To help find a cure or at least improve treatment? To make more people more aware of the disease and treatment advances? To stop people from smoking? All of the above?
NIMOY: My hopes are to succeed in educating and making people with or without COPD aware of this miserable and debilitating condition. Also, by creating more awareness, we definitely want our film to help improve the lives of patients so they can have a higher quality of life. If we can reach a handful of people and get them to stop smoking, that will be worth all our efforts. My goal would also be to impress upon parents to communicate with their children the importance of not smoking. I sincerely believe that David’s and my film will bring to light the seriousness of this illness and give hope to people throughout the world and their loved ones.