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Actor Leonard Nimoy Never Forgot His Boston Roots

Nimoy gives the Vulcan salute after being awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during Boston University’s 2012 commencement. (Steven Senne/AP)
Nimoy gives the Vulcan salute after being awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during Boston University’s 2012 commencement. (Steven Senne/AP)
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Actor and Boston native Leonard Nimoy died on Friday at age 83. Andrea Shea, who interviewed "Mr. Spock" over the years, recalls his local ties.

BOSTON — Nimoy died at his home in Los Angeles, but he never forgot his roots in Boston’s West End, where he grew up.

He evoked memories of his childhood in this city during a commencement speech he delivered at Boston University in 2012.

“I saw Ted Williams hit home runs at Fenway Park. I learned to sail on the Charles River. I sold newspapers at the corner of Boylston and Arlington at the corner of the Arlington Street Church in the winter,” he told the graduating class. “From where I lived it was a 10-minute walk to Boston Garden where I watched the Celtics, the Bruins and the Ringling Brothers Circus.”

Nimoy also recalled the scholarship he received for a summer theater program at Boston College.

“I was totally comfortable, this Jewish kid from a Yiddish-speaking family at a Jesuit school, being blessed daily with Our Fathers and Hail Marys,” he said.

Nimoy’s father owned a barbershop and his mother was a housewife. He lamented the way his family’s neighborhood was razed as part of the city’s urban renewal plan to create a “new Boston,” as it was known. Thousands of families were displaced, including Nimoy’s.

But even after Nimoy left to find success in Hollywood, he returned to his hometown often.

For years Nimoy’s voice has greeted visitors to the Boston Museum of Science’s Mugar Omni Theater.

Just last May Nimoy narrated a space-themed concert at Symphony Hall, where the actor famed for playing Mr. Spock on "Star Trek" admitted, “It’s good to be home…and I don’t mean Vulcan.”

Nimoy will always be remembered for his portrayal of Mr. Spock. He grappled with being overshadowed as an artist by his cult character. He even wrote a book in 1975 titled, “I Am Not Spock.” But Nimoy wrote a follow-up a few years later, with the referential title, “I Am Spock.”

Nimoy was something of a renaissance man who refused to be pigeonholed as an actor. I was lucky enough to interview him in 2010 about his lifelong pursuit of photography.

Rich Michelson has represented Nimoy at the R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton for 15 years. When reflecting on his friend's passing, Michelson said Nimoy was a man who was willing to try anything.

“He also was a writer," Michelson said over the phone Friday. "He wrote his biography, but he also wrote poetry, he was a great reader, you know he recorded albums. Everything interested him."

He added: "He pursued life with a passion.”

Michelson also called Nimoy a father figure.

“He’s someone who was always there for me, was always generous with his time, with his advice, with his love, and he was one of the kindest, gentlest, honest-loving people I’ve met,” Michelson said.

Most recently Michelson collaborated with his friend on a children’s book about Nimoy’s upbringing in Boston that will be published posthumously.

Nimoy had been battling chronic lung disease known as COPD for many years. I was surprised to see him with his oxygen tank when I interviewed him last year about his concert at Symphony Hall.

“I used to say I was an Olympic champion smoker; I could smoke in the shower,” he told me with a laugh. “I quit, but I didn’t quit soon enough, and I’ve been urging people not to smoke.”

Nimoy was 83, and will be missed.

More: Mayor Marty Walsh released the following statement:

With the passing of Leonard Nimoy, we have not only lost a talented actor, but a proud product of Boston’s neighborhoods and English High School. Mr. Nimoy never forgot his Boston roots and the spirit of his work lives on in the future generations of children who continue to be inspired by his iconic portrayal of Mr. Spock.

Related:

Andrea Shea Twitter Senior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.

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