Many of us may know a friend or loved one living with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)—a serious lung condition that affects more than 16.4 million Americans. Though more research is being conducted on the causes and treatments of this disease, COPD is still the third leading cause of death in the United States.
COPD affects not only individuals living with the disease, but it also affects their loved ones, too. Julie Nimoy—director, producer, and daughter of beloved actor Leonard Nimoy—understands this all too well.
Her documentary, Remembering Leonard Nimoy, depicts the life, career, and memory of her father and his struggle with COPD and emphysema. Through a celebration of his life and legacy, the film also helps spread awareness of COPD and the importance of early intervention.
We recently had the privilege of hearing from Julie to talk about her dad, the making of her documentary, and her ongoing efforts to help others understand COPD so they feel empowered to get tested and treated early on.
An Interview with Julie Nimoy
Q: What are some of your favorite memories with your dad?
Julie: I have so many wonderful memories with my dad, but I think two of my most memorable ones are the times we spent together, just him and I.
My dad loved to fly, and when I was a teenager, he had a single engine airplane. One summer, he had plans to appear in two plays: one in Michigan and the other in Wisconsin.
I suggested we make it a fun vacation, and the two of us could fly in his plane together, stopping at various states for some sight-seeing. He loved the idea!
I planned and navigated our entire trip and took a twenty-hour course on how to be a pinch-hitter pilot––this way I could take control of the airplane in case he wasn’t able to. We had a great time together; I’ll never forget that summer.
Another fun memory was when my dad asked me if I would be in an Oldsmobile commercial with him. It was for a campaign Oldsmobile was doing. He was directing the commercial, and I would be in it with him. That week was so much fun! I’d never been on camera like that before, so it was quite an experience. Thankfully, he was patient with me and that made me feel very comfortable. The commercial came out great, too!
Q: How did COPD affect your father’s life and when was he diagnosed?
Julie: COPD affected my father in many ways. The disease came on slowly through his middle-aged years. As he got older, the illness affected his breathing and his ability to walk long distances.
He would be constantly clearing his throat as he had a build-up of mucus; he would become winded while walking, and this took a toll on his health and lifestyle. Dad was diagnosed in 2014, after many years of thinking that what he had were just bad allergies. In the end, my dad couldn’t breathe without the help of oxygen, and he ended up with pneumonia three different times. He was hospitalized three times in the last four months of his life.
Q: What led you to decide to put together a film in honor of your father?
Julie: In 2014, dad was returning home from a long vacation and was spotted by paparazzi in a wheelchair, along with a portable oxygen container at JFK airport.
Dozens of photos and videos were taken of him in this compromised condition. The footage immediately went “viral” on the internet, and media outlets contacted him to make a statement.
Initially, dad was very upset but realized that by going public, he would be in a position to create greater awareness for COPD and prevention. Based on this decision, he appeared on the Piers Morgan Show and officially became an advocate and activist for lung disease and prevention.
My husband––David Knight––and I were very proud of him and suggested that a documentary on COPD would be a huge benefit to the public. Sadly, before we started production, dad’s health had declined, and he subsequently passed away in February of 2015.
David and I decided to move forward with the film project so that it would not only create awareness for lung disease and prevention, but it would also expand the film to honor my dad’s life, career, and legacy.
Q: When did you start the process and what was it like putting the film together?
Julie: David and I began talking about the film in 2014, before my dad passed away in 2015. We were hoping to be able to interview him, sadly that wasn’t possible. We wanted to continue my dad’s mission to spread awareness about COPD and lung disease, and the dangers of smoking cigarettes.
It was an emotional journey and we dove into the process during the grieving period. It was cathartic though, as I was able to look at all the photographs and remember all the wonderful times we had together, and interview the family to hear their stories about my dad. It took us over a year and a half to finally finish the film, and by January 2017, we had finally released the film.
Q: What inspired you to have regular event screenings of the film?
Julie: Public Television started airing “Remembering Leonard Nimoy” in November 2017, based on the great response, and our wish to create awareness for COPD and prevention, we contacted several major hospitals across the country.
The screenings created a wonderful opportunity to bring experts to the events and not only provide the latest scientific information on COPD, but to also answer questions from the people attending.
Q: What advice would you give to someone suffering from COPD symptoms?
Julie: I would suggest to anyone who is suffering from symptoms related to COPD: shortness of breath, constant phlegm/clearing their throat, trouble walking or exercising from getting winded, to contact their healthcare professional right away.
There are many options for someone living with COPD, especially if it’s diagnosed early on. Their doctor can start them on different protocols to help manage the symptoms so they can continue to live a more normal life.
Help Spread the Word about COPD
We are so grateful for the opportunity to hear Julie’s memories of her father and about her ongoing work with researchers, medical experts, and fellow community members on creating more public awareness on COPD.
To watch her film and join the movement, you can visit the official Remembering Leonard Nimoy website.
 American Lung Association. “About COPD.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd/learn-about-copd#:~:text=How%20Serious%
 Medical News Today. What to Know about End-Stage COPD.” Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325611