You didn’t need to be a STAR TREK fan to know Leonard Nimoy. The iconic pointed ears and matching eyebrows that he wore as Spock made him one of the most recognizable icons of American culture. The level headed, half-human science officer from the planet Vulcan and the actor who created him helped make STAR TREK an enduring franchise for nearly half a century. Leonard Nimoy, the man who was Spock, died today. He was 83.
I’ve been a STAR TREK fan since I was a kid. I was reluctant to embrace it at first. When I was two, remember running in my room to hide any time there was a fight on a STAR TREK rerun (I had the same reaction to the Adam West Batman series). I fell asleep the first time I saw STAR TREK: The Motion Picture in a theater. I was five, and Robert Weis was not yet given a chance to edit out the boring (he was later allowed to fix this in 2001). It was STAR TREK II: The Wrath of Khan that made me a believer. And with the death of Spock at the end of the film, it seemed like the end of the line for Trek. Flash forward two years. Nimoy get’s an opportunity to direct STAR TREK III: The Search for Spock. This resurrects the character and the franchise, and gives new fans like me a opportunity to truly become invested.
Like Sherlock Holmes before him, Spock was a hero for the intellectuals. While William Shatner’s Capt. Kirk was the passionate action hero, Nimoy gave us a Spock that countered Kirk’s boldness with wisdom and logic. To paraphrase Dr. McCoy, we can trust Spock’s guess far more than most people’s facts. While Spock and other Vulcans were known for favoring logic over emotion, Nimoy’s portrayal was hardly stoic. He gave Spock powerful dignity. He also gave him a broad emotional range played with subtlety (a necessity when sharing the screen with young Shatner). While maintaining the character’s culturally imposed limitations, we could still feel for Spock. We knew when he hurt, when he healed, and when he loved.
Nimoy had a period of ambivalence with the character. In the decade between NBC’s cancellation of the series and the subsequent feature films, Nimoy attempted to distance himself from the character, exploring projects far removed from space ships and aliens. In 1975, he published a memoir titled I am Not Spock, a book intended the separate artist from the art. After returning to the character in the 80s and diving deep into the franchise, Nimoy embraced his fate as a cultural icon, directing two of the six original cast films, making a special appearance on STAR TREK: The Next Generation, and making a final reprise of the role in JJ Abrams’ universe altering STAR TREK reboot films.
I admired Nimoy, not only for his work in STAR TREK, but also for his passion for life. Well into his later years, he pursued acting and directing challenges on stage and screen. He was a social advocate for fans and friends alike. He also published books of poetry and photography. One of Spock’s familiar catch phrases was “Live long and prosper.” Nimoy not only breathed life into that line, but he adopted it off camera. The tweets from his twitter account often ended with LLAP.
In 2011, Nimoy came to Phoenix Comic Con. He was 80 years old. He was about to retire from acting and his attendance at fan conventions had become increasingly rare. I took the opportunity to encounter one of my heroes. As I had correctly anticipated, this opportunity would not happen again.
A full ballroom greeted him as he spent about an hour sharing touching and amusing anecdotes (interrupted briefly by a cell phone call… not sure who was on the other end, but he took the opportunity to play it for laughs). Afterwards, I happily stood in line for an autograph. I decided to have him sign my copy of STAR TREK III since that was the first one he directed and the cover featured his image. He warmly greeted each fan with a smile and a handshake. I would never have the chance to have a long or meaningful private conversation with the man, but I’ve known people who have. By all accounts, he was a kind and honest person who had a great affection for his fans and had grown fond of the alien that made him famous.
He lived long and prospered.