When I heard the news on the radio (and quickly confirmed it with a Facebook check) that Leonard Nimoy, better known to most as the original Spock on Star Trek, had finally passed away, I can’t exactly say that I felt an explicit sadness. There was simply a weight, a sense of being borne down to the ground by a pressure felt on my shoulders, and in my chest. A new void had opened up within me, and it was being filled with solid lead. And I knew, as illogical as Spock would find such a reaction to be, that I was about to have a moment of silent grieving.
But is that really so illogical, after all? To grieve? To embrace and love the moments that made a person’s life meaningful to one’s own, and yet regret that there will be no more moments to come in the future? I do not know. Perhaps it is, and it is only my own human failings that prevent me from seeing that. Or perhaps it is a sign that we have truly lived, when we can admit our emotional responses to life’s inevitable end.
For many Trekkies, especially younger ones in and around my generation, Leonard Nimoy seemed like one of those figures from a strange and distant past that will be there forever, unmoving, immutable. And in a sense he was, and is- although it is too soon to tell, the figure and legacy of Spock may very well continue to be one of the most culturally influential and recognizable symbols of 20th-century storytelling. Few have not encountered his trademark Vulcan hand gesture of peace, and heard its accompanying mantra, “Live long, and prosper.” He made pointed ears cool long before Peter Jackson had even picked up a camera. His moment of singular and definitive (unfortunately so) artistic genius was one of the primary genesis moments of modern sci-fi/geek/nerd culture, and remains one of its greatest pillars today. That is not about to change within the foreseeable future.
Leonard Nimoy was, of course, far more than a green-blooded Vulcan. Although his musical recordings from the 70’s will never top anyone’s “Best of the Decade” list, there was a classic huskiness to his voice that worked well for such standards as “If I Had A Hammer.” His additional forays into the realms of photography and poetry reveal a broad, expansive mind, eager to pursue his ideas of beauty and artistic significance wherever he found the chance.
Of course, he was always an actor and director above all else, and a fearsomely dedicated one at that. Even before I had really delved into the Star Trek classics, I was well-aware of the now-itself-classic horror remake Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where Leonard Nimoy appears as a blindly calm therapist unconvinced of the main character’s suspicions. It is as intense and committed a performance as any other on his resume, Spock included. However, he was also never one to only use his acting abilities when on-screen. William Shatner included a telling anecdote to this effect in his excellently-written book Star Trek Memories- with everyone in the cast and crew overwhelmed by how sweltering their backlot studio tended to get in summer, Nimoy requested that a fan be installed in his changing room. When the tight-fisted studio refused, he told his secretary to come into the room, lay down on the floor, and act like she had passed out. He then proceeded to call in security in a panicked voice, all the while trying to “revive” the “poor lady” who had obviously been overwhelmed by the heat and humidity. In no time at all, air conditioning was up and running in his room, much to the amusement (and probably also jealousy) of the rest of the cast.
That said, for all the remarkable breadth and variety of his works and accomplishments (including one I only recently uncovered, a photography series primarily of overweight women) it will, of course, be Spock that defines his legacy and reach into popular consciousness. His absolute dedication to crafting every facet of a character’s person, history, and mannerisms made Spock such a unique artistic creation that it overwhelmed or subsumed all else he tried to do in his life, leading to the somewhat-exasperated title of his first autobiography, “I Am Not Spock.”
That is, of course, very true- Leonard Nimoy was not Spock. But he also very much was. That is the strange paradox lived out by all who gain lasting public recognition and fame, especially actors. True acting is the full realization of self- even though, clearly, no single character or role performed by an individual is the person itself, if it is a truly great performance, it will contain a large dose of the performer’s pure, undiluted human essence, giving us a glimpse into their minds, and in the greatest performances of all time, their souls.
So we are at a crossroads at the passing of a great, wonderful person, someone who has touched the lives of so many. Which do we honor more, his part in a magnum opus that has defined a whole realm of sci-fi for several generations, or the person he was as a whole, warts, makeup, pointy ears, and all?
For what’s worth, I vote both. Leonard Nimoy was a great man, and like with many others who has passed on in recent years, the void he leaves is particularly unfillable. He was himself, always himself. But he was also Spock. And we are Spock as well, in our own ways. We are bound to him, and he to us, eternally, through a fictional character that, for all the ways he is so unlike us, somehow also managed to embody the best in us, and all the possibilities our lives afford us the possibility of embracing.
May God bless and keep you Leonard. We will miss you, and we will not forget you, as illogical as that may seem.