Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015

Leonard Nimoy 3

 – Jacob Foxx and Paulie Spiceflow –

It is with great sadness we were met with the news of Leonard Nimoy’s passing. He lived a truly extraordinary 83 years on planet Earth.

It is too easy to see our heroes and idols as nothing more than the characters they play. Film and television have become so powerful that we sometimes believe it is part of reality. This is why it would be inadequate to speak of Nimoy as merely Captain Spock. We will try to give his full life the attention it deserves.

Leonard Simon Nimoy was born March 26, 1931 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the son of Yiddish-speaking orthodox Jewish immigrants from what is now Ukraine. The young actor was an active member of the Jewish community, and later in life helped produce several documentaries on the Jewish people. The young Nimoy dropped out of college to pursue a career as an actor, taking Marlon Brando as his model. During the early struggles he also enlisted in the US Army serving in the Army Special Services, putting on shows that he wrote and narrated. His career took off afterward with parts in several movies and TV shows.

His breakthrough came with a weird little sci-fi show called Star Trek. The method actor played the part of Spock, a humanoid alien from the planet Vulcan. Vulcans are a stoic race dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge through logic and reason. Passion and sentimentality were eliminated through strict ritual and psychological practices. Captain Spock was the first officer to the charismatic Captain James T. Kirk.

It is impossible to visualize a Vulcan, or think of Star Trek at all, without seeing Spock. The sharp eyebrows, the bowl-cut hair, and emotionless expression became iconic. Other actors have played Vulcan characters and largely been unable to reproduce the seemingly genuine stoic presence. Nimoy himself introduced the Vulcan salute with the fingers separated and the shoulder nerve pinch. Yet Spock was half-human, and at times explored the human part of his self, developing attachments to Kirk and the third member of their Enterprise triumvirate, Leonard “Bones” McCoy, played by DeForest Kelley (We lost Kelley in 1999).

McCoy was the polar opposite of Spock, passionate and often irrational. His irresistible compassion went into his work as the ship’s doctor. The chemistry between Nimoy and Kelley, or lack there of, became an external struggle symbolic of the internal struggle that takes place within all of us. Humans are also rational thinking beings but tend to let emotion dictate our actions. At the center was Kirk, representing the ego of the three, an enigmatic commander who very much desired to balance the two forces.

The show ran from 1966 to 1969 and changed the world. It became the dominant science fiction franchise, presenting an optimistic, enlightened future for humanity. Nimoy would go on to star in eight movies, including the two recent ones that are part of the reboot. He directed what is considered the second best film in the franchise, The Journey Home (second to Wrath of Khan). It is notable that the climax of Wrath of Khan is the death of Spock and the complicated introduction of Kirk to his son. Logic and rationality breaks down when children are involved. Spock’s last words haunted Trekkies until the third movie brought about is resurrection and the death of Kirk’s son.

After Star Trek, Nimoy starred in numerous TV shows like Mission Impossible and Columbo. He also won acclaim with a number of stage roles including the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. He even played Sherlock Holmes on stage for a brief period. Imagine what he would’ve done the role compared to Robert Downey Jr. The very special Nimoy also played the brilliant Dr. William Bell in the sci-fi show Fringe.

Nimoy was also a photographer and poet, publishing his own works over the long period of his creative career. He also tried his hand at singing, producing the cult classic “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.”

Later in life, he embraced his place in the sci-fi pantheon with cameos on a number of shows including Big Bang Theory. He was a voice over in the game Civilization IV and the voice of the villainous Sentinel Prime in the film Transformers: Dark of the Moon. He had a great sense of humor, which included Comedy Central roasts and car commercials. We could go on and on detailing the guest appearances, cameos, and other roles he played.

One truly special impact of Nimoy’s work is the inspiration he became for a generation of scientists, astronauts, and many others who dedicated themselves to the pursuit of knowledge. It may have been unintentional, but many young people who found themselves the subject of jokes, bullying, or ridicule saw in Spock and Star Trek a place where knowledge, reasoning skills, and curiosity were treasured, even rewarded. It gave them hope and a sense that somewhere there was a place where they were valued and could contribute.

Nimoy leaves an incredible legacy as an actor, director, writer, and cultural icon. His work touched millions of lives across the world and moved an entire genre out of the kids comic book section. Thinking about the future is one of the unique traits of the human species. We are capable of planning ahead and thinking of what will happen or might happen, rather than just remembering what just happened. Part of using that trait is imagining what we could be as a species, what we could accomplish, and how we may better ourselves. The work of Leonard Nimoy inspired millions to find ways to strive for progress and not be content with the brutal realities of our darker nature.

The 20th century was a time where we showed our darkest selves. In the latter years and in the first fifteen years of this century, we got to see more of our better selves. Nimoy helped inspire many that made it happen. He will be missed.

Live Long and Prosper