Thinking About Leonard Nimoy
I teach from 11:10 until 2:05 each day so only had the briefest of moments to absorb the email headline I caught between classes that Leonard Nimoy had died. Once the bell rang, I headed to the department office to try and process this tremendous loss to fandom. Instead, students demanded my attention and I had a Literary Magazine meeting. Once that was attended to, I finally sat at my desk, intending to work but finding my thoughts could not focus on grading. Instead, I felt the deep absence of someone with whom I grew up. So much of my professional life has been tied to Star Trek and Nimoy that it truly took a personal toll.
I have always keenly felt the passing of entertainment legends. Growing up, I was still enjoying the work from the Golden Age of entertainers, thanks to their appearances on television and their classic films getting revived or their radio shows being broadcast. I was enjoying them along with my parents, bonding in ways today’s generations don’t always manage.
1977, for example, was a particularly tough year. While the world focused on Elvis Presley and his impact on music, I was more deeply affected by the passing of the far more legendary Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx, and Bing Crosby.
I’ve written before about watching the legends of my youth fade away, the loss of pioneers, and the sense that the performers who held a nation together were leaving us somewhat adrift now that entertainment is delivered in so many ways, we’ve become fragmentary.
I therefore marvel at the universal outpouring of grief, reflection, and celebration of Leonard Nimoy. It was respectful to the man and to the character he curated for five decades. Oddly, most ignored his recurring role on Fringe, his last major acting work and worth noting since he played a vastly different character (and allowed Anna Torv to do a wickedly fun impersonation of him in one episode).
I never met him. After waiting online, seemingly forever, at Gertz department story, we were finally given 5×7 preprinted autographed pictures and Nimoy rushed the line, gripping hands. Our contact couldn’t even be measured in seconds.
At much the same time, I was part of the phalanx of volunteers, forming the flying-V that parted the crowds to allow Nimoy to make his very first Star Trek convention appearance. He was clearly overwhelmed and delighted. The bitterness towards stereotyping had not fully gripped him.
As has been made clear in the various histories written about the series, he was deeply involved in his character, protecting Spock’s integrity for three straight seasons. He fought producers, writers, and directors to look after the character with a verve that Shatner, the titular star, never seemed to muster. This is one reason why the character is revered and beloved.
Spock was the first non-threatening alien invited into our living rooms who could be taken seriously (unlike Uncle Martin in the sitcom My Favorite Martian, which ended its run just months before Trek’s debut). He had the expected pointed ears, but his culture was, ahem, fascinating to viewers especially once the second season arrived and we saw his homeworld, met his fiancée and parents. We gained insight and felt sympathy for the half-breed caught between worlds.
Thanks to Gene Roddenberry and Nimoy, Spock quickly evolved from “The Cage” to the coolly cerebral alien who allayed our fears of the unknown and showed us there was another way to confront prejudice or violence. Nimoy continued to protect the character through the film series, agreeing to his death in Wrath of Khan and then having so much fun he agreed to a resurrection which also resuscitated his career by making him a director.
I can’t find a better quote or a finer image with which to salute the man and the character who truly goes with him than the ones that have flooded the web since Friday afternoon. But I could not let this major passing go without acknowledging my affection for the work Nimoy did.