A Brief Appreciation of Leonard Nimoy

28 Feb

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Like many of you in geekdom, I felt a slight bit of sadness upon hearing the recent news of Leonard Nimoy’s passing. While a lot of his friends, peers, and fans who have met him over the years have laid their own tributes as of this writing, I thought I should talk about how he influenced me. Or in this case, how his iconic performance as Spock influenced me.

I suppose what appealed to me about Spock in those reruns of Star Trek I watched on the weekends as a kid growing up in Fresno was his dichotomy. A half-Vulcan, half human who was in quiet conflict with both sides of himself. He was often cold and logical like a Vulcan, but capable of empathy that seemed deeper than most humans. In a way, I felt like him at times growing up, trying to be both reasonable and logical, yet fighting against letting my feelings come out. What his arc as a character said to me, “there can be a balance of the two”, that what made him a freakish oddity to some could also make him something unique to others. It was a positive message that Spock’s evolution left on me.

At one point Gene Roddenberry called Spock “the conscience of Star Trek“, and a lot of that comes from Nimoy’s performance. Like many actors stuck to iconic roles like that for as long as he was, there was a push and pull to being associated with that character. And yet, that role brought the respect of so many fans that could relate to a character that was not quite human, but more human than most. As much as it must have been a burden, it must have been a blessing.

It seemed like whenever he showed in something unrelated to Trek, it was always worth noting. As much as one generation can refer to him as the host of In Search Of, we got a generation who now know him as William Bell in Fringe. That iconic status cemented both the former and latter in different ways, making him respectively, a memorable TV host and a memorable character who lived up to its hype when first revealed.

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And yet, the role of Spock is not all he brought to the world. Sure he acted in fare like the good 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and directed two of the Trek movies (The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home), but he also branched out into directing non-interstellar movies like Three Men and a Baby. He wrote poetry, wrote a couple of autobiographies (I Am Not Spock and the latter I Am Spock), was into photography, and even sang. Most people would be content with an iconic character, but not him.

Many of us will associate him with Spock, but considering someone who stretched out beyond that role, that’s not a bad thing. A lot of us over the years of Star Trek‘s existence grew up with a character we could see ourselves in, and aspire to be. For all the quotes of Spock’s dialogue on Facebook, Twitter, etc., to what Leonard Nimoy left behind for nerds everywhere, I refer to one line said by a country doctor friend of that pointy-eared Vulcan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan:

“He’s not really dead, as long as we remember him.”

A lot of people will remember, that’s for sure.

And here’s one of my favorite interviews with Nimoy:

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