Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote THIS post about the death of Harold Ramis. At the time, I said that I was fascinated at how we can form these strong connections to celebrities that we’ve never met.
Leonard Nimoy’s death last week has brought these thoughts back to my mind, but there’s something of a difference. I didn’t know Leonard Nimoy. I never saw him at a convention. He actually appeared at Shore Leave, my local convention last Summer, but it was via Skype, since his health wasn’t allowing him to travel. I didn’t end up going to his panel mainly because he wasn’t actually there in person.
Now I wish that I had.
But I didn’t, so the closest contact I ever had with Nimoy was following him on Twitter. I didn’t know the man at all.
I did, however, know Spock.
I have seen every appearance of Spock starting with the very first Star Trek pilot, “The Cage,” which starred Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike. Nimoy’s Spock was the only character from that original pilot to make the jump to the second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” and subsequent series with Captain Kirk, Scotty, Sulu, and the other Original Series names we’re used to.
Spock next appeared in the Star Trek animated series and then the six movies starring the Original Series crew. He showed up in two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Spock, voiced by Nimoy, narrates the Star Trek Online MMO video game, and he has appeared in both of the new Star Trek movies directed by J.J. Abrams, most recently 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness.
That means that, as of this writing, Leonard Nimoy’s Spock appears in both the first and last filmed Star Trek to be produced (Yes, that will be changing VERY soon when production begins on the next Trek film).
One of points often made about the series is that it was a way to look at the issues facing humanity through the lens of science fiction. Particularly on the Original Series, Spock served as a version of that lens many many times. He was the alien on a ship full of humans presenting logic and an arched eyebrow in contrast to the more emotional natures of the rest of the crew. And, much to the initial surprise of the show’s producers, viewers couldn’t get enough of him.
I would go so far as to say that, in many ways, Spock IS Star Trek.
There’s a certain amount of irony to that statement considering his portrayer’s initial efforts to distance himself from the part. In 1975, he wrote the book, I Am Not Spock, and he was the sole original cast member to not sign on for the Star Trek: Phase II television series that was in development in that decade. Fortunately, when Paramount’s plans to launch its own network died and Star Trek: Phase II morphed into Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Nimoy did agree to return to the role.
The return was supposed to be temporary, and Spock was slated to die in the next film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. As I understand it, Spock’s death was originally supposed to occur earlier in the film, but it kept getting moved farther back. And Spock was brought back from death itself because the ultimate carrot was dangled in front of Nimoy: the chance to direct.
I’m not sure that taking the helm of Star Trek III: The Search For Spock is really what made Nimoy embrace Spock. From there, though, I didn’t hear any rumblings that he wanted to leave. He developed the story and directed the next film, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and developed the story for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. And, as mentioned previously, he made appearances on Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1991.
In 1995, Nimoy wrote the book I Am Spock. In the book, he includes several imagined conversations between himself and his fictional alter-ego. Certainly by then he seems to have come to accept and possibly even take joy in what Spock has meant not only to his own life but to legions of fans.
For almost 50 years, Spock has been a geek icon. He was different, like most of us, and he was cool. When I was going through the difficult years of adolescence, I saw his intelligence and lack of emotions as something to aspire to. I wanted to be like Spock.
Leonard Nimoy seems to have been far from emotionless himself. His messages on Twitter were always ones of love, compassion, and wisdom. At several different times, he offered to be the honorary grandfather of anyone who asked. He signed every tweet “LLAP” for “Live Long and Prosper,” Spock’s customary farewell. His last tweet, posted on February 23, 2015, four days before he dies, said, "A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP"
Reading that along with everything else I have learned about the man over the last week or so has made me realized I that was aspiring to wrong goal as a child: I don’t want to be like Spock.
I want to be like Leonard Nimoy.
- Alan Decker
@CmdrAJD on Twitter