Tribute: Leonard Nimoy

Posted on February 28, 2015 at 12:00 pm

We mourn the loss of Leonard Nimoy, who created one of the most iconic characters of all time, “Star Trek’s” half-Vulcan, half-human Mr. Spock, with pointed ears and angled eyebrows perfectly designed to convey a wry sense of irony.  The storylines of the original “Star Trek” were provocative political and cultural allegories, but the heart of the show was the reflection of the internal struggle we all try to reconcile: fire and ice, Athenian and Spartan, id and superego — between the passionate, impetuous Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and the cerebral, deliberate Mr. Spock.

Adam Bernstein wrote in the Washington Post:

Spock was the ultimate outsider — a trait Mr. Nimoy said he understood. He was Jewish and had grown up in an Irish section of Boston. Going to movies as a child during the Depression, he was drawn to actors who specialized in bringing pathos to the grotesque — especially Boris Karloff in “Frankenstein” (1931) and Charles Laughton in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1939).

By most accounts, Mr. Nimoy portrayed the most popular character of the “Star Trek” cast. While some critics thought that Mr. Nimoy’s acting was dour or wooden, fans might have argued that these were precisely the characteristics of the emotion-suppressing, logic-obsessed Spock.

Copyright 1968 Paramount
Copyright 1968 Paramount

Nimoy was a fine actor, and he gave a dry wit to Mr. Spock. The character was fascinating because of his emotionless, stoic, purely rational approach.  Once in a while, his human side showed through. And although most of the time he seemed to conclude (rationally) that the Vulcan approach was superior, he occasionally seemed to envy his human colleagues’ capacity for emotion. And certainly, he showed himself capable of friendship with Captain Kirk.

I loved his father’s explanation of why he married a human: “It seemed the logical thing to do at the time.” Spock also had the enviable ability of telepathy and could immobilize a humanoid enemy with a neck nerve-pinch.

Bernstein’s obituary quoted an interview Nimoy gave to the New York Times:

“I knew that we were not playing a man with no emotions, but a man who had great pride, who had learned to control his emotions and who would deny that he knew what emotions were. In a way, he was more human than anyone else on the ship.”

He added: “In spite of being an outcast, being mixed up, looking different, he maintains his point of view. He can’t be bullied or put on. He’s freaky with dignity. There are very few characters who have that kind of pride, cool and ability to lay it out and walk away. Humphrey Bogart played most of them.”

He spoke to Pharrell Williams about his life and career and developing the character of Spock.

The devotion of “Star Trek’s” fans is legendary, and the subject of documentaries including Trekkies and its sequel, and no character had more fans than Mr. Spock.

A particularly fitting tribute was in an episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” where the hyper-rational Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) has the most emotional reaction in the history of the series because he receives a special gift, a napkin that had been used by Leonard Nimoy.

In another episode, Nimoy provided the voice for Cooper’s Mr. Spock action figure.

Nimoy was the son of Jewish immigrants from what is now Ukraine. It was his idea to use the traditional rabbinic blessing gesture, with the fingers spread apart in a V shape as the Vulcan greeting.

He was also a successful director, not just of “Star Trek” films but also of the popular comedy “Three Men and a Baby” and the Diane Keaton drama “The Good Mother.”

In 1968, Nimoy responded with warmth, generosity, and wisdom to a letter from a biracial girl who identified with his bi-planetary character. He told her to “realize the difference between popularity and true greatness. It has been said that ‘popularity’ is merely the crumbs of greatness. When you think of people who are truly great, and who have improved the world, you can see that they have realized that they are people who do not need popularity because they knew they had something special to offer the world, no matter how small that offering seemed. And they offered it and it was accepted with peace and love.”

He left us with a beautiful final message via Twitter.

A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP

Nimoy gave us many perfect moments.  As long as there are devices to view content, new generations of fans will love and be inspired by Mr. Spock. May his memory be a blessing.

EPIX will pay tribute to Nimoy this weekend.

A Conversation with Leonard Nimoy: AIRING: Friday 2/27 – 11:00PM ET, Saturday 2/28 – 5:40PM ET & 10:00PM ET, Sunday 3/1 – 8:00PM ET 

Leonard Nimoy shares insights and personal anecdotes from his nearly 50-year involvement with the phenomenon that is Star Trek.  

Star Trek Into Darkness: AIRING: Saturday 2/28 – 10:15PM ET, Sunday 3/1 – 8:15PM ET

In the wake of a shocking act of terror from within their own organization, the crew of The Enterprise is called back home to Earth. In defiance of regulations and with a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads his crew on a manhunt to capture an unstoppable force of destruction and bring those responsible to justice. As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.

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