Friday, February 27, 2015

Farewell, Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy is dead at the age of 83.

I have been a Star Trek fan since about the age of 10, when my occasionally viewing of TNG led me to discover the original Star Trek series and the films. When I was a kid, I wanted to be Kirk. I'm pretty sure I've spoken somewhere in this space about how so much of his attitude was incorporated into my still developing philosophy, the least of which not being "I don't believe in a no-win scenario."

But make no mistake, there's a lot of Spock in me too. When it becomes necessary for me to consciously detach my emotions from a decision and look at it from cold hard logic, I know I'm am summoning that inner Vulcan, much as I have for many years. And yet, I find that Spock aspect to be remarkably little comfort as I pen this tribute.

We don't have many living icons, and after yesterday, there's one fewer in the world. Star Trek is on the verge of celebrating its 50th anniversary, and Nimoy is the only cast member who was there from the very start, all the way to the failed pilot that starred Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike. Over the three seasons of the original series, Nimoy made several contributions to his character, including the Vulcan salute and the Vulcan neck pinch. When you've read as many Trek memoirs and behind the scenes books as I have, you emerge with a strong picture of which actors were deeply invested in the integrity of their character, which ones were concerned with screentime, and which ones were there just for a paycheck. Nimoy consistently was driven by the integrity of the story and of his character.

Though - like many actors in his position - it seems there was a time when he wanted to leave Spock in the past, but the time of the films he'd come to embrace Trek fandom and I've never heard any story of him being less than gracious to the fans. After that, he never seemed to take for granted the opportunities that Star Trek had brought him. He was also a philanthropist, and among the efforts he donated to were the restoration of Los Angeles's Griffith Observatory. There's even a lecture hall and theatre named in his honor there.

When invited to return to later incarnations of the series, his concern was less the size of the part and more the value of the character to the story. I'm grateful he lived long enough to participate in the J.J. Abrams reboot, which saw Spock's actions prove essential to creating the "new" timeline the films follow.

I'd always hoped that he and William Shatner would share the screen one last time as Kirk and Spock. There were rumors that the new Trek film could produce such a scene, bringing them face to face with their successors in the role.

The reparte between Shatner and Nimoy is always a highlight of any behind-the-scenes look at Star Trek, and earlier today, as I looked for something to brighten my spirits, I lamented I did not have either of the Shatner-penned memoirs Star Trek Memories or Get a Life! on hand. Both feature numerous accounts of Bill pranking Leonard, like the class clown tweaking the stern headmaster. Fortunately, in looking on YouTube, I found a delightful retelling of the incident, from an old convention appearance.

There's some wonderful footage on the bluray for the 2009 J.J. Abrams-directed STAR TREK film, which featured Nimoy returning to the role for the first time since 1991. In it, the often-stoic Nimoy becomes moved when he speaks of how Abrams and his collaborators approached him, hoping to lure him back to play Spock one more time. He had assumed Star Trek had long left him behind and this appeal - one that made Spock essential to the story - touched him greatly.

Later, we see Nimoy on set, filming a scene meant to take place in an assembly hall at Starfleet Academy. The hundred or so costumed extras in the seats relax between set-ups, likely already becoming bored after hours on set watching Kirk be awarded command of the Enterprise. And then J.J. Abrams, standing in the mezzanine above, gets on the "god-mic" and announces "Leonard Nimoy, the original Mr. Spock, is here." The extras rise like attendees at the opening of a rock concert and applaud long and loud as Mr. Nimoy flashes the Vulcan hand symbol and gives an inappropriate-for-a-Vulcan beaming grin.

It already was emotional seeing a man in his twilight years being shown respect from those who grew up watching him. After today, it will be especially sad to watch that footage. But also happy, for we can see tangible proof that he knew how beloved he was. He was appreciated while we still had him, and that should make us happy.

We should learn from Spock's logical mind, but also aspire to be like Leonard Nimoy: gracious in our success, paying forward our good fortunes, and cherishing our short time on this planet to make an impact as far as our reach extends. He lived a good life, and he knew it was a good life. Even as we grieve, we should celebrate that.

It is, as Spock would say, only logical. As Dr. McCoy once said, "He's not really dead as long as we remember him."

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