Friday, February 27, 2015

R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy




Leonard Nimoy passed away today, February 27, 2015.  I don't generally write obituaries/remembrances of celebrities who have left us, but this one seemed like it needed to be written.  Leonard Nimoy was of course best known, and will be remembered most, for playing the role of Spock in "Star Trek" starting in 1966.  It was a career making and defining role.  It would seem like a great thing to be associated with such an iconic character, but of course the typecasting that comes with that kind of honor can be extremely frustrating too.  It became so bad for Mr. Nimoy that he actually wrote a book in the mid-1970s called "I Am Not Spock".


This was a time after the cancellation of the original Star Trek when he was obviously having a hard time with his career and his inability to go beyond the Spock identity.  Luckily, two decades later he had learned to embrace the character enough that he wrote a follow-up book called "I Am Spock".


While he will always be remembered as Spock, Mr. Nimoy did indeed have many career successes beyond Star Trek.  These would include starring in the series "Mission: Impossible", hosting the series "In Search of...", directing two of the Star Trek movies ("Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" and "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home"), Directing the hit movie "3 Men and a Baby" and having some late-career success as photographer.



This is just a small sampling of his activities over the years of course.  We haven't even discussed his career before Star Trek or appearances in films like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", but it at least gives us an idea of his body of work.

Nimoy also really cashed in on the Spock character over the past couple of decades (in a good way).  He has made appearances and has guest starred in television shows mainly because of the continuing popularity of Spock.  He had a recurring role in the series "Fringe", and was referenced in the TV series "The Big Bang Theory".  Probably the ultimate Spock/Nimoy tribute came when J.J. Abrams cast him as Spock in his first two big screen movies meant to reboot the Star Trek franchise with new actors playing the iconic characters from the original cast.  Despite the fact that the new Star Trek movies ("Star Trek" and "Star Trek into Darkness") are supposed to take place in an alternate universe (or some such thing) Abrams was still able to find a way to fit the original Spock (dubbed "Spock Prime" for the films) into them.

Spock Prime

Obviously all of this information (and much, much, much more) can be easily found with a quick Google search or a trip to Wikipedia or IMDb.  So why have I decided to write about it myself?  Well, I guess I want to share my personal feelings for Leonard Nimoy and how I felt that, in some small way, he was actually a part of my own life.  I'm sure many fellow fans will agree and probably have their own version of my story.

I was born after the original "Star Trek" series was cancelled in 1969.  Despite that fact Star Trek seemingly has always been a part of my life.  I grew up in a time when the original series was in heavy syndication on TV.  I have many fond memories of watching it as a kid.  Pretty much as long as I can remember I've been a big fan of science-fiction.  Just how much of a role Star Trek had in influencing me in that direction I can't really say.  Would I have been as into sci-fi without Star Trek?  Possibly, but there's no way to know for sure.  It's just another Nature vs. Nurture question I guess.  I do know that by the time "Star Wars" came out in 1977 I was already quite the sci-fi nerd.

Anyway, in addition to watching the original series in syndication I also recall seeing some of the short-lived animated Star Trek series from the 1970s.  I didn't see much of Leonard Nimoy on "Mission: Impossible" back then, but I was very much into "In Search of...".  The show covered many unsolved mysteries like Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, UFOs, ESP, Stonehenge, The Bermuda Triangle, ghosts and on and on...  The subject matter was right up my alley, and having Leonard Nimoy as the host seemed to lend an extra dose of legitimacy and seriousness to what was actually a kind of silly show based mainly on conjecture and theory (as the opening narration itself states).  His authoritative voice--and the memory of the pure scientific logic of Spock--just made it all seem so real.


In Search of...

By the end of the 1970s Star Trek returned in a big way with "Star Trek The Motion Picture" on the big screen.  My two main memories of that time when I was nine years old are of going to see the movie (and not really "getting" it for the most part, but thinking it was cool to see the cast in something so new and impressive), and going to McDonald's to get a Star Trek Happy Meal!

Leonard Nimoy as Spock in the original "Star Trek" series
Spock as seen in the "Star Trek" movie series

By the time "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" was released I was very much coming into my own as a fan.  I didn't actually see the movie until it came out on cable, but I remember watching scenes from it on movie review shows like "Sneak Previews" with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, and being absolutely stunned that they killed off Spock at the end.  Of course I didn't realize then that it was Leonard Nimoy's wish to have the character killed off so he could (try to) get on with his career.  Luckily he changed his mind after the movie came out and not only appeared in, but also directed the next installment, "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock".  His directorial debut was so successful that he also directed "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home", which was one of the first movies that my friends and I actually went to on our own as we started to experience the freedom that came with getting our licenses and being able to do our own thing.  I was growing up, but Star Trek was still a big part of my life.  When "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" came out I was in the Army, but was back home to see "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" with my friends.  We also went to a sci-fi convention in Boston where Leonard Nimoy was a guest.  We didn't get to see him up close and get an autograph, but we did see him speak to the crowd in the auditorium.  That was a pretty cool moment for us!

The original cast went into semi-retirement (the characters, not necessarily the actors) after "Star Trek VI", but I always enjoyed seeing Leonard Nimoy whenever he'd appear in something new, as well as watching all the old Star Trek stuff and anything else he appeared in--like his guest appearance on William Shatner's 1980s series "T.J. Hooker".

T.J. Hooker

The advent of VCRs and DVD players allowed me to watch more Star Trek-related stuff than ever before, and whenever I wanted to.  Despite having had Leonard Nimoy "around" me all my life, there's still a lot of his work I've yet to see.  I still need to watch "Fringe".  I've started it, but haven't seen up to the point where Nimoy appears.  And now I regret not going to an exhibition of his photography that made the rounds a couple years back.

It's probably pretty obvious and unavoidable that the biggest "connection" I feel I had to Mr. Nimoy was through Star Trek.  Considering how big a part of his life and career Spock was and how popular Star Trek has always remained, that's not a big surprise.

Cast of "Star Trek: The Original Series"

Of course it was the entire show (and the entire cast) that really made the whole Star Trek experience, but something about Nimoy's humanity (despite playing a character who was only half-human) and Spock's logic always made him someone who seemed every bit as important and central to the Star Trek universe as Captain Kirk.  We've already experienced the loss of actors who played major characters in Star Trek, like James Doohan (Scotty) and DeForest Kelley (Dr. "Bones" McCoy).  I felt that both of those were major losses, but something about Leonard Nimoy passing feels just a bit more, well, I don't really know how to describe it.  Serious?  Final?  Important?  Devastating?  None of those words seems exactly right, but maybe if I could think of a word that encompasses all of them in some way that might work.  I'll bet there's a Vulcan word that would be perfect.  I suppose that some of the feeling might have to do with the fact that Nimoy was living in the age of online social networks and had embraced such sites as Facebook and Twitter.  That may have allowed us to feel like we were a bit "closer" to him in some way than we could have felt toward Doohan and Kelley.  It's a lot to think about, and I know it can seem strange for a person to mourn someone in the public eye who they didn't actually know personally, but that's the position I find myself in today.

Interestingly enough I just took my daughters to Boston's Museum of Science last week.  We saw a show at the Mugar Omni Theater.  Before each show there is a short introduction to and demonstration of the theater and its sound system.  Part of it is narrated by Leonard Nimoy.  As we listened to the intro last week thought about last year when the news came out that Nimoy was suffering from COPD and may have been in the end stage of his life.  Not having heard anything else on the topic for many months I was hoping that maybe he had improved and was doing well.  Then last night I felt like watching something late at night when everyone else in the house was asleep.  I chose an episode of "In Search of...".  About twelve hours later I heard the news that Nimoy had died.  It was  mentioned above that he had been active on Facebook and Twitter.  I think a perfect way to end this post (which could go on and on seemingly forever) is to share Leonard Nimoy's final Twitter post, which was shared a mere three days before he passed away...


Rest in Peace Mr. Nimoy.
You truly did live long and prosper.