Last week while having breakfast and drinking my morning coffee my daughter looked up from her smart phone and said, “Oh no, Spock died.”
I knew immediately what she meant. The actor, Leonard Nimoy, the man who portrayed Spock on Star Trek, had passed away. This information struck me in an odd way. I was saddened of course but not surprised. I knew the man was ill and had been hospitalized and, not to seem callous or unemotional, but what happened was inevitable. Honestly the thing that struck me most was the fact that my daughter seemed effected by the news, even if just a little.
My daughter, much to my dismay, is not a Star Trek fan. This is despite her father’s incessant rambling and pleading for her to ‘just give it a chance.’ Alas, no, she is not a fan in any of the shows various iterations or movies. Still, the knowledge that Spock died caused a moment of sadness and loss. Spock is of course a cultural icon, and the actor who played him is mourned even by those who were not directly influenced by the show that spawned his existence.
I find that remarkable. Fascinating even.
Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy.” —President Obama
For myself it cannot be understated the impact that Original Series had on my childhood. I loved that show. I watched the episodes in perpetual rerun and knew them by heart. I learned as much trivia and behind-the-scenes information as I could. I watched the animated series, read the novels and comics, I had the Mego dolls complete set including replica bridge playset and transporter. And of all the characters Spock was my favorite. He was the alien, the one who was out of place, he looked different, thought different and was just a little too smart for his own good. I could identify with Spock.
At some point in the mid-70s I went to a Star Trek convention with my aunt. I honestly can’t remember when it was or how old I was. I do remember it was in a strip mall and it was tiny and it was raining. Leonard Nimoy was the main guest that day.
He sat behind a long folding table signing autographs. I waited in line and when it was my turn he looked down at me and in a big booming voice he said, “And how are you?” I was so nervous I just looked at my shoes. My aunt took over the conversation. They talked about nothing for a bit until we were shuffled away, but as we left he gave us the Vulcan salute and told me to, “Live long and prosper.” I was so happy.
Later at that convention I bought a plastic phaser and a t-shirt replica of a Star Fleet uniform. It was gold not blue. Spock may have been my favorite but I wanted to be Kirk. When I got home my mother asked how my visit with Dr. Spock was. She always called him Dr. Spock which always annoyed the living crap out of me. I don’t remember exactly but I probably rolled my eyes and corrected her in a loud whine. Yes, I was an obnoxious kid but c’mon get it right.
In the 70s Nimoy wasn’t just all Trek of course. There was In Search Of, another show I watched religiously. This was a pseudo-scientific program that purposed to give you the “facts” behind such phenomena as the Bermuda Triangle or Bigfoot or aliens creating the Pyramids. It was all very much in the von Däniken Chariots of the Gods theory that civilization was created by extra terrestrials so very popular in the 70s. A theory, incidentally, that was the polar opposite of Roddenberry’s vision. Fascinating. All in all In Search Of was just one of many “hidden truths” shows at the time and would have been forgotten but for the gravitas and legitimacy given by Spock himself.
And then there were the movies. These were huge blockbusters, events I attended with a gaggle of friends throughout middle school, high school and college. At the end of Wrath of Kahn, when we thought the character was gone forever, there were real tears as if we lost a friend along with the crew of the Enterprise. I knew he’d be back of course, he was Spock after all and Spock can’t die. Not really.
And now it is 2015 and Leonard Nimoy has died. He lived a long life and prospered. He was much more than just Spock, he was a writer and a photographer and he acted in many other roles in film, TV and theater. But he will be remembered for that one iconic role and when he died the tributes seemed to pour out from everywhere; his peers, the president, writers and artists, scientists and astronauts. He was praised as an inspiration to not just sci-fi fans but generations of scientists and engineers around the world and above it as well. In a touching tribute astronaut Terry Virts tweeted a Vulcan salute from the International Space Station above Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Nimoy’s home town.
I remember in 2009 I went to see the J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the franchise with the original characters recast. It was opening weekend and the theater was full. And when Nimoy appeared on screen playing his version of his character a woman shouted, “Hooray, real Spock is in this!” There was a collective smile throughout the theater. Real Spock indeed.
So maybe he was a part of your childhood the way he was for me or maybe, like my daughter, you only knew him as an icon or by reputation; either way Leonard Nimoy made a lot of people happy. He entertained us and inspired us. And that’s a good life.