Saturday, February 28, 2015


Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015

Death comes for us all, eventually, and that's just as true of childhood heroes as it is of everyone else. My brother David texted "Spock DEAD" last night, which jolted me. But as the news sank in, I realized that I hadn't been all that surprised—not really. The man was old. Leonard Nimoy leaves behind an impressive oeuvre as well as millions of loyal fans. His activities took him from acting to singing to photography to spoken-word performances to movie directing to political activism. Ragingly liberal, he was also unfailingly kind and humane—the more modest, less hubristic half of the Shatner-Nimoy Ashkenazi Jewish friendship. I admit that, as both Shatner and Nimoy got on in years, I morbidly wondered which of them would step first through the Great Door. The two men are only days apart in age (Shatner, also 83, was born March 22, 1931; Nimoy was born four days later on March 26, 1931, but always managed to seem the older of the pair), after all, so it was a tossup. Shatner had packed on the pounds over the years, but Nimoy had been thin—and an inveterate smoker until thirty years ago, when he quit. This wasn't enough to halt the appearance of the COPD that apparently killed him. There's comfort, though, in knowing that Nimoy died at home, surrounded by family and friends. 83 is a good, long life, even by today's medical standards, and Nimoy's mind was sharp until the end. Many people have commented on his final utterance on Twitter: "A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP." As so many on the Net have said, the man truly lived long and prospered.

There are too many online tributes and hagiographies to Nimoy to count, so I'll just talk for a bit about his impact on my life. Nimoy's Spock was a half-breed with one foot in two very different cultures. Was it any wonder that I, as a half-Korean, could relate to him? I admit I didn't get into Star Trek until I saw "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," which was the first good Trek film. I was originally a Star Wars fan (in one of his autobiographies, Nimoy thanks George Lucas for revolutionizing big-screen science fiction, which made possible the rejuvenation of the Trek franchise). But I was in the theater with my parents in 1979 when Mr. Spock stepped aboard the Enterprise, approached an intimidated Chekov (Walter Koenig) and sonorously intoned, "Permission to come aboard, sir" in "Star Trek: The Motion Picture"... and the audience around me erupted in insane applause: Spock was back where he belonged. As with many fans, I too enjoyed Spock's logicality and quiet compassion, which seemed the antidote to the frequently uncivilized way in which people, both on the silver screen and in real life, acted toward each other. Spock was, in a real sense, the most human of the characters on Trek, and I enjoyed how the movies took the original TV character and made him even more human. By "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country," Spock was telling his protégée Valeris that a person must have faith that the universe will unfold as it should. That's not a line that would have been uttered by the more logical-positivistic Spock of two decades previous, but it made perfect sense given the contemplative man Spock had become over time, and smart writers like Nicholas Meyer understood this.

So now Leonard Nimoy is gone, and the world is a slightly dimmer place. Life will go on, of course; the universe will continue to unfold as it should (as long as people stop messing with the space-time continuum, dammit!). Nimoy will be remembered for Spock, but some people will also smile as they recollect his other, quirkier performances, such as his singing of "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" (enshrined here on YouTube) and his hilarious Audi commercial with "new Spock" Zachary Quinto. I regret that I never saw "Fringe"; I understand that Nimoy was a recurrent character in that series and had found more fans thanks to his role as Dr. William Bell. But the impression I have is that Nimoy's touch turned pretty much every project he was involved in to gold (except, perhaps, for projects that required him to sing).

The photo I've chosen to accompany this post reflects my favorite part of Nimoy's career: his turn as Spock in "Star Trek II." I still consider that movie the best of all the Trek movies—yes, including the sleek, new, chrome-plated ones produced so recently by JJ Abrams. The costume design for "Trek II" gave the crew of the Enterprise a more overtly military look, which altered the tenor of how we perceived Spock himself. There's even a drill-sergeant-like moment in "Trek II" in which Spock barks, "Company—dismissed!" to his trainees, and that's a side of Spock we see nowhere else. This, then, is how I'd like to imagine Spock: calm, competent, logical, humane, disciplined, in control, and ready for action.

I suppose we should be thankful that such a large repository of Nimoy's writing and performances exists. The man himself is gone, but his body of work remains, a legacy to be treasured. Rest in peace, Mr. Nimoy. You will be remembered with fondness.


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