Mark Clark, author of two Star Trek books for the Applause FAQ series, pays tribute to both Leonard Nimoy and his most famous role.
I knew it was coming. Leonard Nimoy was 83 years old and had been in declining health, suffering from chronic pulmonary disease. He had officially retired from the screen years ago, although he continued to make occasional cameo appearances, including in the two J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek movies. Nevertheless, when word of the actor’s death arrived this afternoon, I was stunned. It seemed unreal, impossible. How could immortal face of one of the greatest entertainment franchises in history, a source of comfort and inspiration for millions of fans, really be gone? Wasn’t there some way to ship his body to the Genesis Planet for regeneration?
That’s when I realized that I was confusing Nimoy with his most famous character.
I was hardly the first to do this. Even Nimoy struggled to keep his personality separate from that of his Vulcan alter-ego, as evidenced by his two memoirs, one titled I Am Not Spock and a second titled I Am Spock. The confusion is understandable. Nimoy was not Spock, but Spock is Nimoy. Although created by Gene Roddenberry, the half-human, half-Vulcan first officer was animated by Nimoy’s personality – intelligent, unflinching, analytical, yet approachable. The actor improvised many of Spock’s trademark expressions and gestures, including the FSNP (“Famous Spock Nerve Pinch”) and the split-fingered Vulcan salute (derived from a rabbinic gesture of blessing); the character’s indomitable spirit was Nimoy’s too. And Spock, more than any other character, came to embody the essence of Star Trek.
Although Nimoy is gone, Spock remains. He stands as an eternal testament to Nimoy’s ability to craft a complex, nuanced, believable character.
However, Spock is far from the only testament. I wrote extensively about Nimoy’s life and career in my books Star Trek FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the First Voyages of the Starship Enterprise and Star Trek FAQ 2.0: Everything Left to Know About the Next Generation, the Movies, and Beyond. As I noted there, although none of them earned him fame, Nimoy authored several remarkable performances in television roles prior to Star Trek (on shows like M Squad, Combat!, and The Lieutenant) and he did the same in later, non-Trek movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). He also had a successful career as a writer, producer, and director, helming Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, along with the comedy smash Three Men and a Baby, among other pictures. Nimoy declined the opportunity to create what became Star Trek: The Next Generation due to the demands of his feature film career. And movies were only one of Nimoy’s pursuits. He was a restless, polymorphously creative individual who also enjoyed careers as a recording artist, poet, and fine art photographer.
The pressures that arrived with fame led him to alcoholism during the making of the original Star Trek series. But he eventually found sobriety, and in later years always seemed to have a smile and a handshake ready for fans and castmates alike – even his onetime rival, William Shatner, with whom he belatedly developed a deep and abiding friendship. I confess that it brings a smile to my face to picture Nimoy being reunited, somewhere, with DeForest Kelley.
Surely Spock must be embarrassed by the outpouring of emotions displayed by fans and colleagues today, following Nimoy’s passing. But Nimoy, I’m certain, welcomes and appreciates all the affection.