I woke up this past Saturday morning to see the news via the Dark Horizons website that legendary actor, and cultural icon Leonard Nimoy had passed away at the age of 83 as a result of end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Seeing the news in print like that was something of a shock, given that Nimoy continued to be so active even in the latter part of his life, to the point where you would think he would go on indefinitely. After all, he was still out there playing his most iconic role of Spock only two years before in the 2013 film “Star Trek Into Darkness”, albeit a cameo. Nimoy’s passing marks the end of an era, and the entertainment industry has lost one of its great artists and statesmen.
Leonard Nimoy is of course most famous for his role in the classic show Star Trek, playing the half-human, half-Vulcan character of Spock. However, he had been a prolific actor prior to this, guest-starring on numerous TV shows in the 50s and 60s. He also starred in the 60s version of Mission: Impossible, and in the 80s became a highly successful Hollywood director, responsible for the very successful third and fourth installments of the Star Trek film franchise as Director and Executive Producer of the sixth film, as well as director the smash-hit comedy “Three Men and a Baby”. He was a host of the series “In Search Of…”, had a continuing role in the cult sci-fi series “Fringe” and there were also spots where he would pop up to make fun of himself, such as in The X-Files spoof episode of “The Simpsons”, or his appearances on “The Big Bang Theory”. Nimoy had a very successful career on all counts, but it was Spock for which he would ever be remembered, and he returned to the character on numerous occasions, and in doing so, helped legitimise further incarnations of the Star Trek franchise for future generations (such as his guest spot on Star Trek: The Next Generation, or in the most recent JJ Abrams reboot films).
My first exposure to Nimoy’s talents as an actor was through Star Trek when I was growing up in the 80s. The very first Star Trek I ever saw was the fourth film, “The Voyage Home”, where I noticed he was both the star and the director. Aside from the fact that I loved the film, I was intrigued by the Spock character more than any other in the cast because he had “things to figure out”; he had an internal conflict between his human and non-human sides. This journey of discovery who you are and embracing your differences was something I could easily identify with, and although I loved the cast of that show, the Spock character always stood out for me for this reason. As I watched more of what is now called “Classic Trek” beyond that film, I discovered that Spock had always been on this journey throughout the TV series and beyond, and it was a good study in how to develop an interesting character, something I would try to do later when I would write my own stories and make my own films. The gravitas with which Nimoy performed the role can also not be understated, and is no more reflected in comparison to Zachary Quinto’s interpretation of the role in JJ Abrams’ reboot films. Quinto is a fine actor, but his Spock doesn’t have the deep, penetrating authority that Nimoy brought to the role.
When a cultural icon passes on, specifically one like Nimoy who made such a strong impression on not just my generation but countless others, one cannot help but feel a sense of loss, if only in the sense of how his work captured all of our collective imaginations. This is truly the end of an era.
Leonard Nimoy: Live long and prosper.