IN MEMORIAM: Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)
“Whatever I have given, I have gained.”
These words, said by Leonard Nimoy himself, serve as a testament to a pillar of the science fiction and science community. Sadly that pillar is no longer with us, as Nimoy died on Friday of complications due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, just a month shy of his 84th birthday.
Words cannot express how sad Nimoy’s passing makes me. It seems odd to say that, considering I never met the man and he was, technically, a celebrity. Why should I mourn someone who probably never came within 100 miles of me? And yet I do. Because this man in his own way had a significant impact on my life as a child. Two distinct memories standout about Nimoy from a personal standpoint. As a young child in the early 80s I had the rare privilege to have cable, and of course my favorite channel was Nickelodeon. One show in particular stuck out. Some of you may remember it. The program was called “Standby: Lights, Camera, Action,” which was hosted by Nimoy from 1982 to 1987. It was here I was introduced to the beautiful world of film. Not just what was on-screen but the costumes, the makeup, and the script production. The movies ranged from Star Wars to James Bond. And at every turn there was Nimoy interviewing directors, screenwriters, and producers with a candor and affability you rarely see on television anymore. The show was my foundation for the love of the cinema.
My second memory of Nimoy probably accounts for me currently writing on this site. When I was five or six, I remember being at my grandparents’ house and my Uncle Gil coming over one day. He brought over a VHS tape of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. From the opening overture of Alexander Courage’s classic theme music, to the final scene showing Spock’s coffin on the Genesis planet, I was hooked. It was my first exposure to “Star Trek” and to Nimoy. I found this logical and somehow aloof character of Spock strangely endearing. And when I saw this seemingly emotionless person give up his life to save the starship Enterprise and his best friend James Kirk it struck a chord with me. It was the first time I’d ever seen true selflessness on-screen. And his dying words, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one,” have always stayed with me. That and his other famous line from that scene, “I have been and shall always be your friend.”
Born in Boston Massachusetts to Orthodox Jewish Russian immigrants, Nimoy was involved in the theater as young as eight. While, his parents didn’t like the idea of Nimoy becoming an actor, his grandfather encouraged him always. It was Nimoy’s grandfather and parents who also instilled in him a sense of selflessness. Nimoy has always been a true friend to his fellow man. His charity efforts included causes like the American Cancer Society and the American Foundation for Equal Rights. He also made contributions to the creative arts, LGBT organizations, and various health and science groups. I was also surprised to discover that Nimoy was in the United States Army Reserve for almost two years, and assigned to Army Special Services, putting on shows for Army personnel. Leonard Nimoy was no stranger to demons either, having been a recovering alcoholic for the last forty years. However, Nimoy was also a family man, married twice with two children Julie and Adam. Adam followed in his father’s footsteps becoming a television director in his own right.
Aside from his philanthropy, Nimoy was one of the rare people in Hollywood that was actually a good guy. In fact he was similar to Tom Hanks in that you couldn’t really find anyone who had anything bad to say about him. While I didn’t get to meet him personally, an acquaintance of my mine from college did. My acquaintance was a bodyguard who happened to work the Toronto comic-con and had the pleasure of escorting Nimoy to and from the hotel. He stated Nimoy was one of the most cordial and decent human beings he’d ever met. Despite being famous he asked questions and was interested in my friend’s life. In an era where so many movie stars are self entitled pricks, Nimoy was a breath of fresh air in the industry.
Nimoy was also no stranger to social media as he had an extensive Twitter following. Most of his tweets promoted science and understanding and always ended with LLAP, short for the words he made famous, “live long and prosper.” I think my best friend Mike Pagano summed it up perfectly today when he wrote, “His tweets were an island of solitude in the sea of chaos that is Twitter; doses of logic and compassion in an Internet and society that could use much more of both.” After this garbage on social media in the last twenty-four hours regarding the color of a stupid dress I couldn’t agree more.
Although Nimoy is known best for his role as Spock, his interests were even farther reaching. Nimoy had many memorable stage performances in productions like Fiddler on the Roof, Twelfth Night, and Camelot. In addition to acting, Nimoy also did voice work and directed, including three Star Trek films. Additionally an accomplished singer, Nimoy released five albums and was involved in a comic book series called “Primortals.” He was heavily involved in the scientific community as well, associating with greats such as Neil degrasse Tyson and Isaac Asimov. Leonard Nimoy was also an accomplished photographer in later years, and had some of his work displayed in the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Nimoy even wrote two auto-biographies, one called I Am Not Spock and one called I Am Spock. The “Star Trek” alumnus wrote his own beautiful and touching poetry too. Perhaps foreseeing the end, Nimoy posted these lovely words on Twitter just days before his death, “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.”
Someone once wrote that the measure of a man’s life can be recounted in the family and friends he leaves behind. It’s probably fair to say that Nimoy’s “Star Trek” friends were also his family and some of their words were extremely poignant. William Shatner said, “I loved him like a brother. We will all miss his humor, his talent, and his capacity to love.” Zachary Quinto put it simply saying, “my heart is broken.” But perhaps fellow friend and activist George Takei said it best, “The word extraordinary is often overused, but I think it’s really appropriate for Leonard. He was an extraordinarily talented man, but he was also a very decent human being.”
While Leonard Nimoy maybe didn’t live as long of a life as his fans may have wanted, he prospered. He most definitely prospered.
And so did we.