Many times for actors especially in the genres of science fiction, fantasy and superheroes, they become so associated with the role that it becomes impossible to not talk about both them and their character as if they were one and the same, especially among the fandom. This is especially true for Leonard Nimoy, who will always be remembered as the Vulcan Mr. Spock, the science officer on the star-ship Enterprise and Captain James T. Kirk’s right hand man. While there has been no shortage of aliens in film and television, perhaps even more so with the advent of computer animation, towards the very top of the list of those who are considered most iconic, Spock would be towards the very top. There was something strange and alien about him, without him being green skinned and having antennae on his head, and yet at the same time almost human.
Much of this came from Mr. Nimoy’s performance. Prior to Star Trek Nimoy appeared on many older TV shows including Dragnet, Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza. However it was Spock that would become his star-making role. Initially NBC didn’t want Spock on the show, fearing his appearance was too “demonic” due to pointy ears and eyebrows. Further in the original pilot, Spock had reddish skin. However when the pilot was reshot, Spock was one of the few elements that remained. In fact he is the only character along with Captain James T. Kirk to appear in all 79 episodes of the original series, plus the six films based on the original series and it’s short lived animated spin-off.
Nimoy perfectly played the stoic, logical Spock, yet at the same time, when the story called for it “gave into his human emotions” he handled it with great ease. Nimoy was also the one to develop the Vulcan hand gesture. When the time came to shoot the episode “Amok Time” that saw them traveling to Spock’s home world, something was needed for the Vulcan greeting. Nimoy, who was Jewish, had visited an Orthodox synagogue as a child with his grandfather and had always been impressed with the sign of blessing given by the priest and adopted a variant of the greeting gesture.
He also developed the Vulcan neck pinch. Since Spock favored logic over emotion, claimed to be a pacifist and a vegetarian, he felt a more non-violent-lethal, and less barbaric form of fighting was needed for the character. The combination of the neck pinch and the hand gesture are part of the reason why he is so identified with Spock as in his own special way, he helped create the science-fiction icon. While Rodenberry may have dreamt up the character, Nimoy not only brought him to life but fleshed him and his culture out, demonstrating that acting is indeed a collaborative effort and that writers and directors can only do so much in terms of developing a character.
When Star Trek ended Nimoy moved on to other projects, including Mission: Impossible, and tried his hardest to break the stigma of Spock, even writing an autobiography I am Not Spock. He even directed a couple of the Star Trek films and oddly enough the movie Three Men and a Baby. He also became an accomplished poet, photographer, and even recorded several songs, including the guilty pleasure “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”. He performed many times on stage, including the roll of Tevye for a revival of Fiddler on the Roof. Along with other science fiction icons like James Earl Jones, Patrick Stewart and Avery Brooks he became one of the go to actors for narrating documentaries on space exploration, proving that his voice was meant to guide us through the stars. As such, he could never quite escape the pointy eared Hobgoblin and came to love the character and would go on to reprise the roll on the 2009 reboot of Star Trek as the time traveling Spock Prime and in its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness. He even voiced the character as an action figure on an episode of the CBS sit-com The Big Bang Theory.
While I watched reruns of the show, as well as the feature films on DVD ( even crying when Spock died in Star Trek II), it wasn’t until I became an adult and was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder that I really began to identify with Spock’s character. In an advanced utopian future where an African, an Asian, a Russian, and a Scottsman could stand shoulder to shoulder with red-blooded Americans like Kirk and McCoy, Spock still felt like an outsider. He could read up as much as he could on customs of many worlds, including Earth, but he still struggled to understand little things like humor or complex emotions. As such friends were often frustrated with him, yet in a pinch they could count on him. He reminded us that while it can be hard at times to navigate a strange world, with the right crew around you, you can go boldly.
Nimoy left this world, and journeyed into the undiscovered country this weekend from complications due to COPD. It feels strange to say Live Long and Prosper, especially when Mr. Nimoy already left us with the perfect farewell on his twitter:
“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”
Thank you, Mr. Nimoy for the memories you gave us.