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Live Forever and Prosper: Leonard Nimoy, RIP

Live Forever and Prosper: Leonard Nimoy, RIP

Leonard Nimoy was many things. He was
an actor, poet, director, photographer, philosopher, and singer. To most he was
Spock, the half-Vulcan, half-human chief science officer of the USS Enterprise
in the 23rd Century on several different iterations of Star Trek.
Nimoy was even part of a plastic model kit from the 1970s, pointing his
phaser at this three-headed snake-thing that never appeared in any episode of
classic “Trek” that I can remember. The box for this model kit declares that
Mr. Spock is “Star Trek’s most popular character,” and this is true.
 
Nimoy wrestled with being made into
the kind of icon that begets action figures in his 1977 book I Am Not Spock,
before throwing in the towel with his 1995 follow-up, I Am Spock. And Spock
endured. He died in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), only to come back
to life in Star Trek III: the Search for Spock (1984). I still get choked up
when during Spock’s funeral in the earlier movie, even though I know—through
repeated viewings–that he really implanted his katra, or life essence, in Bones
before semi-sacrificing himself and assuring his resurrection. “Remember,”
Spock says, performing a stealth mind-meld on Bones. “The needs of the many
outweigh the needs of the few,” he tells Kirk as he is (kind of) dying. The
tears just well up in my eyes at this point.
 
Nimoy appeared as Spock in one of the
better story arcs in Star Trek: the Next Generation. He also played old Spock
alongside of Zachary Quinto’s young Spock in 2009’s Star Trek
reboot. Not even clueless Hollywood execs and J.J. Abrams’ destruction of
Vulcan itself could keep Nimoy from being one with Spock. He reprised the role
in Star Trek: Into Darkness” (2013) in what would be his last appearance as
the character, and by character, I mean himself.
 
When Nimoy, the man, the human being,
produced a book of nude photographs of large women called “The Full Body
Project” in 2007, it reminded us that he was actually pretty damned cool
without having to be half-Vulcan after all. But then again, in “Shekhina,”
the 2002 photographic series that started to get the actor more serious
attention as a photographer, he used black and white stills of nude women of
all body types as a rumination on the feminine manifestation of God in Jewish
mystical tradition. Nimoy fashioned the familiar V-shaped hand gesture that
became synonymous with Spock from the Hebrew character shin, the first letter
of Shekhina’s name. Nimoy the photographer was still Spock, or at least
half-Spock.
 
To me personally, Nimoy was a
barnstorming stage performer, working the “Star Trek” convention circuit until
a few years before his death last week at the age of 83. I first saw Nimoy
live in person at the San Mateo County Fairgrounds sometime in the early 1990s.
He worked the stage alongside William Shatner as Starfleet’s Odd Couple, arguing
back and forth with occasional truces to impart some reminiscence of the
original series on the rapt trekkers in attendance. Nimoy was pro “Next
Generation” all the way, while Shatner knocked what was then the current
“Trek,” citing that it lacked the zest or machismo of the
original—or mostly, that it lacked Shatner. This red meat for trekkies
produced boos from one side of the room and cheers from the other, kind of like
a pro-wrestling show.
 
The last time I saw Nimoy was at Star
Trek Las Vegas in 2010. He once again took the stage with Shatner for some
playful back-and-forth, only this time they were joined by Patrick Stewart.
The whole scene may have been contrived by the convention’s organizers, but
this was a big moment. The positive energy of seeing those three icons on stage
in that bland, hotel ballroom was undeniable. It gave me chills, and a sense of
something bigger than myself that going to church or catechism never gave me. Star Trek was secular; Star Trek was rational (except for maybe in “Spock’s
Brain” or some of the other third season episodes)—but it was also religious.
 
Nimoy attended his last Star Trek
convention in Chicago in October 2011, nearly a year after I last saw him in
Vegas, but there was always a hope that he’d stroll onto those makeshift stages
again at some convention somewhere, preferably in San Francisco,
the home of Starfleet, where Spock once gave that Vulcan neck pinch to a
belligerent punk rocker on the Muni in “Star Trek IV”—the one with the whales.
We’ve had the benefit of most of the original actors making themselves available at
conventions for so long now that it’s hard to believe that they’ll not just live long
and prosper, but live forever and prosper.
 
For Nimoy that isn’t so, but I like to
think he mind-melded a little piece of Spock’s katra into all of us.
 
Bob Calhoun is the
author of “Shattering Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay and Conflict on the Expo
Floor
” (Obscuria Press, 2013). His work has appeared in RogerEbert.com, Salon, Gawker
and the San Francisco Chronicle. You can follow him on Twitter @bob_calhoun.
 

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