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Remembering Leonard Nimoy, Who Was More Than Spock

Remembering Leonard Nimoy, Who Was More Than Spock

Leonard Nimoy, Spock of “Star Trek” fame, has died at the age of 83. Nimoy leaves behind a legacy as an actor, director, and singer of joyfully campy songs about hobbits. Above all else, though, Nimoy stands as the man behind one of the most beloved characters in science fiction history, someone so memorable that people who barely saw a minute of “Star Trek” still had affection for the actor.

Nimoy began his career with small parts in B-movies like “Them!” and episodes of “Perry Mason” and “Dragnet,” but he rose to stardom as Spock, the Vulcan science officer of the Starship Enterprise on “Star Trek.” Spock was frequently accused of being bloodless or emotionless by DeForest Kelly’s “Bones” McCoy, but Spock’s logical detachment from humanity never equaled disinterest; rather, he always maintained a healthy curiosity, as well as a sense of alienation that was bridged somewhat by his friendship with William Shatner’s Captain Kirk (Nimoy said he related, as a Jew who grew up in Catholic Boston). What’s more, that detachment allowed Nimoy to make every slight shift in Spock’s expression or gestures speak volumes.

Over the course of three seasons (five if you count the Animated Series) and six movies (plus cameo appearances in the J.J. Abrams-directed reboots), Nimoy’s Spock became the most popular character in the series, a figure whose actions, however cold they seemed to others, always had purpose and were usually for the better. Nowhere was that more clear than in Spock’s famed (if short-lived) death in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” which still stands as the emotional peak of the franchise some thirty years later. Nimoy was also a sign that, even if the movie itself stunk (the Shatner-directed “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”), there was at least one actor you could count on for a few indelible moments. 

His soothing presence was so reassuring that when Nimoy turned it on its head in Philip Kaufman’s nightmarish remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” it was genuinely unnerving. There, his (terrific) work felt like a betrayal, with Nimoy’s acclaimed psychiatrist gaining the trust of his patients only to turn them into pod people. That he could be so creepy while still retaining the near-constant calm and rationality of Spock elevated Kaufman’s stinging take on ’70s San Francisco’s complacency to its status as one of the best horror remakes of all time.

Nimoy had other triumphs, directing one of the better (if goofier) films of the original “Star Trek” movie series (“Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”) along with one lesser effort (“Star Trek III: The Search for Spock”) and a hit comedy (1987’s “Three Men and a Baby”). He wrote two memoirs, collections of poetry and made memorable guest appearances as himself on “The Simpsons” and “Futurama.” But even as he ceded the spotlight and the character to Zachary Quinto in the latest installments, he remained Spock in the hearts of “Star Trek” die-hards and casual fans alike. Spock’s motto of “Live long and prosper” will no doubt make headlines and tributes everywhere, but Nimoy, who was very active on social media, found a more than fitting final note himself:

More thoughts from the web:

Terry Flores, Variety

He wrote two autobiographies. The first, published in 1977, was called “I Am Not Spock.” Though “Star Trek” fans thought he was distancing himself from the beloved character, Nimoy had always enjoyed playing the character but was also using the book to tell about other aspects of his life. The book features dialogue between the thesp and Spock and touched on a self-proclaimed identity crisis because he became so associated with this character. His second autobiography, “I Am Spock” (1995), showed his embrace of that association. Read more.

Virginia Heffernan, The New York Times

In one of his most memorable “Star Trek” performances, Mr. Nimoy tried to follow in the tradition of two actors he admired, Charles Laughton and Boris Karloff, who each played a monstrous character — Quasimodo and the Frankenstein monster — who is transformed by love. In Episode 24, which was first shown on March 2, 1967, Mr. Spock is indeed transformed. Under the influence of aphrodisiacal spores he discovers on the planet Omicron Ceti III, he lets free his human side and announces his love for Leila Kalomi (Jill Ireland), a woman he had once known on Earth. In this episode, Mr. Nimoy brought to Spock’s metamorphosis not only warmth, compassion and playfulness, but also a rarefied concept of alienation. Read more.

James Poniewozik, Time

In the hands of another actor, Spock’s rigid reserve might have played as an absence—the cold nothingness of logic in place of human heart. As Nimoy interpreted it, it was a presence, the suggestion of greater currents of wisdom beyond the electrical jolts our hearts and brains pump out. Combined with Nimoy’s mellifluous voice and wry stage presence, this gave Spock a kind of hipster beat-poetry character that was oddly in step with the times in the fiery, spiritually questing ’60s. The idea of subordinating one’s own passions to the larger universe was a spiritual idea that goes beyond any particular religion, even beyond religion itself. Read more.

Matt Singer, ScreenCrush

Like a lot of teenage dorks who watched “Star Trek” (myself included), he had a bad haircut and his ears stuck out. But Spock was unflappable in the face of danger, and wielded his intellect as a weapon far more powerful than any phaser. No wonder he resonated with fans. He was the man we hoped we’d someday become. Read more.

Keith Phipps, The Dissolve

Ultimately, Spock seems to have been a case of the right actor finding the right role, and then learning not to be overshadowed by it. It helps that, off-screen, Nimoy always seemed to remain good-natured and accommodating about his most famous role. And if he couldn’t help seem a little Spock-like in his public persona, maybe that was just evidence that he invested much of himself in the character. Read more.

Graeme McMillan, Hollywood Reporter

“Given the choice, if I had to be someone else, I would be Spock,” he wrote at one point. It’s easy to see why: Spock, as “Star Trek” fans could see early on, was filled with many of the best parts of humanity in general, and of Leonard Nimoy in particular. Without Nimoy, the Vulcan would have had no kindness, or humor. Through Spock, Nimoy showed audiences the best of himself, and themselves, as well. Read more.

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