A Tribute to Leonard Nimoy: The Man Who Made Logic Cool

Even if you’re not a science fiction fan, everyone knows Mr. Spock. He’s one of the most recognizable TV characters ever portrayed on screen. His Vulcan salute and catchphrase “Live long and prosper” have become part of pop culture. Spock made being an outsider fashionable. Long before Wolverine became popular as the outcast among outcasts, Spock was a half-breed genius anomaly among a group of space explorers, neither fully human nor fully alien. He was the oddity of the show and people loved him for it.

Before Star Wars came along, Star Trek was the predominant sci-fi franchise–its influence on the genre still reverberates to this day– and the most popular character from that series was Mr. Spock.  He was smart, formidable, logical and had super-strength. Spock quickly became a national icon, inspiring fan clubs all over the country, and buttons saying ‘I Grock Spock’. The critics, while lukewarm on the series in general, heaped high praise on the character of Spock and the man who played him. That man was Leonard Nimoy.

Few actors have ever been as indelibly linked to a popular character as Nimoy was to Spock, and with good reason; because Nimoy was amazing in the role. He earned three Emmy nominations for his work. Years later, TV Guide would name Spock as one of the 50 greatest TV characters of all time. (He was in the top 10.) The popularity of the character has lasted for 50 years, and Nimoy brought Spock to various other entertainment forums, including an animated series (voiced by Nimoy), seven feature films, guest appearances on Star Trek: the Next Generation, video games (Also voiced by Nimoy) , and pivotal appearances in the rebooted Trek franchise.

Nimoy’s sonorous voice and dignified deportment made Spock into a truly princely, gallant character. Nimoy had minimalist style of acting, which was the perfect foil to the larger-than-life method of William Shatner, who played series star Captain James Kirk. They complimented each other perfectly and became one of the best-ever TV combos. (Parenthetically, he first worked with Shatner in a 1964 episode of The Man of U.N.C.L.E. called “The Project Strigas Affair”.)

Nimoy also had notable roles in the Mission Impossible TV series, where he played former magician and IMF agent Paris, as well as portraying Dr. William Bell in a recurring role on Fringe. He hosted the paranormal investigation series “In Search Of…”, and appeared in the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Nimoy received some negative reaction from Trek fans in 1975 when he wrote his autobiography, “I Am Not Spock”.  Many fans misinterpreted the title and thought that the book was a slam on the character, and that Nimoy was trying to distance himself from Star Trek. However, that wasn’t exactly the case. The book discussed the “identity crisis” Nimoy was feeling post-Trek, because the popularity of Spock was still bleeding into every aspect of his life and career. Nimoy stated that in some sense, he had to merge with Spock, while at the same time, maintaining a distance between fact and fiction. He wrote, “The question was whether to embrace Mr. Spock or to fight the onslaught of public interest. I realize now that I really had no choice in the matter. Spock and Star Trek were very much alive and there wasn’t anything that I could do to change that.”

Nimoy claimed that, while working on the original Star Trek series, repeatedly getting into the mindset of the character affected his entire personality, even in his private life. He said that after a week of playing Spock, he would still be in character throughout Saturday, behaving more like Spock than himself. He said that while he was in Spock-mode, he became less emotional, but more logical, calm and rational. It wasn’t until Sunday that Spock’s influence on his behavior would finally fade, only to start the whole cycle over again on Monday morning. In the book, Nimoy would create amusing scenes of dialogue between himself and Spock, to show the difference between the two. In order to straighten out the fans misconception, Nimoy would write a second autobiography in 1995 called “I am Spock”, talking about his acceptance of sharing his existence with the character and coming to terms with his long love/hate relationship with Mr. Spock.

On February 2014, Nimoy was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A year later, on February 19th of this year, Nimoy was taken to UCLA Medical Center for chest pain. He died of heart failure on February 27, 2015 at age 83.

Nimoy’s trek through life is now over, and it can truly be said that he left a lasting influence and legacy behind him. Because of Spock, Nimoy will be remembered throughout the generations. Maybe people will still be talking about him in the 23rd Century.

R.I.P. Leonard.