Leonard Nimoy has passed today.
We all remember him as Spock from Star Trek. It was his most iconic role, but it was also something that he struggled with. He continually tried to transcend his identification with that role during the 70s, only to later embrace it fully.
So in the spirit of this struggle, here are a number of things we should remember him for today:
His other screen acting work, including Mission: Impossible and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and countless other guest appearances.
A varied stage career, including the role of Tevye in one of the most celebrated revivals of Fiddler on the Roof.
As a director, his work on Star Trek III and IV helped immeasurably to push the franchise forward, and their success made The Next Generation possible. Indeed, it’s telling that his directing career possible.
As a poet.
And possibly most importantly, as a visual artist. His photography has transcended his celebrity, and been recognized as important art in its own right.
So this is not simply the death of Mr. Spock, or the actor that played him. This is the passing of one of the most vibrant human beings of his generation.
So as we mourn, we mourn for our own loss. Mr. Nimoy had lived long, and he certainly had prospered.
And a few days ago on Twitter, I think he left a perfect piece of parting advice for us:
“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”
Why was Spock important? Why did Spock matter?
Leonard Nimoy was the son of immigrants. He grew up in a time when Jewish people weren’t accepted in many major industries. For comparison, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby went into comics because ad agencies wouldn’t hire them. West Side Story was originally conceived with a Jewish, Eastern European gang instead of a Puerto Rican one.
Star Trek aired at a time when a generation of young people felt alienated as never before. From the hippie movement to the civil rights movement, from the sexual revolution to opposition to American foreign policy, many young people stood alienated from the wisdom of their elders.
Spock was a character who embodied that alienation. The alienation of immigrants, the alienation of youth. He was a blatant validation that standing apart from your peers was not wrong, but instead something to be celebrated.
The best Spock Episodes:
Balance of Terror – Spock has to confront racism on the Bridge of the Enterprise. Probably one of my favorite Trek episodes.
The Devil in the Dark – The episode that most singularly captures the philosophy of Trek.
Journey to Babel – We begin to see Spock’s back story, including his strained relationship with his parents.
Amok Time – The Enterprise journeys to Vulcan for the first time, as Spock is obligated to fight to win his bride.
The Menagerie, Parts 1 & 2 – A flashback to one of Spock’s first missions on board the Enterprise.