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His Soul Was the Most Human: Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)

Leonard Nimoy was eighty-three-years-old when he died. Health problems that occurred towards the end of his long life aside, it would seem that his time on earth was time well spent. He took a boiler plate alien character for a TV show that was in trouble right from the get-go, and he turned it into one of the most iconic personas of the 20th century.

Spock is the thing that Leonard Nimoy will be remembered for. Within that character, Nimoy established one of the greatest case studies of all time for the fact that genre works, things that fall under such umbrellas as science fiction, or horror, can have a depth of characterization as profound as anything that supposedly speaks to a higher cause. 

Nimoy had well over forty years to flesh out Spock, and he did. Nimoy’s Spock is a Vulcan coming to grips with his partial humanity. When we met Spock in 1966, he was an alien going to great lengths to repress his human side. When Nimoy reprised the role in 2009 for the Star Trek reboot, Spock was an old man who had finally struck a balance between Vulcan and human. In his own singular way, we watch him rejoice at being reunited with his old friend Kirk, albeit in a much younger form. We also see him experience the unimaginable sorrow of knowing his home planet of Vulcan has been obliterated. Between 1966 and 2009, Nimoy explored Spock to an extent that is rarely afforded to actors. It is perfectly fine to associate Nimoy with Spock forever, but I would also hope that anyone who does this understands the incredible range Nimoy expressed in playing Spock across three television shows, eight feature films, and more. I also hope they understand the touch-and-go, love-and-hate relationship Nimoy had with Spock over the decades. Two of the books he wrote during his life try to make sense of that relationship. Both I Am Not Spock and I Am Spock are, to put it in Spock terms, fascinating to that end. 

Nimoy’s various performances as Spock are a wonderful gift, taken as a whole. On a causal level, the character permeated culture, and became something that people knew without actually knowing the first thing about Trek. For fans of the franchise, Nimoy’s Spock represents everything that is good. He is the definitive example of the troubled-but-ultimately-good marriage of humankind and the rest of the universe that Star Trek has related through its many, many forms. Watch Nimoy in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the “Amok Time” episode from Star Trek: TOS, in Star Trek IV, or even in Star Trek VI (my personal favorite), and you will see one of the great actors of the 20th century. 

Nimoy as Spock, alongside William Shatner's Captain Kirk and DeForest Kelley's Dr. McCoy (Image  © Paramount). 

Nimoy as Spock, alongside William Shatner's Captain Kirk and DeForest Kelley's Dr. McCoy (Image © Paramount). 

But when Nimoy died, and when we collectively wept upon hearing the news, we were not just sorry that a great actor passed away. Beyond the multitude of relationships we as an audience enjoyed with Spock, we also felt a connection to Nimoy himself. That connection may have consisted largely of interactions at conventions, his Twitter postings, how we interpreted his work as Spock, or a combination of those elements and other things, but it was a profound link nonetheless. When Nimoy died, we lost a spiritual grandfather. We lost someone we honestly loved, as much as we can love someone that most of us either met only briefly, or not at all.

Nimoy understood how we felt about him. Although he struggled with it at times, he seemingly made peace with his most memorable creation in the latter half of his life. He relished how meaningful Spock was to his fan base. At one point, he offered to “adopt” anyone on Twitter who was in need of a spiritual grandfather. Obviously, a generous portion of the entire planet responded. 

He loved Spock as much as we did. He loved the mythology and culture of the Vulcan race, too, which he played a significant role in developing. Nimoy’s Jewish roots helped to create the Live Long and Prosper hand gesture that has become a universal symbol for friendship and kindness. 

Still, if you really want to mourn the loss of Leonard Nimoy, read his poetry and take a look at his photography. Check out non-Trek performances like the Mission Impossible TV series, the 1970s Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake, or any instance in which he sent up the public perception of his real-life persona. Read interviews in which he barely discusses Spock, or doesn’t even mention him once. Do all of these things, and you will discover a man of numerous talents. Nimoy’s photography alone showcases an individual who had a profoundly compelling interest in both the physical and the spiritual plane. His acting career offers up his knack for timing, delivery, and subtlety that was sometimes mistaken for “Spock, but without the ears.” 

For those who wish to celebrate the life of Leonard Nimoy beyond Spock, you are not going to be lacking in things to choose from. Nimoy had a remarkable life and career. He’s a stunning example of how artists can change lives for the better. He was humbled by this, and immensely grateful for what he was able to accomplish during his time on earth.

If you live a life that is half as interesting and substantial as Leonard Nimoy’s, you will know that you lived a good life. Yet we mourn anyway. 83 years, dozens and dozens of film and television appearances, photography, music, spokesman, and so much more, and yet we feel like he just wasn’t here long enough. The people who feel that way aren’t just Trekkies, as you can discover from a simple google search. Those who feel like they lost their grandfather represent the diversity of our times. They create a mosaic of more hopes, dreams, ideas, and empathetic traits that could pave a road to the end of the Milky Way.

When we talk about how much we miss Leonard Nimoy already, that is why. 

Nimoy's final message to his fans. 

Nimoy's final message to his fans.