So, if you haven’t heard–and I hadn’t, until just this moment, Leonard Nimoy has died. He was famous for many things–acting, directing, producing, the old Hollywood trifecta–but for all his accomplishments we all know him for one thing above all: Spock. Yep, Spock is dead, and there’s no reason to write a grand summary of his accomplishments when perfectly adequate obituary-type articles are available here, here, and here. As the hours and days pass, there will be others–dozens, hundreds. Blogs will explode, all of us wanting to say something about this man who, for me, has been a constant media presence in my life since my earliest recollection, despite that fact that the show that made his career, Star Trek, went off the air right around the time I was born.
Nimoy made a great effort to distance himself from the character, and it must have put limits on his career as time passed and, inexplicably, Spock grew from science fiction sidekick to cultural icon, but in the spirit of Shakespeare, which was repeatedly echoed in that show, I think Mr. Nimoy’s protests were a little bit contrived, his ambivalence a little too pragmatic. In American cinema, there are maybe a dozen characters that transcend the screen along with their actors: Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones or Han Solo, Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, Arnold Schwarzenhegger, Stallone, Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, but he is the only one who arguably wasn’t the leading man. In the new incarnation, it can be argued that the Kirk/Spock pairing is a buddy movie, but the original show was cut out to be The Captain Kirk Show.
Spock, as it turned out, couldn’t be kept down. Ironically, it was Nimoy’s layered performance of the supposedly emotionless alien who became the heart of the show, and that struggle against his emotions the core of what set Star Trek apart from so many other shows. As Kirk said, eulogizing Spock, “Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most–human.” That’s the core of it, right there. Nimoy as Spock became a mirror against which not only the other characters, but any man, was reflected. And if Nimoy didn’t understand that, he died today without truly realizing how great an accomplishment his career represents.