If you’re a fan of science-fiction, or one who passionately believes that mankind should continue striving to boldly go into the black, then I’m sure that like me, you’re saddened by the passing of Leonard Nimoy this weekend. Unlike so many in his profession, Nimoy never became a parody of himself. He remained relevant throughout his long career– from his early days of guest appearances on shows like The Twilight Zone to his final portrayal of the character that made him a pop culture legend.
The first time I ever walked the floor of a science-fiction and comics convention in costume (at the old Pittsburgh Comicon back in sixth grade), it was as Mr. Spock. As a kid I loved watching Star Trek re-runs, and I identified with Spock more than any other character. Sure, as the Science Officer he got to play with all the cool gadgets, and the ears were kind of neat, but I think it was because every young kid can relate to feeling like they’re different from all the other people around them and having to struggle to fit in, much like Spock did as a half-Vulcan living and working among humans. I don’t think any member of Enterprise’s crew was as complex as Spock, and in Leonard Nimoy, Gene Roddenberry found the perfect actor to show us that.
Leonard Nimoy meant more to me than Star Trek though. In grade school I would run home from the bus stop every day after school, rush through the door, grab a snack and settle in front of the TV to watch two things before I did my homework– super-hero cartoons and the paranormal documentary series In Search Of… I loved Nimoy as the host of that show. In my little boy’s mind, having “Spock” as the host brought a certain scientific credibility to the fantastic topics the series was discussing, while seeing Nimoy in street clothes without the pointed ears helped me make the distinction between the actor and his character. That show, sensational though it may have been, helped me learn to keep an open mind about the universe and to be skeptical of the term “impossible.”
In recent years I enjoyed watching Nimoy as William Bell on the Fox series Fringe (which, unlike Firefly, was thankfully given more than one season to develop), and like other Star Trek fans, I marveled at how J.J. Abrams used Nimoy’s Spock as a very clever bridge between two universes, allowing him to reboot an iconic sci-fi franchise without undermining its beloved foundation.
Watching as news of Nimoy’s death “broke the internet” on Friday, it was obvious to me that he had touched countless others in a similar way. It was amazing to see tributes from so many varied sources. I had expected the tributes from Nimoy’s colleagues as well as from NASA, since a lot of those who are now working in the space industry admit to being first inspired to explore the final frontier by stories like Star Trek and Star Wars. But as a German teacher, I was also thrilled (and a little proud) to see that even the German Foreign Office tweeted a tribute to Nimoy, which translated as “Sorry for not quite managing to open an extraterrestrial #Embassy on #Vulcan in time. #RIPLeonardNimoy #RIPSpock.”
Still, I think the tweet sent from Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, currently orbiting the Earth in the ISS, was perhaps the most poignant:
In the seventies, it was the passion and the persistence of the Star Trek fans that led to the first Space Shuttle being named Enterprise, and Joss Whedon admitted to the show’s influence on his work when he said that he tried to make Firefly the very opposite of Star Trek (in that his vision of our future out in the black in the Firefly ‘verse would not look as clean, polished and perfect as Roddenberry’s). For these reasons we can say that without Leonard Nimoy and the rest of the cast and crew of Star Trek, we wouldn’t be here today, trying to convince SpaceX to name their first manned Dragon capsule after Serenity. Without Star Trek, there would be no Firefly, and if hundreds of thousands of Trekkies hadn’t done the impossible decades ago with their letter-writing campaign to NASA, demanding a manned spaceship named Enterprise, we wouldn’t be looking forward to the day when we can watch a rocket break atmo with a crew who will boldly go into the black in a Dragon capsule named Serenity.
With the possible exception of Gene Roddenberry himself, no one person has embodied all that Star Trek means to so many quite like Leonard Nimoy. That is one of many reasons why I share the sentiments of Captain Malcolm Reynolds himself, Nathan Fillion, who said via Twitter: “I have been, and always shall be, your fan. Thank you.”
Godspeed, Leonard Nimoy. You lived long, and prospered.