The most human soul

James Bickford

Leonard Nimoy’s storied career leaves behind a diverse legacy

Famed actor Leonard Nimoy died last Friday of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at the age of 83. His death marked the end of a unique career, one rich and diverse yet entirely dominated by a single role: that of Mr. Spock on the original 1966 “Star Trek” television series.

Arguably the most popular character in franchise history, Spock’s signature pointy ears, as well as his “live long and prosper” salute, a Rabbis blessing, became pop culture icons. The character would be so popular that it would dominate his life, vastly overshadowing the rest of his career and causing an identity crisis that prompted him to write two books about his relationship with the iconic character: “I Am Not Spock” in 1975 and “I Am Spock” in 1995. In spite of this, Nimoy has often remarked on his admiration for the character, telling the New York Times, “Given the choice, if I had to be someone else, I would be Spock.” This admiration would stay with him for the rest of his life, and he often tried to act in ways he believed the character would.

He was not alone in his admiration of his character. Legions of fans gravitated toward Mr. Spock. Nimoy, who was a renowned poet, described to the Times the character’s appeal as that of an outsider: “Spock…is not home with earthmen or Vulcan; he can function only in the fabricated and neatly ordered society of the Enterprise. There, he knows who he is; he relates to his role very specifically, and this gives him a kind of cool.”

Spock became a cultural icon for fans of the show, inspiring many of today’s scientists and astronauts. In 1971, he even got a planet named after him. The incredible fan response to the character resulted in Nimoy receiving as many as 10,000 letters a day from fans, and the death of the character in the film “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” remains one of the most remembered and oft quoted scenes in all of Star Trek.

Despite all this popularity for his signature character, Nimoy held many other roles, disliking the idea of being remembered for only a single character. Even before Star Trek, he was being cast for roles of science and logic despite knowing little of either. One of his early significant roles was as Dr. David Kibner in 1978’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and he voiced Dr. Jekyll in the 1994 film “Pagemasters”, as well as playing Sherlock Holmes several times with the Royal Shakespeare Company. However, his most fateful non-Star Trek role would be in an episode of the television series “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”, the first project he starred in with none other than William Shatner, who would later become famous for playing Spock’s best friend and commanding officer Captain Kirk, starting a friendship that would last for the rest of Nimoy’s life.

Outside of acting, Nimoy enjoyed a passion for photography, retaining a camera he had built at the age of thirteen for the rest of his life. This passion would help him advise on the production and shooting of the original “Star Trek” series before the show got a substantial budget. He also dabbled as a director, directing both “Star Trek III: the Search for Spock” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”. His true passion, though, was poetry, something that his alter ego could never appreciate. Over the course of his life, Nimoy published seven collections of poems, most recently “A Lifetime of Love: Poems on the Passage of Life” in 2002.

Leonard Nimoy lead a blessed and diverse life, touching many fans and inspiring the next generation of scientists and astronauts to boldly go where no one has gone before. He was a complex figure, holding an intense love/hate relationship with the character he would be forever identified with. To quote Captain Kirk from “Star Trek II” in his eulogy of Mr. Spock, “Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most…human.” Leonard Nimoy lived long and prospered, and with the revival of the Star Trek film franchise his legacy will continue to inspire fans for years to come.