Most people who get to know me – and all of my nerdy obsessions – are surprised to hear that I’ve never been to a sci-fi convention. One of the reasons why is because I’ve never had an interest in meeting the people who gave life to my childhood heroes. I avoid following celebrities on social media or reading behind-the-scenes gossip for the same reason: to keep art separate from the artist, to avoid knowing that these people are just as flawed and human as the rest of us.
I regret, though, never meeting Leonard Nimoy, despite having several opportunities to see him in person. If I had met him, I would’ve only taken a few seconds of his time. No autographs, no pictures, no questions – just an opportunity to say “Thanks for everything” and be on my way.
Nimoy, who would’ve have turned 85 this week, accomplished a vast body of work outside of Star Trek during his lifetime – but it’s Mr. Spock, a part he would play on and off for almost fifty years, that was his greatest creation. Few characters have left more of an impact on pop culture than Spock, a man of two worlds who balanced logic and compassion in the hopes of doing the most good for the most people possible.
Of course, Leonard Nimoy is not wholly responsible for Spock. Much of the credit also goes to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and the writers who shaped Trek’s early years. Nimoy wasn’t even Roddenberry’s first choice for Spock. That honor goes instead to Nimoy’s Star Trek co-star and dramatic foil, DeForest Kelley. After Kelley and another name synonymous with ‘60s television, Batman’s Adam West, turned down the role, it was finally offered to Nimoy.
While other actors could’ve donned the pointy ears, Nimoy’s contributions turned an interesting role into a beloved character. Nimoy is credited for creating both the Vulcan salute and Vulcan nerve pinch, two of the most iconic elements of Star Trek. More importantly, Nimoy deliberately played Spock not as a person without emotions, but as a person who is constantly battling to control his emotions. This struggle instantly resonated with viewers when the character first appeared in 1966.
It’s one of many reasons why, after only a few episodes, Spock became the breakout character of Star Trek. Spock didn’t just become popular – the character and the actor playing him became a role model to countless fans. Spock was intelligent, reserved, objective – and those qualities made him an outsider. In this current age where nerds have inherited the Earth, it’s easy to forget how singular a character Spock was once upon a time and how rare it was for people who didn’t sit at the cool kids’ table to have someone they could identify with who was cool.
And that’s not all. Spock was the very personification of Star Trek’s ideal of a diverse, inclusive society. Spock is one of the first positive multicultural characters in American pop culture. Nimoy understood, even embraced this facet of the character, as this response to a young fan’s letter shows. By the 1980s, Nimoy was one of the main creative forces behind Star Trek movies, devising the stories for the later films and directing two of them. The films he helped create tackled issues such environmentalism and prejudice, pleaded for tolerance and diplomacy and even embraced mortality by celebrating the original casts’ advancing years.
And at the heart of it all: Leonard Nimoy as Spock. The character was originally designed to look at the human condition objectively, warts and all. As Leonard Nimoy grew older, the character of Spock became more human, without ever losing the qualities that made him such an icon for generations of fans. By the end of Nimoy’s life, with his final appearances in the J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, Spock had fully become a celebration of who we are… and who we can be when we acknowledge our frailties and look at the world with, well, a little logic.
Jeremy is Customer Service Specialist at HPB Corporate