Godspeed, Leonard Nimoy


I was a kid the first time I watched The Wrath of Khan. I was a dedicated TNG fan and I’d seen the one with the whales, but when I bucked my bedtime and settled down to catch a late-night showing, I had no idea Spock dies at the end. As the credits rolled, I fucking sobbed.

I must have known he was coming back. But there I was, crying. But that’s how good Leonard Nimoy was.

I’ve been a Star Trek enthusiast since before I can remember and of course I had to watch all the movies after my brush with Spock’s death, but it wasn’t until the SciFi channel (that’s what they called it then) started showing reruns in the early 2000s that I got a chance to watch the original series systematically. I lived thirty minutes outside of town down a dirt road smack in the middle of the woods, so until I got my driver’s license, I spent quite a lot of time with Spock and his fellow Enterprise crew members.

And you quickly realize that it is Spock and Co. While Shatner is the famous cheeseball face of the series, it’s Leonard Nimoy who held the show together and, I am firmly convinced, is largely responsible for its becoming a beloved, decade-spanning franchise. Don’t get me wrong—I love showboating, rule-bending, womanizing Captain Kirk, too. But he would have swamped the show with his sheer stage presence had it not been for the counterweight of Nimoy’s cool-headed, relentlessly logical Spock. Also, the man could arch the hell out of an eyebrow. Never in the history of television has there been such a brow arch.

Nimoy just seemed to approach the role with so much thought. The Vulcan salute was Nimoy’s idea, by the way:

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the fat lady photography.

The Full-Body Project is often relegated to humorous trivia, and I can admit as trivia goes, it’s pretty great. (Mr. Spock taking up nude photography of anybody is sufficiently incongruous as to be delightful.) But it’s difficult to overstate how much it meant to me at the time. I’d gone off to college and quickly realized that betraying too deep a knowledge of Star Trek is, in many circles, rather a social faux pas. I never stopped adoring the show and Spock and Nimoy, though. And when I first came across those photographs, I was in the process of reckoning with the fact that, unless I was willing to dedicate the rest of my life to an endless battle of the bulge, I was probably always going to be, more or less, a fat person. I was certainly never going to be skinny. It’s very easy to forget how much the way people talk about fat people has changed in the last ten years. Remember Shallow Hal?

And here was Leonard fucking Nimoy not just taking respectful photographs, but talking like this to the New York Times:

“The average American woman, according to articles I’ve read, weighs 25 percent more than the models who are showing the clothes they are being sold,” Mr. Nimoy said, his breathing slightly labored by allergies and a mild case of emphysema. “So, most women will not be able to look like those models. But they’re being presented with clothes, cosmetics, surgery, diet pills, diet programs, therapy, with the idea that they can aspire to look like those people. It’s a big, big industry. Billions of dollars. And the cruelest part of it is that these women are being told, ‘You don’t look right.’ “

My point is not to claim Nimoy for the fat ladies. It’s that over the years, he’s played a similar role for many, many people who feel they somehow don’t fit with the norm. As my colleague Charlie Jane Anders writes over at io9:

So not only did Nimoy make an invaluable contribution to the success of Star Trek (inspiring other “outsider” characters like Data and Odo), he also helped change the way pop culture represented people who were strange and different. His sympathetic, nuanced portrayal of Spock meant a lot, not just to science fiction lovers like Asimov, but also to anyone who didn’t identify with the narrow range of types that were available in mass media at the time. There’s a reason why fanfiction started with stories about Kirk and Spock — they provided a way to envision masculinity, and male friendship, that was deeper and richer, and sometimes stranger, than what was otherwise available.

Hence today’s tributes from places like NASA:

We were lucky to have him as long as we did. So thanks, Leonard Nimoy.

Contact the author at [email protected].

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