February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy, R.I.P.

Well, the original Star Trek is well and truly done, now.  Scotty, Bones, and now Spock.  Only Kirk is left, and even a lead character needs a sidekick, a second banana, as Grantland has shown this week.  Yet if that's all you knew of Leonard Nimoy, or all you ever saw of him, you missed a lot.

Just off the top of my head:  There's Paris, the mysterious character he plays for two season in Mission: Impossible, back when he was in his single-name days.  He was terrific as the bad guy in an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (an episode he shared with William Shatner, ironically).  He was very good as the heavy - he also did a memorable turn as an arrogant doctor-murderer in Columbo - and wasn't it satisfying to see the good Lieutenant bust him at the end?  There was In Search Of..., which almost seemed to be a subtitle for Nimoy himself at that point in his career.

Was he an actor playing Spock, or was he Spock?  Nimoy himself seemed to struggle with the question; his two memoirs were titled I Am Not Spock and I Am Spock, and he was forever being recruited for voiceovers for space and supernatural programs.  He appeared in the Star Trek movies and directed two of them.  Whenever you saw him in a role, no matter what the genre, your first thought, more often than not, went back to the bridge of the Enterprise.  You always expected to see him arch his eyebrow, or pronounce something "interesting."

In the end, he came to terms with the popularity of the role, and the place in history which it secured him, even parodying it from time to time in shows like The Simpsons and Futurama.  And to dismiss Star Trek as a cult fad, to try and find his talent in the roles he played outside of that series, is to do him a disservice.  Spock was not an easy role to play; he had skills that could get the ship and its crew out of most jams, and he was frequently more level-headed, even more ruthless, than Kirk.  He was without most human emotions, which made his rare forays into humor - and his wonderful delivery of them* - unforgettable, He lacked the weaknesses of most fictional characters, which gave him an air of uncreative invulnerability to be sure, but also made him the most dependable of authority figures.  Never mind Allstate; you were always in good hands with Commander Spock.

*My favorite remains his unforgettable comment in The Trouble With Tribbles, regarding Kirk's disdain for a Federation official.  Baris: "You heard me."  Kirk: "I heard you."  Spock: "He simply could not believe his ears."  A shrug, and the eyebrow arches.

And my comment earlier, at the top of the page?  That's not really true, either, for as long as there are DVDs and streaming video and, well, memories, Star Trek will always live in the minds of its fans.  To say that Spock was a beloved television character is to state a fact.  To say that Leonard Nimoy was a product of that adulation is misplaced.  To paraphrase, the fans came for the character, they got the man.  And that was a pretty good deal.

It may be illogical to say so, but nevertheless: you've lived long and prospered, now rest in peace.

1 comment:

  1. I was never a Star Trek fan but do remember In Search Of which plugged away for years at 5.00 or 5.30 on Sunday afternoons

    Although Leonard Nimoy was of course featured in my favourite Simpsons episode of all time... the monorail!


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