Leonard Nimoy, an actor who became a worldwide cultural icon with his multifaceted portrayal of Mr. Spock in the groundbreaking 1960s sci-fi series Star Trek, died this past Friday at the age of 83. Nimoy’s characterization of the starship Enterprise’s First Officer functioned as the calm, intellectual super ego influence on Captain Kirk in diametric opposition to the id persona of the hyper-emotional Dr. “Bones” McCoy. The only alien crewmember in the original series, Nimoy gave creative life to the Vulcan philosophy of anti-emotionalism, logic and intellectual rigor and portrayed the consummate outsider bemusedly observing the confusing passions and paradoxes of the human species. In the series, the Vulcan race had long ago determined to exercise rigid control of their emotions in order to put an end the destructive internecine conflicts of their race. But as a mixed race man whose mother was from Earth, Nimoy also gave subtle expression to the human impulses beneath the surface of Spock’s greenish, pointy-eared exterior, which he sometimes struggled to control.
With its futuristic vision of the USS Enterprise as a powerful but peaceful galactic explorer, representative of a vast United Federation of Planets including an Earth that had survived near-apocalyptic conflicts in the 20th and 21st centuries, Gene Roddenberry’s idealistic creation was not an overnight sensation. Slowly but inexorably it gained in popularity, growing from a cult following during its short 3-year 1966-69 run on NBC into a global phenomenon, the relentless result of non-stop syndication, animated spin-offs, novelizations and popular paraphernalia & technical literature. By the time Star Trek was reborn cinematically a decade later in the aftermath of the mega-success of Star Wars, an entirely new audience was ready to receive its tales of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural space adventure, which Roddenberry sometimes slyly referred to as simply a “Western in space.” As the myriad sequels, prequels and entirely new associated TV series proved, Star Trek may have started out as geek culture but there was a hunger across a large segment of the world for this intelligently thought out future of our civilization and its flawed but noble heroes and charismatic super villains. And as geek became chic and the brainy outsider became the unlikely hero of a new industrial revolution in the Computer and Internet Age, it’s no great stretch to believe that it was Nimoy’s characterization of Spock, cerebral and outwardly implacable with hidden reserves of humanity, that helped inspire future computer titans like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in their youth. Building upon The Space Race mania of the 60s, Star Trek helped make science and technology as cool and appealing as the astronauts did — just ask all those fans who wound up working at NASA and in other engineering and technological fields. And, as not only the Enterprise’s First Officer but also its Chief Science Officer, no one was cooler than Mr. Spock.
Leonard Nimoy was also the cast member who had been with the franchise the longest, predating William Shatner’s Kirk and DeForest Kelley’s McCoy. Continue reading