I don’t think I have ever found a tribute piece as difficult to write as this one. Not due to any lack of love, but possibly due to a surfeit of it.
Over the last couple of years, it has occurred to me more than once that I will live to see my childhood heroes die and I’m not entirely sure how to deal with that on some days. The knowledge that I will live to see the deaths of Alex Ferguson, Morgan Freeman, Billy Connolly, Brian May… to name but a few of the figures that I have come to know and love through their work and success – yeah, I’m not sure how I’m going to deal with that. And then two nights ago I come home to the news that Leonard Nimoy has died at the age of 83.
It wasn’t unexpected. It certainly didn’t hit me with anything like the surprise and shock that Robin Williams’s death hit me with last year. I mean, the man had been in poor health for a while and had been pretty open about that fact.But it still left me with the sensation of a cold hard stone sitting at the bottom of my gullet. Leonard Nimoy is dead. And for all of the grace and respect that Zachary Quinto has brought to the rebooted Star Trek franchise version of the role, for me this means that Spock is finally dead. And my heart is so full that my feelings keep spilling over in tears and laughter.
I’ve been trying to draft this piece since then and quite frankly I’ve been getting nowhere. I mean, where do I start?
I could start by talking about how important Star Trek is/was to me, both now as an adult and as a child. About how I have such an attachment to the original characters as to almost consider them my friends, and how Spock was the greatest of those. I could talk about how Spock helped me to learn how to talk to my father, who reveres Logic with the same veracity and sincerity as Spock did. I could tell you how my Dad gave Nimoy’s Vulcan salute, along with the wish of ‘Live Long And Prosper’, in tears at the end of his speech at my wedding, and how the vast majority of my wedding guests replied to it with a toast which will stay in my heart forever. I could talk about how Kirk, McCoy and Spock’s friendship has been, and always will be, the greatest example of love I have ever come across between friends. It has become clear to me in writing this tribute that this is a separate post, which will need to be written under the Shandy Media Club banner – complete with quotes and clips and analysis. I keep getting distracted into this area and while it is important, it’s not what I acually want to talk about here.
All of these personal and analytical things are important, but they don’t really sum up the reasons why I loved Leonard Nimoy himself, rather than his most famous character.
Nimoy was a renowned actor who won many awards for his work. This included his television work, but also work in films and also in live theatre. In addition to this, he was also a gifted director. He studied photography at UCLA, an interest that he kept up throughout his life. He was a poet and a musician too. All round, a very talented and versatile artist. But that wasn’t the sum total of who he was.
He was a deeply religious man, who was fluent in Yiddish as his first language, both written and spoken. He worked on several projects which related to his Jewish background, including a documentary about Hasidic Jews and a film called Never Forget, about legal challenges to people who denied the holocaust. He also published a photography project called Shekhina Project about the feminine aspects of God’s presence, inspired by Kabbalah.
His photography work also included The Full Body Project, which recognises and celebrates genuine feminine beauty in all of its forms, not just those that the fashion industries would have us try to emulate. For his work on projects such as this, I considered Nimoy to be a feminist and an ally to the feminist cause. He never tried to speak for women, but he spoke alongside them and spoke positively about them.
He was a recovering alcoholic, who used his experiences and tried to reach out to help others who were suffering, including Nerine Kidd.
He had a pilot’s license and owned his own aeroplane. He also gained an MA in Education from Antioch College, in addition to his undergraduate degree in Photography from UCLA
Scratching under the surface of his well known and beloved ‘Spock’ persona, Leonard Nimoy was a highly intelligent and very gifted man, who was aware of his own weaknesses and who did his best to help others face and tackle theirs. He was willing to speak up for what he believed in, to publicise what he was passionate about, to try anything once and know when to quit if something wasn’t to his liking.
He was cast in Star Trek as Spock at the age of 35, which marked the beginning of his rise to fame.
There are times when I look at my life and panic, literally panic, about the idea that I’m not getting anywhere very fast. I place myself under a massive amount of pressure internally – I should be researching more, writing more, watching more, saying more, learning more… But of course, I will do more of all of those things, and there will be time to do all of that throughout a long life (I hope). I look at someone like Leonard Nimoy and remind myself that he took an entire lifetime to achieve all of this and he certainly didn’t view his life past the age of 35 as being hopeless or second rate.
Leonard often gave Spock’s greeting, his own invention, as a greeting to others – in meetings, interviews, correspondence, graduation addresses, you name it and he said it. His sign off in twitter habitually included the letters LLAP. It’s become ubiquitous, the phrase ‘live long and prosper’, to the point where we don’t often stop to think about what it means. I have had cause to twice now – once at my wedding when my father gave me that wish and now this weekend, as I’ve sat and thought and struggled to find the words for what Nimoy meant to me.
I guess what it comes down to is this. I have an especially profound respect for the people who practice what they preach in life. Nimoy used Spock’s catchphrase, Live Long and Prosper, long after he ceased to play the character, and it absolutely defines him and his approach to life. He lived long. Not just in years, but in accomplishments and breadth of experience and impact upon the lives of others. And he prospered. Not just in terms of financial gain and fame, but in his pursuit of all interests, his quest for excellence in all endeavours, his constant willingness to embrace and try new things.
I can only hope that I will, just like this man, live long and prosper. And if I can do that – in terms of my marriage, my career, my faith, my artistic efforts, my studies and continued learning, and my engagement with what it means to be alive and to be human – to the extent that he managed, then it will have been an excellent life.
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