McGinnis: Live long and prosperWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | email@example.com
In the world of pop culture, there are few characters more distinctive and memorable than the alien named Spock.
His face is the first many think of when they think of “Star Trek.” But beyond his presence as an iconic figure, Spock’s importance to the franchise as a guiding force and symbol for tolerance, nonviolence and, above all, an unwavering curiosity cannot be overstated.
That is who Spock is as a character. But Leonard Nimoy, as an actor, artist and man, was far more than that. He was a living icon and an inspiration. He was kind to his fans and aside from a few bumpy moments here and there, he was remarkably comfortable with being eternally identified with the role that made him famous. The role that he had made famous.
Nimoy had been obsessed with acting long before “Star Trek” came to him. A Jewish kid from Boston, the young Nimoy came to Hollywood in the 1950s, and found work in small roles on TV and film. He said he often relished playing roles that made him feel like an outsider or misfit, like the misshapen boxer he played in his first starring role, “Kid Monk Baroni.” Who among us cannot identify with feeling as though the universe was rejecting them?
Eventually, Nimoy’s talents caught the eye of producer/writer Gene Roddenberry, who had a plan for a sci-fi series called “Star Trek.” Roddenberry felt it was crucial to the show that one main character be obviously alien, to give the audience a sense of the show’s universe-spanning themes. In Nimoy, he saw a performer who could embody this central role while still betraying a core of humanity — or half-humanity, at least.
Spock would become the breakout character of the series, drawing in loyal fans from across the spectrum of demographics and leaving his mark on pop culture long after the show’s initial cancellation in 1969.
As the “Trek” cult endured and grew through its airings in syndication, Nimoy admitted to feeling a level of resentment toward the character, because no matter what he did elsewhere, the pointy-eared Vulcan seemed to be close by.
The implication that he “hated” Spock, however, was almost certainly overblown, a byproduct of public misinterpretation of the title of his 1975 memoir “I Am Not Spock.” Twenty years later, he named his follow-up book “I Am Spock,” as a way of reconciliation.
It was Spock who opened doors for Nimoy in the years following the franchise’s resurrection on the big screen. Nimoy would direct the series’ third installment, which saw Spock return from an untimely death. He took the helm again for arguably the best movie of the series, “The Voyage Home,” which demonstrated Nimoy’s deft touch as a comedic filmmaker. It was this aspect that led to Nimoy’s helming the wildly successful 1987 comedy “Three Men and a Baby.”
Following his pseudo-exit from “Star Trek” in 1991’s “The Undiscovered Country,” Nimoy continued to explore artistic pursuits that brought him joy — poetry, photography, etc. As before, Spock was never far behind; but by this time in his life, it was plain any resentment Nimoy had for that aspect of his existence had long been reconciled.
He appeared as Spock on episodes of “The Next Generation,” acting as a bridge that helped unify fans of classic and new Trek. His role as an older Spock in JJ Abrams’ rebooted “Trek” series gave those films much needed gravitas. And as he interacted with fans via his wildly popular Twitter account, he ended most every tweet with the signature line “LLAP”: Live long and prosper. Sp
It was through his Twitter feed that Nimoy announced that anyone interested could consider him their honorary grandfather. Appropriate, since to many, he already was. At a time when those passionate about geeky issues found themselves becoming more mainstream, Nimoy helped pave the way via his wildly popular character who embodied and ennobled many of geek culture’s traits — not least of which was that sense of being the eternal outsider, something Nimoy himself so identified with.
That’s why the loss of Nimoy cuts to the bone for so many. He, and the character he created, was one of the first steps toward acceptance for geeks everywhere. And by being an intellectual figure in a universe of brainless action heroes, he inspired countless individuals to study science and technology, paving the way for those who continue to change the world.
For millions, Leonard Nimoy was indeed a grandfather, a role model, a respected artist and a gracious and kind man. And in that spirit, he will never be forgotten.
Jeff McGinnis is pop culture editor of Toledo Free Press. He can be reached at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.