Saturday, February 28, 2015

On the Loss of an Icon

Leonard Nimoy died yesterday after a lengthy illness he acknowledged was likely the result of decades of cigarette smoking. He became a cultural icon in the role of Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek series beginning with the very awkward pilot in 1965. Nerds and geeks around the world are in mourning, including yours truly.
I was a Trekkie--yes, in the original context of the word, basically a fan geek--from the very first episode. I was nine years old and the show affected me in ways I can only now fathom. First, it showed me that all sorts of people could not only work together but live peaceably in a tin can for five years at a time. Secondly, Uhura was a goddess of control--over herself and especially over the sometimes idiotic actions of the males with whom she worked. At nine, I wanted to be her. Hell, I still want to be her.  Thirdly, Doctor McCoy embodied the kind of caring but gruff physician who put up with a load of crap yet got in some excellent zingers now and then. His "bedside manner" is, to this day, the model for my own dealings with patients and bureaucrats. Checkov was Russian, cute, and funny while Sulu was his friend who happened to also be a genius, like the older brothers I wished I had. To my mind Captain Kirk was actually the least appealing of all the characters, a blowhard cowboy who undervalued everyone around him and only "got it" when he nearly lost them.

Photo courtesy of
But Spock...Spock captured the imagination of what it would be like to avoid the entanglements of emotion, yet in the end, he exhibited above all else what it truly meant to be human and humane. He suffered the ultimate conflict of self, divided between the logical dictates of an incredible intellect and the caring (which he had to keep hidden at all costs) of a heart larger than the universe. I practiced for hours before a mirror just to be able to raise one eyebrow as he did. It is a wonderful way to comment when words are too dangerous to utter.

Perhaps the most important outcome of my Star Trek fandom was the introduction of science fiction into my reading world. I devoured Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Bradbury and Vonnegut like M&Ms. My family considered me a freak, not only because girls weren't supposed to read that stuff but because I ran through the entire sci-fi collection in our school district library system in about four months.

Then I discovered the Star Trek novels! Oh. Mah. Gawd. Nerdvana, indeed. Novel #61, entitled Sanctuary, was one of my early favorites. Fast forward a decade or two and who do I meet at a local writing conference but the author of that novel, John Vornholt. John lives here in Tucson and has gone on to write one of the Next Generation movie scripts as well as many other books. He is a kind man I'm glad to still have opportunities to chat with now and then.

Just as the character Spock grew ever more humane and wise with the years, Leonard Nimoy shared insight, humor, and wisdom with multiple generations during his life. His LLAP (Live Long And Prosper) signoff on Twitter was delightful. His final Tweet was just four days before he died: 

There is nothing else I could say, except maybe -- Fascinating.

Happy writing,



Julie Eberhart Painter said...

A beautiful tribute, Jude. Many of my Trekkie friends feel as you do. He was my favorite character on the original series, and Captain Kirk wasn't.

Liz Fountain said...

Love it, and what an amazing human being that Vulcan was. :)

Keith Willis said...

Jude, great tribute to an excellent actor. Nimoy turned a 'fascinating' character into such a cultural icon that we use his trademark catchphrase without realizing it, and think LL&P the epitome of our existence (isn't it?).

Like you, I was young when Star Trek came out. I remember writing in to NBC as part of the campaign to save the show from cancellation (I was about 12 at the time). This show had such big ideas and showed humanity so much about itself--and Mr. Spock was an enormous part of that. A mirror held up to what it was to be human. Granted it was the writers that gave Spock his lines and internal conflicts--but it was Leonard Nimoy who put his own indelible spin on the character and made him both human and alien with panache.

For anyone wanting to reminisce about the original Star Trek and the cast, especially Leonard Nimoy, I cannot recommend highly enough David Gerrold's wonderful, witty The Trouble With Tribbles--which details not only the making of this episode, but so much more behind the scenes of the show. I read and re-read this book multiple times, and am going to have to go back and read it again now in tribute to L. Nimoy.


Jude Johnson said...

Thank you, Julie.

Jude Johnson said...

Well Said, Liz! :)

Jude Johnson said...


Thanks so much for that recommendation. I haven't read that in a long time, and it's a wonderful opportunity to revisit. The Trouble with Tribbles was, indeed ( ;) ) was one of my favorite all-time episodes.