Note: Today’s post is largely written by science teacher and Nimoy superfan Mandy Kirk, with some additional notes from me, Michelle Hlubinka.
Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish reality and fiction. This is especially true when a character is so deeply beloved as Mr. Spock from the original Star Trek television series, as brilliantly embodied by Leonard Nimoy, who passed away today at the age of 83.
We’re here to praise Nimoy’s life beyond the series and the films and the J.J. Abrams reboot. After Star Trek, he took a very different direction, several of them in fact. He wrote poetry, songs, and starred in highly illogical roles. He explored his spirituality. He made and remade his own life/identity over and over again, and “tinkered” with what it meant to be alive, to be human, to be him but also to be Everyman. It’s unsurprising that he included the Johnny Cash classic “I Walk the Line” in one of his albums.
He grew up a few blocks from the current location of Museum of Science, Boston, and they posted this audio memory of him today, to share his fun prelude to the big screen Omnimax shows at MoS. “Since we first presented the preshow in 1988, Nimoy has helped welcome more than 15 million visitors over 27 years to the Mugar Omni Theater, inspiring generations of future scientists,” the museum wrote.
We also enjoyed discovering this amazing response that Nimoy sent to a girl who felt outcast for her biracial identity back in 1968. (Thank you, bloggers at A Mighty Girl!)
He created art about identity, about feelings and expression, he used language and visual arts to explore and express his views of life, spirituality, sexuality. Check out Nimoy’s The Full Body Project or Shekhina for evidence of the influence of his teacher, the photographer Robert Heinecken, and this slideshow on the NPR blog for full-color work (see right for one example). This most recent project, Secret Selves, makes Mandy think hard about who she’d be if he were behind the camera! Binka adds: I was delighted to get to know this other side of him, in the context of his art, when he came to San Francisco a decade ago with a beautiful show of his work. Mobbed by fans at busy Trekker conventions, this was an event at which the character Spock, I think, would also have felt more at ease. People took his intellect and talent seriously in that intimate gathering in a small gallery near the Embarcadero. There are countless interviews about his art, but I recommend this one with the MIT Technology Review from April of last year. (The audience is our people!)
Nimoy created a safe space for people to be different, for people to struggle with and be innovative with being outside the conventional norms. This was a huge gift to the quirky ones who often grow up to become innovators and Makers.
It’s so easy to forget that the stories we lived with him and the lines uttered by our dear Spock were written by others. As Spock, Nimoy made the universe seem safer. He was the voice of reason, of calmness, of the triumph of will. And yet he was also human, also passionate, also knew the power of friendship: “I have been….and always shall be….your friend.”
Leonard Nimoy prepared us for this moment at least twice. First, there was the heart-wrenching, heroic scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (above) that’s hard to watch without feeling the trauma we endured watching it in a theater decades ago. Then, we were so moved by the enchanting time-travel sequences in the J.J. Abrams prequel Star Trek (2009). Nimoy’s reprise as ancient Spock in the latter left us sobbing almost as much as that earlier death scene, knowing then his end was near, and that it would signify the passing of many of that generation, those multi-talented Makers we’d long looked up to.