Today, it was officially announced that Leonard Simon Nimoy died aged 83 from complications involving chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This news came as great sadness to fans of the Star Trek franchise and of the actor alike. Notably, Nimoy titled his two autobiographies I am not Spock and I am Spock, referencing his relationship with the character.
Nimoy was the heart of the Star Trek franchise, being the only member of the regular cast to feature in the pilot episode, The Cage. Co-star William Shatner, writing on page twenty-three of Star Trek Memories, claims Spock was written with Nimoy as a first choice, having previously worked with showrunner Gene Roddenberry in The Lieutenant.
Nimoy’s final appearance was in Star Trek Into Darkness, the controversial sequel to the franchise reboot, which saw the creation of an alternate reality. In this new continuity, Nimoy returned as Spock to pass the baton to Star Trek‘s new era. As part of this, the new Spock was recast as Zachary Quinto, who had a good working relationship with Nimoy. What made Star Trek Into Darkness polarising was its remixing of Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan, considered the best of the franchise’s cinema adaptations. In the latter, Spock sacrifices himself to save the Enterprise and its crew, logically arguing that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. Spock was to return from the dead, and Nimoy would even direct his own Star Trek feature, but the reversal of this scene in Star Trek Into Darkness, in-which Spock takes the role originally filled by James Kirk, and effectively becomes an action hero, was thought to be a step too far. Nimoy’s final scene in the series was brief, cameo was via a screen, giving Quinto’s Spock information on Khan Singh, the villain responsible for his death. Some considered this to be an unneeded throwback to the original series, with others still feeling that Nimoy’s previous appearance at the end of the initial reboot, sharing the iconic Vulcan salute with Quinto, to be a far better last appearance.
But it was a salute passed-on to the public by Nimoy from Jewish ceremonies, and something that’s become part of the religious affection for the show from fans, with it being the universal symbol of the Vulcan philosophy of logic and diplomacy over war. No symbol has ever been affiliated with one actor in quite the way the Vulcan salute was affiliated with Nimoy, and is part of the reason he’s considered to not have just been Spock, but to have been Spock, inserting his own personality into the role in such a way that he defined the core fundamentals of Star Trek.
He was present at the very beginning, and has survived to be included in the latest release, if only in a small role. The phrase “live long and prosper” has been the four words spoken by Spock that inspired millions of fans worldwide. Everything that makes Star Trek a humanist parable comes from the symbols, beliefs and proverbs of a character written for this particular actor. And as Kirk said himself at the end of Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan…
“…Of my friend, I can only say this… of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… Human.”
1931 – 2015