Leonard Nimoy passed away this morning at the age of 83. Like most science-fiction nerds my age (or even not my age), I knew him best as Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek. Those weekend reruns during my youth, as well as the late-night reruns during my high-school years, were vastly influential, helping me turn my imagination toward otherworldly creatures and strange planets with eerie red skies (they almost always had red skies on Star Trek).
As with every young person who was an emotional basket case, I gravitated toward Spock because he seemed like he had his shit together. He didn’t, of course. Every season included at least one episode where Spock would lose it and put his hand through a wall or another person. Then someone would remind him he was half-Vulcan, and he would pause, stand a bit taller, and straighten the hem of his uniform shirt. That resonated with me, too. It helped show me that it was possible to let myself feel uncomfortable or painful emotions and still come out the other side okay.
Spock was such an influential character that each subsequent iteration of Star Trek tried to have its own non-human, semi-emotionless character, with diminishing returns the further we got from the original: Data on The Next Generation, Odo on Deep Space Nine, Tuvok and Seven of Nine on Voyager, and T’Pol on Enterprise. None were Spock. None matched Spock. Arguably, only Data became something greater than the Spock-sized hole he was supposed to fill, although I do have a soft spot for Odo as well.
Back to Leonard Nimoy. Although Star Trek was a big part of my youth, it was not my only exposure to Nimoy, who showed up on my TV screen quite a bit. He was in a couple of seasons of Mission: Impossible (it was always a thrill when Nimoy showed up in whatever rerun I was watching because I already knew him as Mr. Spock then). He hosted In Search Of…, a weekly paranormal exploration program that fired up my imagination as much as Star Trek, if not more so. He also hosted another program I watched religiously in the early 1980s: Standby: Lights! Camera! Action!, a behind-the-scenes Hollywood docuseries that frequently focused on special effects and makeup in movies, resulting in many, many segments on monsters and aliens. It was right up my alley. Later, there was the “Marge vs. the Monorail” episode of The Simpsons, which is still one of my favorite episodes more than twenty years later. (IMDB tells me he also guest-starred on an episode of Get Smart, another favorite from my youth. I wish I could remember that episode, called “The Dead Spy Scrawls,” but my memory fails me.)
In films, I knew him from the Star Trek movies, of course, but also, perhaps most importantly, from Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which I’d argue is one of the few examples of a remake being better than the original (and I love the original). He doesn’t get the best scenes — Donald Sutherland gets most of them; Brooke Adams and Veronica Cartwright get a few — but Nimoy’s presence is enormous.
It always was, in everything he did. He was a big, instantly recognizable part of my formative years, and his passing leaves me deeply saddened. Rest in peace, Mr. Nimoy. You were, and always shall be, a legend.