The first thing I said after the New York Times alert appeared on my phone this afternoon was, “Spock can’t be dead!” And in a way, that’s true. Spock isn’t dead; characters don’t die.
But I struggle, as he struggled, to separate the actor from the role. Leonard Nimoy, who died this morning at age 83, alternately embraced and shrugged off his connection to the iconic Star Fleet officer, from his 1967 record Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space (an album that bears no resemblance to anything the canonical Spock might have created, but which was certainly — and charmingly — from outer space) to his 1977 autobiography, I Am Not Spock, to his 1995 follow up, I Am Spock. He didn’t have the self-seriousness of his friend William Shatner, who felt Kirk hang like a millstone from his classically trained shoulders. Nimoy would never tell a Star Trek fan, even in jest, to “get a life.” I think he understood that this, the world he helped create, was a kind of life.
Spock was a through line for the Star Trek universe. Nimoy and Majel Barrett (who would later marry Gene Roddenberry) were the only two original cast members who appeared in Star Trek’s 1964 pilot. And Nimoy was the only previous Star Trek actor who appeared in both J.J. Abrams reboots. In between, he appeared in six movies, The Animated Series, The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine (though via archival footage). As Spock, he’s mentioned in at least two episodes of Voyager. And though Nimoy last appeared on screen in character in 2013, if you count every tweet that ended in LLAP (Live Long and Prosper) — which is to say, every tweet he tweeted — Spock was with him until the end. They were inseparable, if not interchangeable, for over half a century.
Vulcans are conveniently long-lived, and so Spock never really dies in Star Trek. (Yes — spoiler — he dies in Wrath of Khan but — double spoiler — is resurrected in The Search for Spock, so let’s call this thing even.) His former TOS costars, on the other hand, could only appear on screen through technological or astrophysical accidents, or from under many layers of makeup, once the timeline leaped ahead in The Next Generation. Scotty is trapped in a transporter for 75 years, Kirk is enveloped in a paradisiacal netherworld for 78, and when a very aged Leonard McCoy takes a tour of the USS Enterprise-D in the first episode of TNG, it’s clear the 137-year-old doctor is no longer on active duty. Spock — who helped ratify the Khitomer Accords, aligning the Federation and the Klingon Empire — never stopped working. Even in 2387 — nine years after the USS Voyager returns to the Alpha Quadrant (spoiler alert??) — Spock flew a solo mission to create a black hole and save an entire planet. It is hard to imagine a Federation, in fact, without Spock.
I’ve been collecting Nimoy anecdotes all day. One friend sent me a picture she and her boyfriend took with Nimoy in 2010, and they all look so happy. “It’s pure joy!” she said. “He probably took 400 pictures but he was sweet and jolly with everyone.”
“He was like an exciting, kind grandfather.”
A friend of a friend once went to Leonard Nimoy’s house for Passover, a fact that makes me melt with jealousy. I begged for every detail I could get — and learned that Nimoy loved the tradition of it, but also that they sang songs that were not particularly traditional, and most of all that Nimoy’s voice rose above everyone else’s, eager and joyous in song.
Kirk famously eulogizes Spock in The Wrath of Khan as the most human soul he knew. And what does Spock represent if not humanity, or more specifically, the ideals of the Star Trek universe: hybridity and diversity, logic and compassion, duty and friendship, great hair and makeup. Though Spock lives on in the able performances of Zachary Quinto and perhaps, in the future, other actors — there is nothing like Nimoy’s smile when he sees Kirk again, alive.