Friday, February 27, 2015

A Long and Prosperous Life

Click the arrow to watch astronauts Luca Parmitano and Mike Fincke comment on the passing of Leonard Nimoy. Video source: ReelNASA YouTube channel.

The planet lost Leonard Nimoy today.

His death was not unexpected.

For years, Leonard had warned on his Twitter account @TheRealNimoy and in other media about the consequences of his lifelong smoking. He'd quit decades ago, but suffered from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

I never knew Leonard personally, but was friends with people who did.

Some of you know that, when I lived in California, for many years I had a part-time gig working as a free-lance writer and consultant for Star Trek licensees. This was in the 1990s, during the heyday of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. I don't recall ever meeting Leonard personally, but saw him speak often at conventions and followed his work in various media.

His character Spock influenced many people, including me, to be passionate about space exploration.

That wasn't necessarily Leonard, at least in his early years playing the role. Actors for the most part simply perform the lines written for them by someone else. If they're lucky, they work for a production that allows actors to participate in evolving their characters.

Gene Roddenberry had the original idea for Star Trek, and wrote the first pilot “The Menagerie,” but Spock had many voices. Also deserving credit are staff writers Gene Coon and D.C. Fontana, as well as professional science fiction writers such as Theodore Sturgeon (“Amok Time”) and Jerome Bixby (“Mirror, Mirror”) who wrote episodes that contributed to the Spock mythos.

It's well documented that Leonard created the Vulcan salute, recalling as a child a secret gesture he saw Kohanim priests make during Jewish holy days.

But it wasn't Spock who passed away today. It was Leonard Nimoy.

Pardon the use of the adjective, but Leonard was a fascinating individual.

Leonard Nimoy as Spock poses circa 1966 on the Desilu back lot with his 1964 Buick Riviera.

He had a lifelong interest in photography. Among his published works was The Full Body Project: Photographs by Leonard Nimoy, a collection of monochromatic images of full-bodied women.

Leonard was a patron of the Griffith Observatory. The Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater was named after him due to a $1 million donation Leonard and his wife Susan made when the observatory was undergoing renovation.

Click the arrow to watch “Destiny in Space.” It has foreign language subtitles. Video source: robirus YouTube channel.

He also narrated the 1994 IMAX documentary, Destiny in Space. The National Air and Space Museum released a teacher's resource guide to accompany the film.

If you've read his 1975 book I Am Not Spock and its 1995 sequel I Am Spock, you know that Leonard had a lifelong dubious relationship with the Spock character. Most actors hate being stereotyped. He found work after the original series ended, appearing on Mission Impossible in 1969-1971, developing a TV movie and later a one-man play based on Vincent Van Gogh, and even released musical albums.

His character was killed off at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but Leonard was beginning to have his second thoughts so a tease was tacked at the end to show Spock's burial tube had soft-landed on the Genesis planet. He agreed to return for Star Trek III — if he could direct.

In my opinion, the three Star Trek films with which Leonard had significant creative input were the best.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock explored just how far our heroes would go to save their friend — the cost included Kirk's son, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and their careers.

The more light-hearted Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was a mainstream hit, but it helped spread global awareness of the threat posed to whales and other threatened species. It was inspired by Biophilia written by Edward O.Wilson. The biophilia hypothesis suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was the final film to feature the complete cast. Leonard and director Nicholas Meyer hastily came up with the idea of using the end of the Cold War as a metaphor for a rapprochement between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Nimoy was the executive producer, building on his successful directing career.

These three films were about something, which is what made Star Trek good when it was really, really good. For all his faults, Gene Roddenberry's genius was that he conceived Star Trek as a crucible for examining the human condition. I think Leonard Nimoy understood that better than anyone else who helmed the franchise, including Gene himself in his declining years.

Leonard's multiple artistic talents, as well as his personal interest in astronomy, are what I found to be so fascinating about him.

During his final years, he finally embraced his Spock alter ego. As the COPD slowly confined him to home, Leonard used Twitter to interact with the fans who loved him so much.

One of those fans was President Barack Obama, who issued this statement today.

Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy. Leonard was a lifelong lover of the arts and humanities, a supporter of the sciences, generous with his talent and his time. And of course, Leonard was Spock. Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the center of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future.

I loved Spock.

In 2007, I had the chance to meet Leonard in person. It was only logical to greet him with the Vulcan salute, the universal sign for “Live long and prosper.” And after 83 years on this planet — and on his visits to many others — it’s clear Leonard Nimoy did just that. Michelle and I join his family, friends, and countless fans who miss him so dearly today.

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