I learned not five minutes ago from a New York Times alert that actor Leonard Nimoy has died. Being the idiot that I am, my initial reaction was to try to post the absolutely most hysterical Star Trek reference about the passing of the iconic sci-fi star that the interwebs could ever possibly conceive. I have a number of hilarious friends and I know that the competition to make the most poignant, funny, yet tasteful joke will be in full swing by—well, it’s probably going on right now.
But man when I was a little adolescent punk back in the Disco-Gas Line Era of the late 1970s, reruns of the original Star Trek were a mainstay. Cable hadn’t expanded our channel base, so television content was limited to PBS, ABC, CBS, NBC, or the two UHF channels, one of which showed Star Trek reruns every day after school. I was a nerd in a nerd neighborhood with nerdy friends, so we talked A LOT about Star Trek, space exploration, teletransportation, advanced weaponry, warp drives, green women, photon torpedoes vs. phasers, phasers vs. sonic disruptors, phaser one vs. phaser two, Klingons vs. Romulans, and occasionally the importance of tempering emotion with logic and reason. I don’t want to misrepresent my cadre of geeks here. We did not learn Klingonese. We didn’t pretend our Hawaiian Punch™ was Saurian brandy (if you have any Saurian brandy pour a little out for Mr. Spock). No one owned pointed ears or primary colored sweatshirts. We loved the show; we just weren’t that committed. But being a human boy riddled with hormones and bad decisions, it was Commander Spock who was the unlikely role model who made me want to expand my knowledge, exercise, and generally not react violently to every little thing that irritated me—pretty much the opposite of Bill Bixby’s Hulk. Although, in retrospect, I could have made a bad role model choice. My best friend, Tommy (not his real name, but close), was more of a James Tiberius Kirk man and—I’m not making this up—won a fistfight once per week and bedded whoever he wanted. That was a life for a teenager.
But I had Spock, and Vulcan discipline served me well enough. I studied hard, trained martial arts, and when my friends and I were being chased around Broward County one night by a carload of thugs with guns, I was the one who suggested that we all remain calm and think logically because it sounded like something that Spock would say.
So, yeah, Leonard Nimoy became a pretty mockable character in the decades following the end of the series. It seemed that the film directors were constantly trying to work the maturing actor into the Spock role despite his advancing years and the inconsistency with Vulcan aging. Leonard Nimoy could never really get out of the shadow of his Spock character and maybe he didn’t want to. Everything the actor said in interviews sounded like a half-Vulcan pretending to be human, like he was always in character. And of course, there’s the “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” music video that Leonard Nimoy made to display his talents, but could never live down.
Without guys like Gene Roddenberry, William Shatner, and Leonard Nimoy, a lot of us kids would have grown up to be very different people, and I have to believe that in most cases, the impact was positive. It definitely was for Tommy. So, instead of writing things like, “Why couldn’t it be Jonathan Frakes?” on Facebook, perhaps the best way to remember the actor who taught us all that self-control is cool is to hold back the tears and remind ourselves that living things are not meant to be permanent fixtures, even when we really like them.