Sunday, March 01, 2015

Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)

When I was about six-years-old our family adopted a new dog named Blue. Blue’s previous owner seemed a strange man. He claimed blue was the dog’s favorite color and that “Star Trek” was his favorite show. I don’t believe I’d ever heard of a dog having a favorite television show before. In fact, dogs hardly seem to even notice the TV in my experience. But hey! We were open-minded people. On his first night with us, Blue was a nervous wreck, so at 7 p.m., when syndicated shows began in our area, we turned the TV to “Star Trek” to see if the dog responded. The dog didn’t even notice the television was on, but “Star Trek” somehow became one of the shows that ended up playing in our house on a regular basis. And no, that dog never sat down and watched with us.

We were never what would be described as Trekkies, or Trekkers, as it were. We just kind of watched it if we happened to stumble upon it while flipping through the channels. I remember when it switched from early evening syndication to late afternoon. The release of the first movie was kind of a big deal for my brother and I. We were disappointed with its slow pace like so many others—although later in life, I would come to appreciate what Robert Wise was striving to achieve.

When “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn” was released in theaters, my attitude was much more relaxed. Another motion picture didn’t seem necessary as the first movie left little impact and the TV show had begun to fade from our family routine. I’ll never forget the night my brother went to see it with friends, however. When he returned he had to tell me all about it. I don’t believe I had ever seen the Khan episodes in the original series, because I was unaware of the character before the movie. My brother broke the whole movie down for me scene by scene. It had obviously affected him. He left out some of the late film developments, however.

So, I went to see the film late in theaters. I’m sure my newfound interest was based entirely on my brother’s excitement for it. What I hadn’t been prepared for was the death of Spock in the film’s final moments. Even at such a young age, I understood the iconic nature of the character. Kirk’s eulogy of Spock actually had me in tears. The “Star Trek” canon is not exactly known for raising emotions to such levels.

I’m sure no actor really likes to be stuck in a certain role for their entire life, but Leonard Nimoy embraced his inseparable connection with the alien role. Yes, he played other parts, and I explored those roles after “Star Trek” became one of many pop culture influences in my life. I was particularly fond of Nimoy’s work in Philip Kaufman’s remarkable remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” in 1978. I was also happy to see him involved in other science fiction projects late in his career in cinema and on TV in the mind-bending series “Fringe”.

Nimoy understood that he would forever be associated with the Vulcan role that made him famous, however, and pursued many different artistic outlets. His music career certainly required an acquisition of taste for his singing, but it produced two albums and a surprising cult hit with the “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”. He penned several scripts and a couple of autobiographies. He was a respected photographer. He was also the first in a series of “Star Trek” stars to turn out a successful directing career. Helming the third and fourth installments of the “Star Trek” motion picture franchise, his next directorial effort proved that he wasn’t restricted to the “Star Trek” franchise or even science fiction, as his comedy “3 Men and a Baby” became a surprise hit.

It always returned to Mr. Spock for Nimoy, however. One of my favorite turns in his iconic role was the underrated final mission of the original Star Trek crew, “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”. Sprung from a story idea by Nimoy himself, this cinematic episode sees his logical Spock turned sleuth in a who-done-it mystery that deeply explores the nature of prejudice and the struggle for progress necessary in improving race relations, a frequent but inexhaustible subject matter for the franchise as a whole and a key subject for his own iconic character of Spock.  It was also nice that J.J. Abrams worked him back into his 2009 reboot of the franchise.

It was announced by the New York Times that Nimoy died February 24, 2015 in his Los Angeles home of pulmonary failure. Nimoy had been fighting late stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for some time. It was announced earlier in the week that he had been hospitalized. I feared the worst when I heard that news, so his death wasn’t too much of a surprise. I can’t help but thinking that part of that child who discovered him through my childhood dog’s strange story died a little with him, however.

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