When Leonard Nimoy died late last week at the age of 83, it left me thinking, like many people, about “Star Trek” in particular.
Nimoy himself has been an ever-present cultural icon throughout my life — from episodes of “In Search Of…” to episodes of “The Simpsons” — but of course he’s best remembered for his role as Spock. That’s because Spock and “Star Trek” still resonate to people like me, even decades later. On the phone with my dad over the weekend, when our conversation inevitably turned to Nimoy, he mentioned that Spock had been one of his heroes growing up.
He was one of mine, too.
In the last year, I rewatched a lot of “Star Trek” for research purposes, and it reaffirmed for me that as large as Kirk looms in that world, Spock looms just as big. It’s a testament to the character and the man who brought him to life — Kirk represents a space-jaunting adventurer, but Spock, I think, might be the real explorer. He’s the one for whom the end goal is simply to know the universe and its people. In many ways, he’s the heart of how I perceive “Star Trek” as a cultural force.
Whenever I talk about “Star Trek,” though I’m usually referring to “The Next Generation” because its’ the show that I grew up with as it aired mostly in the early 1990s, I can’t help but launch into why I find it so important. Despite the easy impression of the original series as being about weird adventures with strange aliens and crazy technologies, the major element “Star Trek” left with me growing up was that of hope. The world of Gene Roddenberry’s future becomes so … amazing. It’s not a dystopian view of the future, but a utopian one. Humanity it explores the universe for exploration’s sake; it makes efforts to learn and to understand; it strives to be the best it can be.
The thing I’ve always appreciated about Nimoy is that it felt as if he understood this about his legacy on a short-lived cult TV show, and the reason it affected so many people so deeply. He saw what made it powerful. Especially later in his life, he embraced it. Nimoy embodied the kind of person “Star Trek” always made me want to be; the kind of person who tries to make the lives of those around him better for his having been there.
It’s sad that the world has lost Leonard Nimoy, but he’s added much to it for his time here, well beyond his work in entertainment. He was more than that, and he meant more than that to many, many people. Nimoy impacted the world in a lasting way, but it wasn’t just as a character on a TV show — it was as a person who convinced us what we saw on TV could, one day, be real.