Photo by Gage Skidmore

Some actors are so inextricably tied to their signature role that, to the public eye, the two are one.

So it was with veteran performer Leonard Nimoy, who will always be known, for better or worse – and it’s mostly better, I think – as Star Trek‘s Mr Spock.

It’s something Nimoy railed against for a long time, even going so far as to title his memoir I Am Not Spock. Eventually, though, he made peace with his place in pop culture, as evidenced by the tile of his second volume of autobiography, I Am Spock. He delighted in lampooning his on screen persona, leading to one of the greatest guest appearances in the history of The Simpsons, and cropping up in Futurama and The Big Bang Theory. The shadow of Spock even looms heavily over the character of William Bell, his last major television role, in the cult series Fringe.

But it’s Star Trek he’ll be remembered for, and rightly so; he was and is emblematic of the franchise. While he never fully embraced internet culture the way George Takei has, Nimoy was embraced by fandom in a way that William Shatner never was. (It’s a rare dipsomaniac who identifies most strongly with DeForest Kelly’s Dr McCoy, Star Trek TOS‘s other main character, but that’s a divergence for another time.)

That’s no bad thing. Star Trek has inspired generations of not only writers and artists, but scientists, engineers and explorers, and its Spock who is the key point of identification for these people. While Star Wars, the other key SF franchise of our time, is largely about propagating myths and a certain degree of woolly thinking, Trek was and is, at its best, all about the fascinating possibilities of actual science in an analogue of our actual universe, and no one embodies that more than the rigidly logical Vulcan portrayed by Nimoy. If you’re a nerdy kid you might swing a stick lightsaber or shoot a toy blaster or phaser, but you understand, deep down, that you could never be Luke Skywalker of even Jim Kirk but you could, in a very real way, be Spock. If you worked hard, those skills – nerve pinch aside – were available to you. Spock has drawn thousands to the sciences. Spock is the reason the first space shuttle was named Enterprise.

For all that, Leonard Nimoy was not just Spock. Even putting aside his other acting achievements, he was a published poet, a talented director, an acclaimed photographer, and those things are worth noting. But the millions mourning today will, in the main, be remembering Nimoy for his most famous role, the vector through which he touched and inspired us.

He lived long. He prospered.

TRAVIS JOHNSON

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