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Leonard Nimoy, 1931–2015, Leaves Artistic Legacy

Last updated on 2016.03.11

A million things are happening, yet I am sad to distraction over the death of one actor. Quite human, Mr. Spock would say, and quite illogical.

Star TrekThe man who brought Spock to life, Leonard Nimoy, died today. He played one famous role, enjoyed a variety of other artistic passions, and got four memorial posts in the New York Times and a statement on his passing from the President of the United States. Much poorer lives have been lived.

As far as I know, Leonard Nimoy never visited South Dakota*, never influenced the direction of our fair state. But he influenced me.

Star Trek was the most influential text of my youth. Nimoy's Spock was the most influential character in that text. Nimoy's Spock represented the person whose logic and intellect made him an outsider. He insisted there must be a logical explanation for everything, some machine or mischief behind every pretend god. Spock helped me make sense of who I was and who I wanted to be. (If I were more given to introspection, I might nail down more accurately to what extent Spock and Star Trek shaped me and to what extent Nimoy's and Gene Roddenberry's art resonated with a character already formed.)

Leonard Nimoy gave depth and soul to his Vulcan. Subsequent portrayals of Vulcans on television seemed merely cross. Zachary Quinto gets his big-screen alternate-timeline Spock better. Maybe Nimoy had and Quinto has an advantage over other Vulcan portrayers: Spock is half Vulcan, half human, an ideally conflicted character for actors, viewers, and readers alike. Along with Nimoy, we got to explore an alien soul struggling with his own profound internal conflict, yet subordinating that personal conflict to devote his strength to helping sometimes resentful, xenophobic others survive and resolve great external battles.

Nimoy brought out that conflict. Nimoy made Spock more than interesting; he made Spock a literary character worth talking about. He used Spock to help explain to a biracial teenage girl how she could deal with not fitting in with white or black society. He made Spock a character who spoke to real-world problems (that's a big part of why literature matters). He made Spock an icon of humanity who was not human.

Leonard Nimoy made good art. Leonard Nimoy is no longer with us to make that art. Nimoy's performances made our culture richer; Nimoy's passing leaves us poorer. To praise the former and mourn the latter is logical.

* * *

p.s.: Leonard Nimoy was not so serious about his art that he could not make fun of it. His 2013 tag-team Audi ad with Zachary Quinto nicely spoofed their movie stardom (and Nimoy's singing):

pp.s: Within his Star Trek oeuvre, Leonard Nimoy was perhaps proudest of his work directing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home—you know, the one with the whales. In NPR's report on his passing, Neda Ulaby notes "Nimoy was proud of the film's environmental message and that this was the only Star Trek movie that did not involve weapons or even villains." The director's favorite Star Trek movie solved problems of our own making with brains and courage, not phasers set to kill bad guys and bogeymen. Think about that, gun-crazy South Dakota legislators.

*Update 09:25 CST: Nimoy was here! Owen Reitzel comment-links KELO's obituary, which includes a clip of a TV interview with Nimoy in Sioux Falls in 1981.


  1. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.02.28

    Get out of town, Owen! How very cool. I'll edit above. I wonder: will KELO put up that full interview? What brought Nimoy to town?

  2. Owen 2015.02.28

    I think he was talking about Star Trek II the Wrath of Kahn

  3. MC 2015.02.28

    He did truly enrich our lives.

  4. Bill Goehring 2015.02.28

    Cheryl Scott Wyant, on staff at the Sioux Falls Community Theatre at the time, writes on a Facebook post:

    "I just read that Leonard Nimoy died. I spent a week with him at the Sioux Falls Community theater. He was here doing a one man show on Van Gough. It was going to be taped at Guthrie and they wanted a place where he could fine tune the show so Guthrie suggested that they come here. I took Sandi, his first wife around Sioux Falls. He was fun to work with. Not at all the "the High and Mighty Actor" He would talk to people that would come in for tickets. It was a wonderful experience for those of us who were involved with the production here."

    Jimmi Yaroch, part of a family active at the Playhouse over the years, recalled that:

    "My Dad "Woody" got to present Leonard a picture of his hometown taken from outer space. EROS had it made for him. At the presentation I got to give Mr. Nimoy a pat on the back, he was very gracious to everyone there who had just seen his one man show "Vincent"."

    All remembered him as friendly and gracious.

  5. Owen reitzel 2015.02.28

    Thanks for the posts Bill. Very interesting.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.02.28

    Thanks for that history, Bill! As Owen noted, I heard him mention the second movie in the KELO clip, but if it was 1981, that was too early for it to be movie publicity. Now we know he was warming up for his performance of Vincent at the Guthrie. Interesting!

    Alas, Bill, the Facebook photos you link don't come up for me; Thomas must have them set to private. Anyone else have photos from that Sioux Falls visit?

  7. leslie 2015.02.28

    troy, les, grudz, daniel, ect. nothing??

  8. Bill Fleming 2015.02.28

    Let's get Cory some pointy ear covers. He'd make a great Spock substitute. Have to dial back those hand gestures though.

    Chances are there are thousands like Cory who didn't really even know what the word 'logical' meant until their first encounter with Mr. Spock. Watching all the history we realize how boldly they went where no one had gone before... Especially considering all that was going on when the series came out. The diversity of the Starship Enterprise was clearly a fantasy in the days of the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War. No wonder the scheduled 5 year series got cancelled in just 3 years. The networks weren't ready for it. But we the people sure were. Safe travels on your new journey Mr. Nimoy. And thanks for inspiring young minds like Cory's. We're still waiting for that fully integrated flight deck, but the picture's looking better all the time.

  9. Bill Goehring 2015.03.02

    Sorry about the photos. Tom's a FB friend and I thought it was a public page, although an icon clearly shows he posts only to friends. Doh!

    They show the playbill cover and lobby poster, which combines Van Gogh's "Starry Night" as a background to a profile of the artist and a portrait of Nimoy in the style of Van Gogh. The other photos shows him backstage in the dressing room and on-stage performing the show.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.03.02

    No sweat, Bill G. If your friend wants to share them publicly, let us know!

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