The Loss Of Leonard Nimoy: The Most Human Of All

Photo: Everett Collection/REX USA.
"A life is like a garden," Leonard Nimoy tweeted on February 23. "Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP."

That was the last thing the late 83-year-old Nimoy gave us before passing away four days later on February 27, dying from late-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He announced last year that he was suffering from the illness, but, despite the fact we knew this, it never actually seemed like he would die. Nimoy — like his most famous character, Spock — seemed almost above death: He was too wise, too smart, too necessary, too important a pop culture icon. But, like Spock, Nimoy was also human. And, that humanity is what makes Nimoy's death so difficult to process.

Whether or not you're a Star Trek fan, most of us identify Nimoy as Spock, the half-human/half-Vulcan crewmember of the USS Enterprise. He was the First Officer who balanced Captain Kirk's irrationality with logic and reason; the character who strived to understand human emotions while trying to tap into his own. Since Vulcans want to suppress emotions (and humans, for the most part, are the opposite), Spock straddled two worlds and never fully fit into either. But, ironically, doing this created a character who was not just the most relatable member of the Enterprise, but one of the most relatable characters in television. Spock felt like an outsider just like all of us do, which is what made him so human. Or, at least made it feel like he was — and always shall be — our friend.

"It should be noted that in the midst of our sorrow, this death takes place in the shadow of new life, the sunrise of a new world," Captain Kirk eulogized at Spock's funeral in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. "Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most . . . human."

But, where many actors would have tried to leave their type-casting roles behind, Nimoy did not. After Star Trek ended in 1969, Nimoy reprised the role for Star Trek: The Motion Picture 10 years later, and went on to complete Star Trek's six-movie run, including turns in J.J. Abrams' 2009 and 2013 reboots. Which is a big deal, considering Nimoy had been open about wrestling with his alter-ego in his 1975 autobiography, I Am Not Spock. 
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In fact, his struggle to differentiate himself from his most famous character resonated just as much as Spock's own struggle to fit in. Only in this case, Nimoy very publicly spoke up about being pigeonholed and the effects of taking on such a complex role. And, while being honest can be terrifying, Nimoy still did it: In his memoir and even afterward, he opened up about how his role affected his home life, why it drove him to start drinking, and the frustrations associated with being Spock first, Leonard second. And through this, Nimoy created another safe place. Like us, he was just another person trying to figure out who he was.

Eventually, he did. In 1995, Nimoy released his follow-up memoir, I Am Spock. He then went on to release photography books, launch a poetry site (he'd been writing poetry for years), and one of the most touching Twitter accounts in existence (which was and is a work of art, and a testament to finding strength through vulnerability — essentially his primary life narrative).

Having braved self-discovery in a public way, Nimoy's choice to take such professional risks makes sense. In addition to TV (where after Star Trek, he hosted In Search Of... and later went on to costar in Fringe), Nimoy appeared in plays like A Streetcar Named Desire, My Fair Lady, and Equus. He also directed movies like Three Men and a Baby and The Good Mother, and began using his success to help those around him.

Naturally, a man who urged his Twitter followers to live long and prosper with every 140 characters would work to ensure they really could. Nimoy and his wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, went on to establish The Nimoy Foundation, a national grant program to support the work of contemporary artists, and in 2001, they donated $1 million to the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

Photo: Theo Kingma/REX USA.
"I think there's something to seeing these very professional people helping each other to solve a problem," Nimoy told The Hollywood Reporter. "And, in the idea that mankind is humane, and will do the right thing eventually to each other and to others.”

Few quotes can better sum up Leonard Nimoy. Through his talents and accessibility, the actor, writer, and director created a universe that eclipsed the one he set out to explore on the Enterprise. Spock encouraged us to be ourselves, Nimoy's identity crisis gave us permission to question who we we're supposed to be, and his generosity encouraged us to help those in need. Leonard Nimoy's life was a celebration of messy, difficult, and beautiful humanity. And, through it, he inspired us to fearlessly and boldly be.

Editor's Note: In an earlier version of this post, we incorrectly said that Vulcans cannot feel emotion. We have since updated to clarify that while they can feel, they prefer to suppress emotions in favor of logic.
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