Daily | Leonard Nimoy, 1931 – 2015

Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy

“Leonard Nimoy, the sonorous, gaunt-faced actor who won a worshipful global following as Mr. Spock, the resolutely logical human-alien first officer of the Starship Enterprise in the television and movie juggernaut Star Trek, died on Friday morning,” reports Virginia Heffernan in the New York Times. “His artistic pursuits—poetry, photography and music in addition to acting—ranged far beyond the United Federation of Planets, but it was as Mr. Spock that Mr. Nimoy became a folk hero, bringing to life one of the most indelible characters of the last half century: a cerebral, unflappable, pointy-eared Vulcan with a signature salute and blessing: ‘Live long and prosper’ (from the Vulcan ‘Dif-tor heh smusma’).”

Also in the NYT, Alessandra Stanley on the one hand: “Just as Scrooge became synonymous with miser, and Peter Pan became a syndrome, Spock was dispassion personified.” And Jeremy Egner on the other, reminding us that Nimoy also directed (the third and fourth Star Trek movies, Three Men and a Baby [1987] and some television), sang (most notoriously “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins“) and exhibited his photography.

“His public identity was in many ways shaped by people’s perceptions of and endearment towards the role: he released two autobiographies, one in 1975 titled I Am Not Spock and one, 20 years later, titled I Am Spock.” Moze Halperin at Flavorwire: “Outside of the icon status that accompanied this character, Nimoy also acted in Mission: Impossible TV series for Seasons 4 and 5, as former magician and ‘master of disguise’ The Great Paris. Beyond the rest of his wildly extensive filmography, he was also greatly immersed in the theater world, appearing in such infamous plays as Equus, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Twelfth Night and My Fair Lady.”

“His soothing presence was so reassuring that when Nimoy turned it on its head in Philip Kaufman’s nightmarish remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers it was genuinely unnerving,” writes Criticwire‘s Max O’Connell. “There, his (terrific) work felt like a betrayal, with Nimoy’s acclaimed psychiatrist gaining the trust of his patients only to turn them into pod people. That he could be so creepy while still retaining the near-constant calm and rationality of Spock elevated Kaufman’s stinging take on ’70s San Francisco’s complacency to its status as one of the best horror remakes of all time.”

The Playlist‘s Kevin Jagernauth: “‘My folks came to U.S. as immigrants, aliens, and became citizens. I was born in Boston, a citizen, went to Hollywood and became an alien,’ Leonard Nimoy said in his Boston University College of Fine Arts address in 2012. And it’s a perfectly wry summation of a man who was a sci-fi titan, a restlessly curious creative, and for many, someone who opened up their imagination and gave them the universe.”

Tablet‘s posted an excerpt from Abigail Pogrebin‘s book Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish in which Nimoy looks back on his childhood in Boston. “We lived in view of a very large Catholic church—still standing—which, after Sunday school, was a dangerous place for Jews to be around because young Italian kids and Irish kids came out having just been told that we had killed their Christ.”

Variety is collecting remembrances from William Shatner, George Takei, Zachary Quinto and many others.

Updates: Time‘s James Poniewozik writes that “in the hands of another actor, Spock’s rigid reserve might have played as an absence—the cold nothingness of logic in place of human heart. As Nimoy interpreted it, it was a presence, the suggestion of greater currents of wisdom beyond the electrical jolts our hearts and brains pump out. Combined with Nimoy’s mellifluous voice and wry stage presence, this gave Spock a kind of hipster beat-poetry character that was oddly in step with the times in the fiery, spiritually questing ’60s. The idea of subordinating one’s own passions to the larger universe was a spiritual idea that goes beyond any particular religion, even beyond religion itself.”

“Ultimately, Spock seems to have been a case of the right actor finding the right role, and then learning not to be overshadowed by it,” writes Keith Phipps at the Dissolve. “It helps that, off-screen, Nimoy always seemed to remain good-natured and accommodating about his most famous role. And if he couldn’t help seem a little Spock-like in his public persona, maybe that was just evidence that he invested much of himself in the character. He signed his tweets LLAP, short for ‘Live long and prosper’ … That included his final tweet.”

“I’m sure I speak for a lot of nerds out there when I say that Nimoy was a personal hero of mine as a child,” writes Matt Singer at Screen Crush. “At a time before geeks took over the mainstream, he made nerdiness seem cool. Mr. Spock couldn’t out-fight a lizard monster, and he didn’t score with a lot of alien women like Captain Kirk. Like a lot of teenage dorks who watched Star Trek (myself included), he had a bad haircut and his ears stuck out. But Spock was unflappable in the face of danger, and wielded his intellect as a weapon far more powerful than any phaser. No wonder he resonated with fans. He was the man we hoped we’d someday become.”

“But he also became immensely popular with African-American, Latino, and Asian viewers (including Bruce Lee, reportedly a huge fan of Spock),” writes Matt Zoller Seitz at Vulture, “all of whom had more than theoretical experience with trying to be—to paraphrase Groucho Marx—part of a club that wouldn’t have somebody like them as members. The sense of belonging yet not belonging, to both the dominant culture and one’s own, was especially acute among mixed-race viewers, and Spock struck a powerfully resonant chord with them…. The show’s affinity for Shakespearean flourishes is well-documented, but in in a sense, Spock himself might be the most Bard-like character of them all: He’s a green-blooded Othello who has to be twice as good as the full-blooded human officers to earn their respect, and who must tamp down his natural passions despite constant racist needling and doubts about his loyalty.”

President Obama: “Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the center of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future. I loved Spock.”

Update, 2/28: “In terms of photography, Nimoy, who studied with famed photographer Robert Heinecken, is perhaps best known for his Full Body Project (2007),” writes Jillian Steinhauer at Hyperallergic. “The series consists of black-and-white nude photos of a group of overweight women, members of a burlesque troupe called the Fat-Bottom Revue. In the pictures, the women dance and show off their bodies and strike poses reminiscent of scenes from art history. Nimoy told NPR that shooting The Full Body Project ‘led me to a new consciousness about the fact that so many people live in body types that are not the type that’s being sold by fashion models.'”

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