Farewell, Mr. Spock

UC Riverside scholars offer insights, personal memories of “Star Trek” icon Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy, adored by science fiction fans for his portrayal of the half human-half Vulcan Mr. Spock, died today at age 83.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – For scholars at UC Riverside, as for science fiction fans around the world, the death today of Leonard Nimoy – Mr. Spock of “Star Trek” fame – is a deep loss.

Nalo Hopkinson, professor of creative writing and an award-winning author, and Derek Burrill, associate professor of media and cultural studies, offer these insights and personal memories of Nimoy’s contribution to the universe of science fiction, and worlds of possibilities.

Nalo Hopkinson
“The news that Leonard Nimoy has passed has thrown me into grief this morning. I never knew the man personally, but he’s been a huge part of my life, as he has of the lives of so many of his fans. I am a Black, Caribbean child of the ‘60s, the era of the very first ‘Star Trek.’ The characters of Lieutenant Uhura and Mr. Sulu (played by the inimitable Nichelle Nichols and George Takei) were visible icons of people of color actively participating in a technologically advanced future, but with their roles largely relegated to a line or two each episode, it was Nimoy’s depiction of the half Vulcan, half human First Officer Mr. Spock that cemented in my mind the image of a literally biracial being as a major player in the science fiction stories that entered my Black family’s living room every week via the television.

“I wouldn’t realize until much later that Nimoy was Jewish, the child of Yiddish-speaking Orthodox immigrants from what’s now known as the Ukraine. He understood what it was to be alien. When the original ‘Star Trek’ was cancelled, I was happy to see him re-appear as ‘Paris’ in the early ‘Mission Impossible.’ I rejoiced when the first ‘Star Trek’ movie brought him and the rest of the beloved cast to the big screen. I loved his sense of humor (the video of him singing the Bilbo Baggins song made me screech with delight the first time I saw it). I was thrilled when I discovered that he was also an accomplished photo artist with the vision, sensitivity and courage to push the boundaries of the respectable with his Shekhina and Full Body projects. This fat lady especially loved him for Full Body. I’m not the only fan of his who’ll be weeping today, but Leonard Nimoy lived a full, joyous, generous life, for which I thank him. LLAP.

Derek Burrill
“Nimoy was, and is still, important for his performance as Spock.  The concept of a half-human/half Vulcan helped all of us better understand the duality of being a human – being an emotional and passionate animal vs a logical and rational subject.  This duality also helped us navigate the Cold War and better comprehend and humanize Soviet Russia; we came to understand, through his characterization, that we all shared a common characteristic – empathy (beautifully illustrated by the Vulcan mind-meld).

“This was played with in his psychologist character in the remake of ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers,’ a New Age, hands-on analyst that seemed to ‘get it’ instinctively, while at the same time subtlety succumbing to the herd mentality of the invasion.  In this sense, Nimoy was also an actor’s actor, deeply interested in the craft.  But he will most likely be remembered for playing Spock – a character that appeared in the ‘Star Trek’ universe over the course of 40 years, a testament to how meaningful his artistry was and is.”

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