Today, February 27, 2015, the world, the Internet and the blogosphere are mourning the loss of Leonard Nimoy. Mr. Nimoy passed away this morning, evidently at home, at the age of 83. The outpouring of words, memories and sympathies to his family, friends and fans has been pretty tremendous, and I have little to add to it that hasn’t already been said. But, as deeply as I respected Leonard Nimoy as a man, an artist and a fellow Jew, I thought I should say something about his remarkable life, which, though it will undoubtedly be defined by the role he played on Star Trek, was so much more than just that. Leonard Nimoy had a really wonderful, eventful and fulfilling life and he’s one of the few celebrities, in my opinion, who really did live up to the “role model” pedestal on which his fame as an actor put him.
Nimoy was from Boston, and if you know Boston, you’ll know that fact alone says a lot about him. He was the son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants who fled the Soviet Union and his Judaism defined him for his whole life. Mr. Nimoy was one of the first celebrities I began following on Twitter, and I was always impressed by his expressions of kindness, social justice, tolerance, and appreciation of beauty and artistry–all of these being basic ideas at the very core of Judaism. In fact, Nimoy’s theological and progressive outlook was one of the things that inspired me to begin looking at Judaism as a religion after I turned my back on atheism. From everything I read about Leonard Nimoy, he really did strive to live in accordance with the Jewish ideas he espoused. He was spoken of by co-workers, fellow actors and friends as immensely kind-hearted, soft-spoken and full of quiet integrity. One of the basic ideas of Judaism is to leave the world a better place than you found it. He definitely did that.
The 1952 boxing film Kid Monk Baroni was Leonard Nimoy’s first movie role. Here’s a scene from it.
Nimoy’s career was fascinating. He started acting in 1951, and his first movie role was as a boxer in the 1952 film Kid Monk Baroni. He was one of those character actors who struggled to make a career with bit parts in television which was on the rise in the 1950s. In fact, this described most of the Star Trek regulars; Nimoy’s colleague and friend DeForest Kelley, who played “Bones” McCoy, frequently appeared on short-lived Western and science fiction shows of this era. Nimoy appeared on Sea Hunt, Wagon Train and Gunsmoke. He first met and worked with William Shatner on an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Then in 1964 Nimoy auditioned for the role of a half-alien scientist called Mr. Spock for a ground-breaking new science fiction show being developed by Gene Roddenberry, who up to that time was known for cop shows and Westerns. Nimoy came on board even before Shatner and Kelley, who weren’t cast until after the first pilot episode had already been made–and rejected by NBC.
Even after he was forever identified with the role of Spock, Nimoy’s career was quite interesting and eventful. Throughout the 1970s he played strange, quirky roles, such as a psychic race car driver on a TV movie called Baffled! and a creepy psychologist in the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I remember as a kid I loved the documentary show In Search Of, about haunted places, historical sites and mysteries, for which Nimoy did the voice-overs. He also moonlighted as a recording star. When the Lord of the Rings films began coming out in 2001, Nimoy’s previously-forgotten single “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” a song based on The Hobbit, suddenly became an Internet sensation. He also sang “Proud Mary” and “If I Had A Hammer.” After all, if Shatner could have a recording career–such as it was–why not Nimoy?
The passing of Mr. Nimoy is a sad event, but I hope you can still get a smile out of this outrageous video for his song “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.”
Although Nimoy was a great actor, one of his principal interests in life was photography. At age 13 he restored an old camera and began taking pictures with it. I read just this morning that this camera was still among his possessions today, the day of his death. He actually studied photography at UCLA in the 1970s, after Star Trek (the TV show) ended and before the movies began, and evidently was thinking about quitting acting altogether to become a professional photographer. In later years he made a very interesting series of photographic studies, for example, of women doing yoga. Nimoy believed, as I also do, that art and creativity are expressions of the divine. If I’d met him in real life this is what I would have asked him about: would he agree that, when a creative person strives to express that creativity–whether it be through writing, painting, acting, photography, music, etc.–they are, in a sense, channeling a little bit of God? I have a feeling that, whatever Mr. Nimoy’s answer to this question might have been, it would have been fascinating.
Something happened this morning connected with Leonard Nimoy’s death that struck me very personally. Habitual readers of this blog may know that I recently finished writing a novel I’m very excited about called The Valley of Forever. As the process of trying to get that book published begins, I’m already in the planning stages for the next phase of the literary journey that began with The Valley of Forever, a book that will likely be called The Garden of Memory. When I clicked on Leonard Nimoy’s Twitter profile this morning I was amazed to see this, the final tweet he sent before his death, five days ago:
I believe that God is a conscious entity, and while we can debate endlessly the degree to which He may or may not intervene in the affairs of humans, I do believe that once in a while God looks down at people just to see what they’re up to–and that, if God’s eye happens to be focused upon you, you can feel it. I don’t know whether God was looking at me or at Leonard Nimoy at the moment Mr. Nimoy wrote this tweet, which so perfectly expresses the idea that I had in mind for my upcoming book, but it’s certainly an amazing and inspirational convergence. For a person that Mr. Nimoy never met and never heard of to draw inspiration from this, the last public statement he made in his lifetime, is a living example–I think–of how he made the world a better place.
Let us remember the wonderful man who was Leonard Nimoy, and let us heed the words that he himself brought to the Star Trek universe–and which incidentally appear in the Tanakh: Live long and prosper.