NEW YORK — It’s no exaggeration to say Leonard Nimoy was perfect for the role that defined his career. His lean, almost sepulchral frame seemed otherworldly. His long, solemn face reflected wisdom summoned from somewhere deep within.
Calm reassurance, devotion to cool logic, a can-do guy who could cut through the clutter — that was Mr. Spock, the Vulcan half-breed Nimoy played so indelibly on “Star Trek.” And it seemed to come naturally. The message Nimoy and his character delivered as one: Anything is possible, or at least worth giving a shot. Just put your mind to it and believe.
That was the message Nimoy left his true believers with his death Friday at 83.
In its original run, “Star Trek” battled low ratings and was cancelled after just three seasons. But by then, Spock had taken firm root in the culture, and in no small part thanks to Nimoy. For him, the role of Spock remained the through-line in a varied career, as much a guiding force for him as it was for the millions of fans of his enduring character. “To boldly go…,” declared the title sequence of each “Star Trek” episode. For Spock, the operative phrase would have been “to calmly go, still inner demons and get the job done.”
But if Nimoy was perfect for the job at hand on “Star Trek,” his timing as he stepped into the role of his life was no less spot-on. The world, without knowing it, was waiting for Spock.
Spock posed a meaningful contrast to the era he was born into — which is to say, not the 23rd century, when “Star Trek” was set, but the hurly-burly of 1966, when it premiered.
This was a time of high emotions, of grand dreams and raw outrage. Many people of that day drew inspiration from society’s new full-throatedness. Even so, Spock stood as a cautionary note against rallying cries like “say you want a revolution” or “tune in, turn on, drop out.” Spock was fully tuned in, but he would never drop out, never give up self-control.
Spock, like “Star Trek,” was born into an era before “modern” became an old-fashioned word, when the future seemed limitless in what it had to offer. Back then, people still respected science, not least for how it was putting American heroes into space. (The series ended its run just six weeks after man first walked on the moon.)
But soon enough, science would become suspect, increasingly regarded as an agent of destruction, not of glorious progress.
Computers, once seen as wondrous black boxes that could be trained to do anything, began to be thought of with mistrust. (HAL, the murderous computer that commandeered the spacecraft in the epic sci-fi film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” came just two years after ‘Star Trek’ first aired in 1968.)
Nearly five decades later, computers are everyone’s constant companion, even as they’re locked in a power struggle with their human masters. Emotions run amok in the current day, while science, in some quarters, is derided not as a product of reason but as bunk or propaganda.
This is a world Spock wouldn’t recognize or, even with his logical supremacy, comprehend.
And yet his popularity has never flagged, nor has the public’s love for Nimoy, the human who brought Spock to life.
Until the end, Leonard Nimoy stayed true to the Vulcan credo “Live Long and Prosper.” Thanks to him, who for so long did so much to keep the faith, Mr. Spock will live forever.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore
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