A pop culture icon passed away today. Leonard Nimoy was, by my estimation, the Dalai Lama of world pop culture, recognizable, revered, respected.
And all because of a TV character. A character he played on a low-rated show that became the very definition of “cult favorite.” The cult grew and grew, and it endured and endures. Largely because of Leonard Nimoy’s inscrutable take on that Vulcan cipher, Mr. Spock.
Here’s a thorough overview of his life and credits. No, Spock wasn’t the first time this Boston Jew wore pointy ears. He turned up in a sci-fi serial dressed like that more than a decade before.
And the only performance that leaps to mind post-“Star Trek” is a winning turn as Golda Meir’s husband in the Ingrid Bergman mini-series, “A Woman Called Golda” in the ’70s.
He had a directing career that began with “Night Gallery,” peaked with “Trek” III and IV, and included “Three Men and a Baby.” The only person I ever heard bad mouth him was a screenwriter of one of the failed comedies that followed that (“Funny About Love”), though I haven’t read the many “Trek” memoirs. Surely some colleague there resented him and his success and careful stewardship of the character, who popped up on many series and and movies set in that future-verse.
It was as a director that I got to spend what I regard as my best day covering film and entertainment. He was location scouting a movie he wanted to make about the original “Siamese Twins,” Chang and Eng Bunker. When they retired from being a circus sideshow act, they settled in rural N.C. “Duet for Life” I think the script was called, and Nimoy and the local film commissioner and I rode around White Plains (near Mount Airy, N.C.).
Nimoy charmed the descendents at the Bunkers, visited the house they lived in, where relatives held onto the bed they slept in (even after the Twins married), and we checked out a few other period-perfect locations.
He was pretty much done with “Star Trek” then, and was patient but insistent that there was nothing else to do with the character. Nimoy never got to make his “Duet” movie (Gary Oldman is planning on directing a film about them, now). But he came back to “Trek,” again and again, with increasing frailty but hearty good and gentle spirits. He made the first J.J. Abrams “Trek” work.
And now he’s gone. A good life, a long life, and a prosperous one.