In public perception, for so long, Nimoy was Spock — the same way that Carroll O’ Connor was Archie Bunker, or Seinfeld was Seinfeld. The iconic TV character was so great and seamless a creation, the actor could be lost beneath the mask, if not the ears.
That was why Nimoy wore the character so uneasily long after the original ’60s series ended, before eventually coming to terms with Mr. Spock, the highly logical half-Vulcan whose measured and mystical traits seemed, publicly, to become grafted onto the actor’s.
His unease wasn’t primarily because of the Earthly fame — of being recognized ’round the planet. It was because of what stops being recognized: the artist.
Leonard Nimoy was a true artist, not just on the soundstage but on the page, and not just in front of the camera, but behind it. He was a poet and a photographer, with a documentarian’s precision and a storyteller’s gift for the warp of personal interpretation.
Even though he would reprise Spock, donning the ears again more recently for J.J. Abrams, the character was always a limited-year mission.
That ambivalence, and gradual acceptance, could be detected in the shift over two decades between his two autobiographies: “I Am Not Spock,” in 1977, and “I Am Spock,” in 1995.
He taught Method acting, and directed films and shows, naturally. Because being an actor, and a full artist, was about something that sat at the center of Gene Roddenberry’s show. Art is about exploration, driven by the endlessly inquisitive mind, with curiosity as fuel and discovery as destination.
Like the title of one of his shows, Nimoy seemed forever “in search of.” His family immigrated from the Ukraine to America. Nimoy migrated from the East Coast to Hollywood, where he found his fleet to stardom. But then, he didn’t act, and, write, and shoot to be a star.
He did it to be an artist, ever looking for new areas to be curious about.
Leonard Simon Nimoy died today in Los Angeles, at age 83.
He lived long, and his art prospered.