RIP Leonard Nimoy by Bill Kassel

R.I.P., Leonard Nimoy


During the three years of its run, “Stark Trek” was a not-to-misshighlight of my Friday night TV-viewing schedule.

I’m talkin’ the real “Star Trek” — no holodeck, no friendly Klingons — the classic, original “Star Trek”: Captain Kirk, tacky sets, hokey alien monsters and all.

Nimoy as SpockNow my wife and I catch old episodes Saturday nights on MeTV.

This week’s is especially poignant, since Leonard Nimoy, the immortal Mr. Spock, passed away Friday morning at age 83.

He’s the third of the Enterprise’s key officers to die. DeForrest Kelley (Ship’s Surgeon Dr. Leonard McCoy) departed in 1999, and James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott) in 2005.

It was Nimoy’s post-“Star Trek” directorial work that brought me into contact with him. As I noted in my post of August 10, 2014, he participated in a conference on moral values in popular entertainment which I’d helped to organize at Hillsdale College. I picked him up at Detroit Metro Airport and drove him the nearly 100 miles to campus.

Tooling along I-94 with Mr. Spock had a certain surreal quality about it, as you might imagine.

I’d been informed by his manager that Nimoy wasn’t fond of chit-chat. Which was okay with me — I’m not adept at small talk. So after our initial gate-side greeting (non-passengers had free access to the terminals in those days) and getting him ensconced in the college van I was driving, the two of us settled in for a very quiet ride.

He eventually got to feeling a little self-conscious, I think, and started to ask me about Hillsdale College. Apparently, he’d received no advance briefing on the place where he’d be speaking. That worked out fine — gave me something specific to talk about. And so we both were put at ease, and we shared a pleasant conversation.

I dropped him at our on-campus hotel, and then picked him up again after dinner to deliver him to the auditorium where his conference session was to be held. This time, my son, Daniel (then only about ten years old) was in the back seat holding one of the publicity stills we’d been provided in advance. Nimoy greeted him effusively and autographed the print for him. Dan still has it, and the incident remains a fond childhood memory.

There were no great insights into the character of Leonard Nimoy to be gained by that day’s experience. It was just a small moment of human sharing with a famous person who was friendly, rather shy, and (on our rural campus) a bit of a fish out of water — someone not unlike his Mr. Spock persona, it occurred to me.

I had wondered how he would feel being transported from Hollywood (“Babylon by the Sea”) to conservative Hillsdale College. I’d read “Star Trek” cast members used to joke that, with so many 1960s social-justice themes underlying the futuristic fantasy plots, their series should have been titled “Liberals In Space.”

Medved & Nimoy at HillsdaleFor all appearances, Nimoy enjoyed himself enormously that evening participating in an onstage interview with Michael Medved, then co-host of the PBS movie review series, “Sneak Previews.” It was pure pandemonium when Nimoy gave his signature, split-fingers Volcan salute and a beaming smile to accompany it.

The Hollywood gossip site, TMZ, headlined its announcement of Nimoy’s passing, “He lived Long and Prospered.” That was clever and appropriate.

Leonard Nimoy found himself — quite unexpectedly, I’m sure — in the unique position of being a pop culture icon. No doubt it was a mixed blessing. While he was fortunate to sustain an extended career in the entertainment business and gain artistic recognition in several of its specialty areas, nothing he did after Spock equaled service aboard the Enterprise.

Still, he came to appreciate the success and continuity he enjoyed in an extremely volatile business. I think a late-life reawakening of his Jewish faith was a vital component in the equanimity he seems to have achieved.

The traditional Jewish blessing upon death is…

Bah-rooch a-tah a-do-noi e-lo-hei-noo me-lech ha-o-lahm da-yan ha-e-met.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, the True Judge.

Rest in Peace, Leonard Nimoy.

Live long and prosper.

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