R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy


While I was never a Trekkie, I watched Star Trek growing up in their endless re-runs and can barely separate out the television show from my actual real-life childhood. They are my memories. Star Trek was like The Brady Bunch in that way: always on, everywhere, background noise, constant. Others can speak about the role of Spock and what it meant to them (the elegies have been coming fast and furious, and there are some great ones out there! The emotion is so palpable!), how deeply the role of Spock has gotten into our cultural DNA. (Alan Sepinwall’s piece about Spock is fantastic.)

My deepest thanks to Jessica Ritchey, for linking to this clip, of Leonard Nimoy reciting Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy in Yiddish.

I met him one night at an event at the New School. He was there with director Stanley Donen. It was just a quick “Hi, how are you” kind of introduction, but he was one of those celebrities where it was impossible to believe that it was actually him, there in the flesh. His face, as Spock, with the ears and the eyebrows and the hair, is so much a part of our culture that seeing him outside of it, as just a regular elderly guy in a suit, laughing with Donen, that face, that look, is so distinct that it floated around in my head as I looked at the real-life guy. I thought, “Now THAT’S the role of a lifetime, if it’s an after-image forevermore.” And he handled it beautifully.

But the first thing I thought of today when I heard of Nimoy’s passing was of his lovely and touching performance as Golda Meir’s husband in the television event (member when we used to have those?) A Woman Named Golda. Ingrid Bergman played Golda Meir (and won the Emmy for it, and rightly so). A fascinating biopic, which showed her political journey, with her husband at her side (and then, not really at her side anymore). Their quiet and respectful intimate relationship is a huge reason why that movie works. Meir’s husband loves her. He is not a domineering husband, and doesn’t bitch and moan about why dinner wasn’t on the table. He was her supporter, her cheerleader, and yet … he missed her. She was gone so much. He wasn’t quite prepared to share her with everybody. But she needed to go where she needed to go. Over the course of the film, he needs to let her go. Nimoy and Bergman’s scene work is absolutely beautiful throughout, and the two of them both have to age about 30 years over the course of the film, and they do specifically and with very little fanfare. You believe that these two have been together for most of their lives.


There were other non-Spock roles, and books, and music and poetry and photography … a lifetime as an artist. But it is for Spock that he will always be remembered. It is hard to even quantify that legacy, the mark he has made with just one role.

But today I thought of the sad and quiet domestic scenes in A Woman Named Golda, and how beautifully and gracefully Nimoy played support-staff to her powerhouse performance. Bergman needed the grounding mechanism of Nimoy’s performance: the guy who played that role needed to be earthiness personified, deeply connected to his emotions, a rock. Nimoy was.

RIP, fine actor.


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19 Responses to R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy

  1. Matt B. says:

    Lovely stuff, Sheila.

    You’re right, Nimoy handled the blessing and burden of being Spock so beautifully, particularly later on.

    • sheila says:

      Wasn’t his memoir titled “I Am Not Spock”? Ha. And then the follow up: “I Am Spock.” Perfect.

      It can’t have been easy, creating one of the most memorable characters in television history. A blessing, for sure, but still …

      It’s been so great reading the obituaries from real Trekkies. Jordan Hoffman, a favorite of mine – whom I finally met last year at a party and now run into him at screenings all the time. Love his writing, in general, and he was one of the first people I thought of when I heard the news.

  2. sheila says:

    You might have already seen Hoffman’s piece in The Guardian but for those who haven’t:


  3. Milt says:

    Thanks for the Leonard Nimoy clip about Yiddish. Like him, I grew up in a home and a neighborhood where this juicy language was regularly spoken, and I miss hearing it. That’s one of my biggest beefs against the state of Israel–burying this wonderful language. I can readily understand why he paid a psychiatrist her hourly fee just to be able to engage in a Yiddish conversation.

  4. Paula says:

    Leonard Nimoy was my first crush at the age of five, watching Star Trek every day, and then loved him on Fringe. Always such an icon. Thanks for sharing your story and the reminder about A Woman Named Golda. I will definitely watch it.

  5. Jaquandor says:

    Nimoy’s passing hit me between the eyes. I could barely function at work after I started seeing the tweets. I did, though, manage to write a tribute of my own.

    I’ve just rewatched the ever-astonishing TREK episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”, which is one of the finest science fiction stories ever told. Nimoy’s heart-rending line at the end — “He knows, Doctor, he knows,” after Kirk has had to make the most awful choice of his life — is for me one of THE great line-readings of all time.

    I’ll stop typing now before the waterworks start again, but thanks for this wonderful post.

    • sheila says:

      Jaquandor – your post made me cry. You pulled yourself together extremely well – thank you so much for these beautiful eloquent and affirming thoughts, especially about dystopia. Wow.

  6. Desirae says:

    When I was six years old my Aunt used to babysit me and my sister, and she had two TV sets in the apartment; a normal sized one in the living room and a small one in her bedroom. So while my sister was watching Barney, which I hated aggressively, I used to go sit on the end of my Aunt’s bed and watch Star Trek. In many ways the original series is a perfect kids show – campy, energetic, filled with bright colors and made up words. But through it all there was Nimoy’s wonderfully grounded Spock. Like Paula I developed a crush on him; he was the first character I can ever remember loving in general. When I heard the news today at work I had to go for a calming walk. The only other celebrity death that affected me that way was Robin Williams (also a huge huge part of my childhood).

    I love the old Trek wholeheartedly, including the silly parts, but there are very much times when Leonard Nimoy was the only thing holding an episode together. There have been some… not so great Vulcans on the series over the years. It’s not an easy character to play: “Oh by the way, your character follows a doctrine of strict rationalization that doesn’t allow him to express emotion. Have fun!” But Nimoy made Spock so layered and interesting and even funny. Truly a great actor.

    What would science fiction even look like without this man? I can’t imagine.

    • sheila says:

      // What would science fiction even look like without this man? I can’t imagine. //


      I think, too, Spock’s outsider status is one of the reasons he was so popular. Pretty much anyone can relate to that.

  7. Anne says:

    I seem to have spent the day learning that the things that made the character of Spock iconic were little decisions of Nimoy’s. Like he came up with that famous nerve pinch because he thought it wouldn’t be in character for Spock to slap people around. I love that. And of course the greeting – which was a gesture he’d seen at a synagogue as a boy. It seemed like borrowing a little bit of magic, to him. It’s really quite an amazing testament to the thought process behind a performance. He built that beloved being piece by thoughtful piece.

    • sheila says:

      Anne – I know, right?? I have loved too seeing how much thought he had given to these things – these gestures and phrases, etc., that would end up defining Spock – coming from a very personal place for him. It’s so cool.

      And of course he was doing all that having no idea if Star Trek would fly (so to speak), thinking it all rather silly in a way, glad he had a job, but still, come on, it wasn’t Chekhov … But he put thought into it, before he even knew what it would become. Professionalism.

  8. DBW says:

    ” it wasn’t Chekhov”–Of course not, Chekov was Chekhov. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Just read elsewhere the comment that, in 100 years, few would remember, say, Brad Pitt, but there will be images of Scotty, Spock, et al. hanging in the crew area of that time’s space shuttle. That’s creating culturally indelible characters.

  9. Dan says:

    Thanks for writing about A Woman Named Golda. I remember watching it on TV many many years ago, and a while back I added it to my Netflix queue but left it buried for fear it hadn’t aged well and would ruin fond memories. I think I’ll move it to the top now.

    I was swept in Star Wars as a yoot, and didn’t become a Trek fan until I went off to college. My first memories of Leonard Nimoy are of him as the host of In Search Of, and as a disembodied voice during the sound check at the Boston Science Museum Mugar Omni Theater, telling us he grew up ‘three blocks from here.’

    With Sheila’s permission, I thought I’d share a couple of Nimoy clips other might of interest.

    Discussing his now vanished West End neighborhood: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=MXGuzek51Ho

    More on the West End, and losing his Boston accent: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=EJH3ezwBMHE

    A short film he narrated for the Museum of Science: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=zKUKxyD6bP4


    • sheila says:

      Dan – thank you for all those Boston links!

      Jaquandor mentions too Nimoy’s introduction at the Boston Science Museum – I love how well-known it is, I’ve heard it mentioned often. (I’ve never been there. I hope they have kept it going!)

  10. Dan says:

    You’re most welcome – and thanks for letting me put them up here. I was going to post them at my site, then I saw this post and figured more folks would probably see and enjoy them here.

    I read Jaquandor’s lovely piece. I’m guessing his visit was more recent than my last one, so I trust the intro is still there. Hoping anyway.

  11. Dan says:

    It’s fascinating stuff. This thread (Medeival Boston!) has lots of pictures of old Boston, including the West End. There’s even a snap of young Leonard Nimoy in there.


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