[The following is an adaptation from an obituary I wrote for Leonard Nimoy last year]
“In the middle of the earth, in the land of the Shire
There’s a brave little hobbit whom we all admire”
Thus starts a song Leonard Nimoy recorded in 1967. Those words obviously do not apply to the man who sang them. Neither did he live in Middle-earth or the middle of the earth and even less in the Shire. Calling him a brave Hobbit is probably only half the truth, and whoever calls him little does not know what they are talking about at all. That leaves us with the last clause, which is the only part of that little couplet that applies to Mr Nimoy without reservations or further qualifiers.
In 1967, Leonard Nimoy used projects such as this to distance himself from Star Trek, in order not to be reduced to Spock, the one role that made him famous all over the world. And yet… the same record also included the tracks Spock Thoughts [sic!] and Highly Illogical. The ambivalent nature of Nimoy’s relation with his most famous character began to manifest itself here and would later famously reach its crescendo in the titles of his two autobiographies, first I Am Not Spock and later I Am Spock.
Myself, I guess I felt like Mr Nimoy in a way. Having grown up with reruns of Star Trek on TV in the nineties (or rather Starship Enterprise, as that is what the German translation amounted to), science fiction all of a sudden turned out to be stupid and silly right around the start of puberty. Not because it was stupid and silly, you see, but because of good old peer-pressure. And when I caught one of the movies on TV by chance, I fell in love with Star Trek all over again. Because of Spock. Spock was an outsider, by natural necessity if you will. And yet he was fully integrated into and accepted by the crew. And even Bones’ digs about the greenblooded hobgoblin ultimately hid affection and, dare I say it, friendship.
But just like Spock was only a part of Mr Nimoy’s life story, he only is a part of how I had the fortune to perceive Mr Nimoy. First and foremost, there are all the other parts he played, which became automatic highlights for me (I don’t know a single episode of Mission: Impossible he does not have a part in). But ever since there is a youtube, he became more and more palpable as a person for me, a human being far off all TV cameras. And what I got to know left very deep impressions indeed. Leonard Nimoy was a warm, kind soul, good-hearted through and through. And when people asked him about The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins, a 40 year old publicity gimmick which is silly in all the right ways, he never once reacted hostile or embarrassed or tried to change the topic, even though he easily could have, since that happened at sci-fi conventions more often than not. The very opposite is true, he even started singing the song, in spite of wanting to be taken serious as a musician! I bought a compilation album of Mr Nimoy’s once, for the sole reason of listening to ludicrous songs of an actor who could not sing (at this point it seems pertinent to mention that it was a compilation album of both Nimoy and Shatner). After track 3 or 4 I had already forgotten that it is “Spock” who is doing the singing, and could I sing and play I Walk The Line even half as well as Mr Nimoy, I would be most overjoyed. So much for ‘serious musician’.
I did not become a scientist because of Spock, and he did not inspire me to invent some revolutionary device or something like that. Leonard Nimoy’s acting in an, at-the-time, 25 years old television program did not radically alter the course of my life or change everything. I do not think he is the most important person to ever live. But he and his work have provided me comfort and solace, have given me hope and made my life ever so slightly more worth of living. Spock as a character has held more interest for me than Captain Kirk would have for all my peers, what with his brawls and bedding green-skinned space babes and stuff. Would have, if science fiction had not been silly and stupid, anyway.
Much has been said on the occasion of Leonard Nimoy’s passing, and the mere quantity of those things has been overwhelming. It often was some variation of “Live long and prosper” or the famous quote from The Wrath of Khan. You know the one. And even though both are very apt and a propos, deep inside all I want to do is refer to The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins and whisper quietly and respectfully “Mr Nimoy, I admire you”.