UPDATED 3/26/17: Leonard Nimoy would have been 86 today. This first ran when Nimoy died in 2015 but it still resonates. William Shatner turned 86 last week. For 13 Great Captain Kirk Moments, click here.
I came to Star Trek relatively late. While it had been a syndication staple for almost two decades, I didn’t really discover the show until my college years in the mid-’80s.
I’d seen a couple of the movies but they were primarily diversions. The show, I thought, was a bore, something my father put on TV while I played with my Batman Megos over on the floor.
But something clicked in that summer of 1986, when I would stay up late every night watching Star Trek on Channel 11 in New York. By the time I was back at school that fall, I might as well have been at Starfleet Academy, such was my devotion.
I was, and remain, a Kirk guy. His decisiveness, combined with a certain recklessness, appealed to me. Besides, I’m a connoisseur of cheeze, and William Shatner is a master of the form.
On my very best days, Kirk is who I am, or at least I like to think so. And despite many attempts, Spock is who I could never be — cooler, smarter, more dignified. To this day, a couple of years shy of 50, I’m amused whenever I counsel someone else to let cooler heads prevail.
“I never thought,” I’ll say to myself, “that I’d ever find myself being Mr. Spock.”
Leonard Nimoy died today. I knew it was coming but I put it out of my head. And when I learned of it, it was a gut punch — far more painful than I would have thought, when you consider that we never met.
But as my friend Cliff put it to me today, in essence: I never knew Leonard Nimoy. But I knew Spock.
Spock was a great friend. He was the angel on your shoulder who urged you to do the right thing when you didn’t always want to. The guy who did his best to watch your back and keep you out of trouble. The guy who you could always count on — even if he pissed you off from time to time when he acted like he was the smartest guy in the room. (Because, you’d think grudgingly, he was.)
The greatest moment in all of Star Trek lore is one that gets me every single time I see it. No surprise, it’s the final sequence of Wrath of Khan, after Kirk rushes to the engine room when he realizes his friend and first officer has sacrificed himself for the needs of the many.
As Spock rises from the floor, before he turns to Kirk, he does one small thing that says so much: He pulls his tunic down, neatly into place. If he is going to face his commanding officer — his friend — one last time, he will do so with grace.
It’s Leonard Nimoy‘s finest moment as an actor and he isn’t even looking at the camera.
Later, at Spock‘s memorial, Kirk eulogizes his half-Vulcan comrade.
Staring at the camera and into the distance at the same time, the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise for so many missions says, his voice restrained with emotion, “Of my friend, I can only say this: Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… human.”
It’s William Shatner‘s finest moment as an actor.
It was Spock who brought it out in both of them.
But it’s a testament to Leonard Nimoy that it’s Spock we think of today.