My wife and I once, and only once, stood in the same area code as Leonard Nimoy. On Thanksgiving weekend 2001, Nimoy was one of the most special guests at Indianapolis’ annual Star Trek convention, during the dark-ages period when it was run by a notorious out-of-state company. The autographs and fleeting moments with all non-Nimoy actor guests were included in the ticket price, years before al-a-carte autographs at skyrocketing prices became the industry norm. In-person autographs from the esteemed Mister Spock were permitted only to VIP attendees who paid extra for the Saturday evening “Dinner with the Stars” gathering; all other attendees like us received non-personalized pre-signed photos with admission.
That’s ours scanned and shown above. At the time Anne and I were best friends with separate low-rent apartments and not much disposable income to pool together. The VIP package was beyond our means, but we were thrilled simply to inhabit the same building as the greatest science officer in pop culture history.
We had terrible seats at his Sunday Q&A, near the back of the long, long ballroom. We have no live photos of him from this occasion because our primitive 35mm cameras were useless against the vast gulf of heads between us and the stage. And yet…what mattered most was we were in the same room as The Leonard Nimoy.
A copy still exists of the convention summary she and I wrote at the time for our friends. My take on the Nimoy Q&A:
3 p.m. – The Big Star, Leonard Nimoy, takes the stage. Highlights:
* Nimoy is scheduled to do DVD commentaries for Star Trek films II through VI in the near future.
* He has a website for indulging his photography hobby at [now-defunct site].
* He also has a new book of poems coming out next year from Blue Mountain Arts. For you completists out there.
* Someone actually asks him about his two seasons on Mission: Impossible. He says it’s the first time in five or six years that anyone’s mentioned it to him.
* He’s only seen one episode of Enterprise so far, and didn’t like that episode, but refuses to condemn the series just on the basis of that lone viewing.
In hindsight thirteen years later, this section is despairingly sparse and fails to capture our overall sensation during that hour, which was “NIMOY IS HERE! NIMOY IS HERE! NIMOY IS HERE! NIMOY IS HERE! NIMOY IS RIGHT UP THERE! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”
Far away and yet so close. Up there was the man who taught us that intellectual logic doesn’t as mean if there’s no heart backing it up. Who taught us the importance of keeping your friends in check when they fly off half-cocked. Who taught us the importance of having friends at all, even if you think you have nothing in common. Who rocked prosthetic ears and vampire eyebrows but pulled off the staggering feat of convincing entire generations to take him seriously anyway. Who taught us the wonder of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.
And that’s just what Nimoy spoke to us through Spock. As the narrator of the ’70s docuseries In Search Of… he guided us through a mysterious world much closer to our doorstep than Vulcan was. In his one Twilight Zone episode “A Quality of Mercy” he was among a group of soldiers who showed us every war has two sides, and both sides are more than just targets. As the director of Three Men and a Baby he defied pigeonholing and proved he could venture beyond drama, beyond the realms of science fiction, and still entertain us even from the other side of the camera. (I was fifteen. The movie worked for me.) As Fringe‘s manipulative scientist William Bell, he gave life to another character in touch with his superior intellect, but warned us what could go wrong in trying to navigate such gifts with a broken moral compass. In his numerous voiceover roles in recent years, he confirmed “retirement” doesn’t mean you have to hide from the world and keep your talents packed away forever.
I was sorry to hear the news of Leonard Nimoy’s passing earlier today. I was the first to pass the word along to my wife the longtime Trek fan. We’re generally not the kind to have visible breakdowns whenever a renowned actor leaves us, but it was nice that a few acquaintances thought to contact her as soon as they heard the news, to make sure she’d been duly informed as, I don’t know, part of the really, really, really super-extended family of Nimoy fandom. Or something like that.
I regret we never had a second chance to come anywhere within miles of Nimoy’s personal presence, but he’s not entirely lost to us. He left behind a plethora of examples to follow and a lot of lessons we still need to learn.