There are some old souls of fandom whom I believe to be immortal. Tom Baker is, of course, top of that list, but William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, Harrison Ford, Christopher Lee – they’re up there too. When I heard that Leonard Nimoy had been brought into the hospital a few days ago, my immediate reaction was that he is one of those immortal heroes and that he would be fine because he must be fine in order for our delicate world order to be maintained.
Of course he wasn’t fine. He’s left us for the stars, and today has been spent mostly crying at my desk, mourning a man I never met who once invited us all to be his honorary internet grandchildren. As I’ve sat here reading and watching and remembering, I’ve wondered what it was that made Leonard Nimoy such an icon for our community of geeks and nerds and Trekkies and how it was that he worked his way into all of our hearts. And for me, at least, I have it sorted.
Leonard Nimoy was funny, and kind, and genuine, and as far as I can tell, no one ever spoke a word against him. But the thing that made him truly special, the thing that made him understand us and love us all for who we are, was that he was also a weird dude. He understood the oddities that often drive us geeks to the outside and he embraced those oddities within himself. The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins is a masterpiece not just because it’s trippy and bizarre and a fantastic snapshot of 1967 weirdness, but because it’s one of the very first examples of a fandom crossover. Here was Spock (haircut and all, thanks to the production schedule) cheerfully honoring the tale of “a brave little hobbit whom we all admire.” While Star Wars and Star Trek fans were separating themselves into factions, Leonard Nimoy just wanted us all to dance around and celebrate fantasy and sci-fi for what they are: genres that bring us together and inspire us to dream.
He was unafraid to honor his position as an icon of sci-fi, so often appearing on The Simpsons to crack a delightful Star Trek joke, so often saying yes to additional appearances in the franchise as it morphed into The Next Generation and the 2009 rebooted film series. He never made a fan feel ashamed, or asked us all to move on from Spock. But while he embraced his role as everyone’s favorite Vulcan, he was equally unafraid to show us more of his personality – his thoughtful work as a photographer and poet always reminding us that he couldn’t and wouldn’t stop creating. Leonard Nimoy personified the Whitman line, “I am large, I contain multitudes” and he asked us all to do the same.
Leonard Nimoy embraced his whole self and lived fearlessly. In doing so, he inspired us all to embrace our whole selves – the weird, the creative, the gentle, the funny, the curious. He brought us joy and let us all believe that he would drive down the highway singing The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins before breaking out a Vulcan nerve pinch. He also made sure we knew he had a poet’s soul. He gave them equal weight, and implicitly asked that we do the same. As has so often been said today, he lived long and prospered.
Thank you Mr. Nimoy. I love you, I miss you, and I will try to embrace all parts of myself in your memory.