Nimoy is Spock, Spock is Nimoy

Story highlights

  • Gene Seymour: Gene Roddenberry may have created "Star Trek," but Leonard Nimoy and character of Spock are inseparable
  • He says Nimoy had many other artistic endeavors, photography, directing, poetry, but he was, in the end, Spock

Gene Seymour is a film critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

(CNN)Everybody on the planet knows that Gene Roddenberry created Mr. Spock, the laconic, imperturbable extra-terrestrial First Officer for the Starship Enterprise.

But Mr. Spock doesn't belong to Roddenberry, even though he is the grand exalted progenitor of everything that was, is, and forever will be "Star Trek."
Mr. Spock belongs to Leonard Nimoy, who died Friday at age 83. And though he doesn't take Spock with him, he and Spock remain inseparable.
    Zachary Quinto, who plays Spock in the re-booted feature film incarnation of "Trek," is excellent in the role. (Nimoy himself said so.) Quinto must know that however much he brings to the role, he will only be its custodian. Spock is Nimoy. Nimoy is Spock. It is, as Spock himself would intone, only logical.
    Nimoy often insisted otherwise, especially as the show went from canceled outcast to global phenomenon. He even wrote a book with the title, "I Am Not Spock" (1977) that was bought by millions of readers who didn't buy the title for a nanosecond. By 1995, he cried "uncle" by publishing a followup autobiography, "I Am Spock." In the years before and since, he carried his character's legacy with the grace and class he exhibited in other areas of his life.
    And the life of Leonard Nimoy, irrespective of Spock, was a rich and varied feast. Those two "Spock" books weren't the only things he'd published. A couple of books of poetry are also credited to him as were a collection of photographs celebrating what he termed "the feminine aspect of God."
    Which reminds me. Nimoy had a hand, so to speak, in creating one of Spock's most indelible traits: The "live-long-and-prosper" split-finger salute that Nimoy had borrowed from an approximation of the Hebrew letter shin, the first letter in the word Shaddai, one of the Hebrew names for God.
    Roddenberry didn't think of that. Nimoy did. And in doing so made an implausible character as much a part of our waking dreams as members of our own family.
    He also directed movies, two of which were part of the "Trek" franchise: 1984's "The Search for Spock" and 1986's "The Voyage Home."
    I got to meet him when the latter film opened. It was at a press conference that was part of the promotional junket in Los Angeles and Nimoy was very un-Spock-like in his jocular, freewheeling enthusiasm for the movie (which was, in fact, one of the very best, certainly the warmest, of the big-screen "Trek" iterations.)
    He could not stop smiling, not even when one of the reporters asked him about a scene in the film that catches Spock in an impromptu grin. (It vanished once the movie opened in theaters.) He looked like a man who knew he was going to soon have a lot more money than he'd had a week, or a day before -- though anyone with a brain knew he wasn't going to squander any of it on trivial things. He was Nimoy and he was Spock. And they were serious men with serious thoughts.
    Still, it was always nice to know Nimoy could smile, even if Spock couldn't.