It has been over a month now since Leonard Nimoy passed to the Great Beyond, and it's still difficult to accept that Spock is gone.
In the days and weeks that passed, it became apparent that it was not only Star Trek fans and those who worked on the show who mourned his passing, but veritably the whole world. And with good reason.
Nimoy was the first — and still perhaps the only — actor to become a sex symbol for playing an alien. That the alien he played had pointed ears, pale skin and green blood made that phenomenon even more unlikely — except to those who watched the original "Star Trek." Yet of course his lasting appeal and legacy go far beyond that initial wave of adoration.
Nimoy will last as long as there is a means to watch those shows and movies. His portrayal of Spock, the logic-driven yet constantly divided soul due to his alien-human heritage, was perhaps the most underrated performance by an actor in the 20th century — and also the most enduring.
Think of it — in 200 years people will still have pictures of Nimoy on their computers when Marlon Brando and Peter O'Toole will be known only to 20th century film buffs. That is the level of fame Nimoy achieved as Spock.
Nimoy broke into show biz by playing — ironically enough — an alien bad guy in Republic serials. His baritone voice and uncommon looks made that inevitable. What wasn't such a sure bet was his springboard to stardom. Nimoy was one of the few people who was with "Star Trek" right from the very start (Gene Roddenberry had worked with Nimoy earlier on one of his cop shows) and would remain right to the end.
The public's fascination with Nimoy as Spock started immediately; by Sept. 29, 1966 (the airing of the fourth "Star Trek" episode), America was abuzz about the man with pointed ears. By the fifth show, "Spock-o-mania" was undeniable as sacks of fan mail came pouring in (so much so that co-star William Shatner had a hard time understanding it all).
Soon, Nimoy became as nearly recognizable as a Beatle — he was drawing similar-sized crowds whenever he went into public. Such was his overnight fame, they even had Nimoy record an album that, unsurprisingly, is simultaneously touching and entertaining (his version of "Where is Love" is great as is the "Mission Impossible" theme).
Ultimately of course, it was his acting chops and not his singing that made him one of the world's most famous actors. His sensitive yet reserved approach to a role that would have been mangled by most actors remains to this day one of the best portrayals of an actual alien ever given.
NBC, which had up to then been trying to push the "Satanic" looking character off of the show had a 180 change of heart as the fan mail kept pouring in, and soon they were pushing Roddenberry for more Spock-themed shows. Despite the newfound fame, Nimoy was paid $1,250 per show (versus Shatner's $5,000) ... something that would soon change.
Shatner, while still the official star of the show, was now in reality Spock's sidekick in many people's minds — something that naturally bothered the Shat mightily. But give credit where it is due; he overcame that feeling and was the bedrock upon which the rest of the show — and Nimoy — could build upon. And by all accounts Nimoy seems to have handled the "overnight" fame as a total professional — again, remarkable knowing show business.
Perhaps most pleasing to fans of the show, Shatner eventually became the best of friends with Nimoy, and remained so until the very end — something that even now amazes me given the nature of Hollywood (so many other Hollywood "couples" like Martin & Lewis and Abbot & Costello grew to hate/dislike one another).
Nimoy relentlessly protected his character — oftentimes vexing "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry and Paramount Pictures in the process. Yet in doing so, Nimoy managed the rarest of things — he kept his character from becoming a parody or laughing stock. Spock is as culturally relevant in 2015 as he was in 1967. Quite a feat given the nearly 50 years of the character's existence.
Nimoy eventually garnered so much creative power that the studio allowed him to direct — they soon were glad they did — and his "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" became the second-highest grossing film in the series.
Even as recently as the very last Star Trek movie, he continued to bring dignity and grace to the part.
Detroit was part of the first group of cities to get "Star Trek" in syndication in the early '70s, so I was lucky enough to be a child growing up during that second wave of "Star Trek" fever. Spock's alien nature, smarts, philosophy and love of his shipmates all made for one of the best, complex heroes a weird little kid could possibly have. Like so many millions of others, I was helped on the path I'm currently on thanks to Nimoy's performance as a half alien from another world. In both his performances — and his professionalism — Nimoy influenced my life.
A month has passed and I still wonder at the impact Spock has had on literally millions of other people. So here's to Nimoy — hero to millions of dreamers.