I could never quite do the Vulcan salute. It didn't matter which hand I used – and God knows how many times I tried over the years – my ring finger stubbornly remained stranded between my middle finger and pinky, quivering slightly, as if unable to choose a side. I took some comfort in the fact that many actors who appeared on the numerous incarnations of Star Trek over the years had similar trouble. (It was reported that when Zachary Quinto played Spock in 2009's Star Trek reboot, his fingers were glued into the proper position.) The more that I think about it, the more I'm convinced none of us should have been able to pull it off; after all, how many gestures are so intimately linked to one man?
Leonard Nimoy – an actor, director, photographer and writer – died today at 83. But, for Star Trek fans around the galaxy, it's Mr. Spock that's gone.
The world mourned his death once before. In 1982, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was released in theatres. In the film's climactic sequence, after the titular villain has activated the world-destroying Genesis device in his dying moments, Spock – emotionless, rational and assured, as always – bars himself in the engine room in order to fix the ship's waylaid warp drive. He succeeds, and the Enterprise is able to escape safely, but he receives a fatal dose of radiation in the process.
"I have been, and shall always be, your friend," he says, collapsing to the ground, as now-Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner) looks on in helplessness and horror. Then, he places his hand, fingers making the Vulcan salute, on the glass, and delivers his most famous line: "Live long and prosper."
There are few cinematic deaths so rewarding, and so affecting.
On the surface, it's illogical to be affected by the death of a person you've only known through their on-screen persona. I never met Leonard Nimoy, nor did I have the chance to interview him. I wasn't around for Star Trek's original run – I only began exploring this strange new world in 1981 – and although I watched The Next Generation religiously from the time it made its debut in 1987, my loyalties belonged to Jean-Luc Picard, Geordi La Forge, Data and the rest of the crew of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D, if we're being specific about it). My Star Trek fandom ended around the same time Deep Space Nine went off the air, to the point that I haven't even seen the latest movie in the franchise. In recent years I probably saw Nimoy more times onscreen in The Simpsons's classic "Marge Vs. The Monorail" episode than wearing the Starfleet uniform.
Yet a few minutes after learning of Nimoy's death, I felt strangely compelled to go back and rewatch the above-mentioned scene on YouTube for the first time in years. (Er, that wasn't me crying at my desk.) Watching it, it occurred to me that the Enterprise's original crew is leaving this world, one by one: DeForest Kelley, who played the ship's gruff doctor, "Bones" McCoy, died in 1999, while James Doohan, best-known as Scotty, the affable chief engineer, died in 2005. And I felt terribly saddened, more than a 33-year-old man has any right to be, that this time there will be no search for Spock.