Normally, I’m pretty good with words. At the moment, I’m not at my best, for reasons I hope are self evident. However, I’m going to do my best to remember someone who gave more to my life than he ever knew.
I never got to know Leonard Nimoy the way my fellow cast members did, so I can’t remember him in the personal way that they can. I didn’t know Leonard as a friend, or even as a colleague. I can’t tell you what he was like off the set, because I never had the privilege of visiting with him off the set. In fact, by the time he worked on Next Generation, my character was off exploring other planes of existence, and I was a nineteen year-old kid who was stumbling around, trying to figure out what he was going to do with the rest of his life.
When you are part of the Star Trek family — and that’s what it is, in ways that are as wonderful and complicated as all families are — you are part of a very small and special group, where news travels fast. Though I never got to be close to Leonard, I knew that he was a wonderful and lovely man, because that’s all anyone ever said about him. I feel that I haven’t earned the right to eulogize him, but a lot of people are asking me to, so if you’ll allow me a few minutes of your time, I’d like to do my best to remember Leonard the way most of us will be remembering him today: as the actor who played a character who was deeply important to all of our lives, because everyone who watched and loved Star Trek is part of our extended family.
When I was a kid, long before I put on Wesley Crusher’s sweaters or piloted the Enterprise, I loved Star Trek. I watched it all the time in syndication on our black and white television, and when the other kids at school wanted to play CHiPs or the A-Team on the playground, I wanted to turn the jungle gym into the Enterprise. On those rare occasions that I convinced my classmates that we were boldly going toward new worlds on lunch recess, one of the Cool Kids would claim the role of Captain Kirk, and I would always happily assume the role of Mister Spock.
I was too young to fully understand why, but as I got older and looked back on those years, it became clear: I identified with Spock because he was weird, and cerebral, and he was different from everyone else. He was just like me, but the things that made me a target of ridicule on the playground made him a valuable and vital member of his ship’s crew. In ways that I couldn’t articulate at the time, I wanted to be Mister Spock because if I was, I could be myself –quiet, bookish, alien to the people around me — and it wouldn’t be weird. It would be awesome.
When I was cast to play Wesley Crusher, and became part of the Star Trek family, one of the first things I got excited about was meeting Mister Spock, and the actor who played him. It never happened, really, so I never got to know the man behind the ears and the eyebrows and the character that meant so much to me. But as I said on Twitter this morning, we in the Next Generation stood upon his shoulders, and we got to explore a universe that wouldn’t have existed without him. I’ve met thousands of people over the last decade, who have told me that Wesley Crusher meant the same thing to them that Mister Spock meant to me, and for that I am eternally grateful to everyone who was part of Star Trek before I was, including Leonard.
Mister Spock made it okay for me to be the weird kid who eventually grew into a slightly-less weird adult, but it was Leonard Nimoy who made Mister Spock live, and who made Star Trek — and every science fiction TV series since 1966 — possible.
Thank you, Leonard, for making it okay to be me, and for making it possible for me to explore brave new worlds, and boldly go where you had gone before. I wish I’d gotten to know you the way so many others did, because everyone says you were as awesome and wonderful as I hoped you would be. Rest in peace, sir.
(Crossposted from my blog at wilwheaton.net)