Some very sad news hit the headlines on Friday evening, the announcement of the death of one of my childhood heroes, Leonard Nimoy.
For people unfamiliar with him, he was a true icon of American popular culture, a distinguished actor who famously played ‘Mr Spock’ in the hit sixties TV series, ‘Star Trek’. He died at the age of 83 from end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which he had earlier blamed on an excessive smoking habit, something he’d actually given up thirty years ago. Sadly, it was apparent the damage had been done. In his final years and months he was a strong campaigner on Twitter, and in the media, for encouraging smokers to quit while they could.
I was really saddened by his passing and wanted to just post some of my own thoughts and reflections.
I’m a huge Star Trek fan, have been since I was a boy. The stories and characters always resonated with me. The original 1966-69 TV series, and later the films, inspired me in many, many ways. I could certainly point to it influencing many of my current professional attributes – its story telling and futuristic design definitely stoked my creative imagination as a child. That imagination I’m sure, in part, is responsible for my creative mind – the urge to always conjure something from nothing. When I was an eight year old all I wanted to do was draw the Starship Enterprise – I know for a fact that this must have been an early inspiration for my love for designing and drawing, which would of course later manifest into framing images through a camera view finder.
The Spock character was one of the big draws to the show. He was, and is, one of the most iconic characters in television history, and Leonard Nimoy brought so much to the character.
I once met Mr Nimoy very briefly at ‘Collectormania’, which is an event for fans of film & television to meet their heroes, get signed photos and hang out with like minded people to share their love of fandom.
I was there to capture just those type of things for an ongoing personal photo essay on science fiction conventions in the UK. I remember the day well, I’d just photographed a squadron of stormtroopers in front of a metal door that lent itself well to the used, industrial look of Star Wars.
The setting was inside the concourses of the MK Dons football stadium and I’d had quite a good day as I recall, having taken some decent photographs for my project, so I decided that I’d let my hair down and enjoy what the show had to offer.
I was well aware that one of my heroes was present at the event. Mr Spock himself had a table setup to sign hundreds, if not thousands of photographs over the three days he was there, charging £35 a pop for the privilege.
Normally I’m quite cynical about paying for such things – it’s all a money making ploy to part with your cash I would inwardly theorise to myself – but on this occasion I was of the opinion that £35 in exchange for a once in a lifetime meeting would be a fair deal. So I duly handed over my money, chose the photo I liked the most for him to sign and queued up with my camera to hand. I must’ve queued a good half an hour in line with several hundred people, that got longer and longer by the minute, whilst chatting to some of the other nerds either side of me, sharing in their excitement of meeting this man who’d doubtlessly given us so much pleasure throughout our childhoods on TV.
Perhaps, I thought while patiently waiting in this queue, he would let me take his portrait. I was aware of the fact that he was an accomplished photographer himself, and that he was actively promoting his work at the time. Recently Leonard Nimoy had exhibited a series of images of the female form, called Shekhina. I thought that maybe he would let his guard down to a fellow photographer. As we inched closer to the table where he was seated I could read a sign which had been taped on the wall behind him. It read in bold marker pen: NO PHOTOGRAPHY. Bugger, I thought. He’s not going to let me take his photo. In fact the security, who were flanking him either side would probably answer for him with a swiftly dispatched back of hand into my lens if I so much as touched my camera. So I used one of my dear old Dad’s tactics: I asked him nicely. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” I could hear his voice in my head. *
Well, guess what, it didn’t work anyway. He very politely declined, but instead of saying “no”, he gave me a faint slither of hope by uttering in his softly spoken voice “Probably not, probably not…but we’ll see. Maybe later.” I understood, it wasn’t personal, he just couldn’t start down the slippery slope of having photos taken as he’d be doing it for everyone. In my nervous and slightly embarrassed state, I decided I’d stop wasting his time, but not before telling him what a real pleasure it was to meet him, extending my hand out to him. He responded by taking my hand firmly and responding with a kind smile, “Thanks. You too!”
This was a lovely moment personally for me as it was a chance to meet a hero, but also made me realise meeting famous people wasn’t really such a big deal. During my career since, I’ve met and photographed many well known faces and I feel like that day when I met Leonard Nimoy, albeit briefly, removed a mental barrier. Before, I would easily become starstruck, but from then on I’d simply regard celebrities as ordinary people, made of the same flesh and blood as myself. Years later I would meet my other Star Trek hero, William Shatner, no hand shake was exchanged on that occasion…oh no.
This brings me back to the here and now – Leonard Nimoy is sadly no longer with us. I was really sad when I learned of his passing. It’s probably up there with the saddest I’ve been for the death of a person I never knew. My childhood remains a very important part of me that I try my hardest to preserve in memory, I’m sure this is the case with a lot of people, particularly ones from split families. When I would see my Dad at weekends, watching Star Trek was something we enjoyed together. Mr Nimoy’s passing I guess was part of my childhood dying too, hence the sense of grief.
Selfishly, for people like me who are fans, he will live on forever because his legacy remains in his amazing performances and we can relive them again and again for years to come. That’s part of the beauty of heroes and heroines of Hollywood, film stars never fade from history because they are immortalised on celluloid for future generations to enjoy forever more.
Tributes for Leonard Nimoy poured in on Twitter from the world of entertainment & politics when the news was announced…
“Leonard was Spock. Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the centre of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future.”
– President Obama
“Leonard Nimoy was more than Mr. Spock. But Mr. Spock is his gift to us all. Live long and prosper. HANX.”
– Tom Hanks
“RIP Leonard Nimoy. So many of us at NASA were inspired by Star Trek. Boldly go…”
“I loved him like a brother. We will all miss his humor, his talent, and his capacity to love.”
– William Shatner
“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”
– Leonard Nimoy, 19 Feb 2015
The LLAP (Live Long and Prosper) tweet that Leonard signed off with (above) was his last, posted just days before his death – a very poignant and poetic goodbye. Since then the #LLAP hashtag caught on virally with people posting messages on social media, as well as taking selfies and other photos incorporating the famous Vulcan hand salute, which Nimoy made famous.
I’ve done my own version in tribute and posted to Instagram.