Leonard Nimoy 1931 – 2015
Leonard Nimoy and Frank Drake tour the SETI Institute lab in 1994.
He was everyone’s favorite (half-) alien. A Vulcan with a penchant for logical insight, delivered in the flat tone that was presumed to characterize an advanced species, Mr. Spock defined “extraterrestrial intelligence” for a generation. Now Leonard Nimoy, who created a personality that dominated his career in the minds of many, has died at the age of 83.
Unlike many actors in science-fiction, Nimoy had a real interest in the science that motivated his character. He came to the SETI Institute several times, and asked to be shown the equipment used for experiments designed to hunt for extraterrestrial signals. He was the guest speaker at an event celebrating the creation of the Frank Drake Award, an honor bestowed upon anyone who has been of exceptional service in furthering research about life beyond Earth. At that event, Nimoy enthralled an audience of practicing scientists and engineers with his behind-the-scenes look at how their work was dramatized for the camera.
Nimoy also expertly voiced a planetarium show about SETI science and never sent a bill.
Frank Drake noted that “Leonard Nimoy not only believably portrayed a potentially laughable character – a remarkable accomplishment for any actor – but he was also a thinking person, able to perceive what others couldn’t in the world around him.”
If we receive a signal telling us of alien existence, it’s not likely that whoever sits behind the microphone will sport pointed ears. But we can at least hope that they have the patience and preference for clear thinking that were the true earmarks of Mr. Spock. There could hardly be a more hopeful prototype for galactic brethren. But in fact it was his own species – his humanity—that was Nimoy’s most notable characteristic.
Yes, Mr. Spock will live on, but Leonard Nimoy will be missed.