I Am Not Spock proclaimed the title of Leonard Nimoy’s 1975 autobiography, in which the veteran actor tried to distinguish himself from his most iconic role, as Star Trek’s emotionless half-human, half-Vulcan science officer. Twenty years later, he published a follow-up entitled, I Am Spock, in which the actor-director warmly embraced his pointy-eared alter ego. Like it or not, Nimoy — who passed away on Feb. 27 at the age of 83 from end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — was Spock to generations of sci-fi fans, so much so that when J.J. Abrams rebooted the franchise in the 2009 blockbuster, Nimoy was the one original cast member he made sure to bring back.
Even though the role defined his career for those of us watching him at home and in theaters, Spock was only one small part of Nimoy’s overall life. An actor from childhood, the Boston-born Nimoy worked steadily on television before and after Star Trek, appearing on such disparate shows as Sea Hunt, Gunsmoke, Mission: Impossible and In Search Of…, a five-season series that explored the mysteries of the paranormal. In the '80s, he became an established film director, overseeing back-to-back big-screen Star Trek installments (The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home) followed by the 1987 hit, Three Men and a Baby.
Nimoy parlayed his eye for the camera into a respected career as a photographer, snapping pictures that hung in galleries and were collected in books like The Full Body Project — a collection for which he shot nude photos of plus-sized and obese women. “The first time I had photographed a person of that size and shape, it was scary,” he remarked in a 2007 NPR interview. “I didn’t know quite how to treat this figure. And I think that’s a reflection of something that’s prevalent in our culture. I think, in general, we are sort of conditioned to see a different body type as acceptable and maybe look away when the other body type arrives. It led me to a new consciousness about the fact that so many people live in body types that are not the type that’s being sold by fashion models.”
That’s the kind of eminently logical argument that Spock would make and speaks to how being involved in a progressive, socially-conscious series like Star Trek must have helped shape Nimoy’s worldview going forward. One of the reasons the franchise has endured is that it imagines a future Earth free of prejudice and strife. Through his life and work on-screen and off, Nimoy sought to make that world of tomorrow possible today.