Part of growing older is watching your heroes and idols wink out of existence one after the other, and my day today began with the news that Leonard Nimoy is gone too. The character of Spock that he co-created has had an enormous impact on my life, and I am deeply saddened at the loss.
His passing brings forcefully to mind his fictional death as Spock at the finale of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan all those years ago. In today's information- and spoiler-rich world, it's hard to explain what a shock that was in 1982.
The first I even knew that there was a new Star Trek film coming was a couple of weeks from its Australian release, when the cinema pages of the Courier Mail suddenly started carrying advertisements with a daily countdown. The ads showed the film poster with a caption like "It is now 10 days till Stardate 8130.3"
When my Dad took me to see it at what was then the Valley Twin cinema, I had absolutely no idea what the movie was about or what was waiting for me at its end. (Later in the 80s, the Valley Twin was to become a porn cinema when that was still a thing. In the 90s or early 00s, it was a Cantonese cinema. Now it's The Globe).
This film told a very different Star Trek story! I was shocked at a Captain Kirk who had grown old and bitter (then reassured when a crisis brought him back to form). But that was nothing compared to the stunning realisation that there was no eleventh-hour reprieve for Spock putting himself in mortal danger to save the starship Enterprise. This was a moment for Blake's 7, not Star Trek! Right up to the funeral scene, I was still waiting for some quirk of Vulcan physiology or a miracle cure by Dr McCoy to reveal that Spock was all right after all. It didn't come. I remember my tears and my Dad's laconic reassurances that it's just a movie. He bought me the novelisation and the soundtrack cassette in the foyer and we went home.
Within a year or two, a schoolteacher would give my class an exercise to produce a short piece of reflective writing on the topic of "my friend" or perhaps "my best friend". In that rural hellhole, I didn't have anyone in my life I would have called a friend. So I wrote about Spock instead, how we had travelled together on the most incredible imaginary journeys and how his death had affected me. I was there! I was right there! I saw it happen right in front of my eyes! I was given a low grade with the comment that this should have been about a real friend. Even at that point in life, I had already learned it would have been futile to explain how I truly felt closer to an imaginary alien than to anyone in that room, so I didn't argue the point.
...an imaginary alien whom Mr Nimoy brought to unforgettable life, and gave a young nerd in a bad place—and many many others like him all over the world—someone to believe in and look up to.
So although I never met him, I am missing him tonight.