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Dan Madsen Remembers Leonard Nimoy

Dan Madsen Remembers Leonard Nimoy

Since we lost Leonard Nimoy this past February, I have been thinking a great deal about his legacy and the special place he holds in my memory for many reasons. Leonard’s death came as a shock to me even though I knew he had been in ill health for some time. You see, I grew up with all of these people from the original Star Trek cast. To me, they were timeless. At first, they were just my heroes, but after founding the Official Star Trek Fan Club and the Star Trek Communicator magazine I was privileged to get to know all of them as friends.  I just assumed they would always be there… so when we lost Gene Roddenberry, Mark Lenard, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Majel Barrett and, now, Leonard, each time I had to wrap my head around the fact that they were no longer with us and that I would not see and speak with them again.

Every one of the above mentioned names was special in his or her own way. Gene Roddenberry was instrumental in helping me become the “official” fan club and was supportive at every step of the way. DeForest Kelley and his wife Carolyn became dear friends, and we talked all the time either by phone or mail. They even sent my wife and me a beautiful crystal bowl for a wedding present. On and on, I could tell you wonderful personal stories of each of those Star Trek cast members who have passed on (and those who are still with us I might add!) But Leonard Nimoy holds a special place for me. In the very early days of the fan club’s life, Leonard was a great supporter. Before I was honored with the title of being called “Official” by Paramount Pictures and Gene Roddenberry, I reached out to Leonard to ask for an interview. I only had a few hundred members then (compared to the over 50,000 at its peak) and didn’t expect that an actor of his magnitude would even respond. But lo and behold, within days of my request (I had sent him a written request along with past issues of the newsletter), his agent responded that Leonard would love to talk with me. I was blown away! The next week, at the scheduled time, the phone rang and on the other end was Leonard. It was my first time speaking with the actor who brought Spock to life and he was so gracious and gave me all the time and more that I had requested. I asked him at the end of the interview why he had decided to do the interview with me as I wasn’t a major media outlet, just a little fan club newsletter, and he said with a laugh, “Why not?! You’re doing a great job!” After the issue came out, in my mailbox one day was a letter from Leonard thanking me for the great interview and how much he enjoyed it. That letter is one of my prized possessions now. A year later, he made a speaking engagement at a college here in Colorado and I met him at his hotel to give him some extra copies of the issue his interview was featured in. As usual, he spent extra time to catch up on my life and to warmly thank me again for running the fan club.That began a 35-year friendship that I am truly grateful for. Whenever he had the chance Leonard gave me a helping hand. Whether it was mentioning my fan club on Larry King Live or inviting me to his Star ceremony on the Hollywood Walk of Fame or always responding when I asked for an interview, he was always there. I ran into him over the years many times at conventions and was always given a warm smile, a firm handshake and extra time to chat and catch up. My last interview with Leonard was in 2009 after the first J.J. Abrams Star Trek had been released. As usual, we talked for close to two hours and discussed so many memories of Star Trek and where it was headed at that time. With regards to Zachary Quinto taking over the role of Spock, he told me, “Having had this movie and this experience as Spock and seeing Zachary Quinto in the role now, I feel the character has a potentially wonderful, new life and certainly the success of the movie is just so terrific! It is so wonderful to see this happen and to see Star Trek have a chance of a reinvention and a revival. “Realizing the worldwide impact of Star Trek after living with it myself for most of life, I said that “It must give you a sense of pride to know you were the first to introduce the Vulcan hand sign and that, now, you can do that sign all over the world and most people know it as coming from Star Trek and it is a greeting of peace?” “Yes, it is,” he said with obvious pride. “It is in the culture now. It is great. I get it from kids, I get it from bus drivers, I get it from police, and I get it from waiters in restaurants. It is great and I love it!”

Leonard told me then that “In a lot of ways I feel closer to Spock personally than I ever have.” I related to him that the new film was a bit bittersweet for me as I realized my cast (the cast I grew up with and loved) was truly going away now and this new, younger cast was having the torch passed onto them. “If we cannot accept the future we are in trouble,” he responded to my statement. “Ben Cross is playing Spock’s father. Mark Lenard has passed away. Winona Ryder is playing Spock’s mother and Jane Wyatt has passed away. Simon Pegg is playing Scotty and James Doohan is gone. DeForest Kelley is gone. Majel Barrett is gone. We have to be real about this. I am a nostalgic guy – I love thinking about the past. I think about it often. I think about the great times I have had and the difficulties and the exciting moments. But I think it is healthy to live in the ‘here-and-now’ and deal with the reality of the present. I see it, not as a negative thing, but as a positive thing. These beloved characters are being given a whole new life. I am very proud of the fact that these characters are worth dealing with again. We have established such wonderful characters that it is worth making a new investment in them and to go and watch them now and see them in a new light. I think that is very exciting!”One thing I was particularly interested in at the time was asking Leonard if the last line he spoke in the first Abrams film, “Thrusters on full,” was a symbolic passing of the torch? He responded, “I am so delighted you are asking me this question. No one has asked me it before. That line was not in the script. We had shot the scene and were done with it and I said to J.J., ‘If you give me one more take, I have a thought I would like to inject here and see if you like it.’  We shot it again and I said, ‘Thrusters on full.’ It was kind of a blessing and a passing of the torch. It was an absolutely on-the-spot idea I came up with and it was not in the script. Then J.J. called me sometime later and said that he was amazed at how it fit into the next scene on the bridge because then they start talking about the thrusters! So there was a connection almost as if it had been designed that way. I wasn’t thinking about the bridge scene, I was simply thinking about saying to these young guys, ‘Go ahead. Take the torch and go!’”

Towards the end of my last interview with Leonard, I got a bit contemplative and asked him ‘If you could travel back in time, like Spock, what advice would an older Leonard Nimoy of today give a 30-something Leonard Nimoy as he was stepping into the role of Spock for the first time?’ He gave me that wonderful laugh of his again and said, “I would say, ‘Just be aware that things change!’”And now, today, I have come to that realization that things do indeed change and life goes on. Different adventures with a new Spock and a new Star Trek crew will continue with Zachary Quinto and the gang, and the character will live on through who knows how many more films, television series and other actors reinterpreting and imitating the brilliant original performance of Leonard Nimoy. His last tweet, incredibly poignant and profound, said it all, “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP.” What amazing and powerful Star Trek memories Leonard Nimoy has given us to last our lifetimes and for those yet to be born.______Dan Madsen is the former founder, president and publisher of the Official Star Trek Fan Club and Official Star Trek Communicator magazine. He is now publicist for actress Ashley Eckstein’s company, Her Universe, which produces fashionable, female-focused apparel for Sci-Fi fans.

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