Leonard Nimoy’s Funeral: In Defense Of Shatner

Leonard Nimoy, the beloved actor, director, poet, singer, and photographer who passed away Friday at the age of 83 after suffering from the degenerative lung disease COPD, has been remembered and honored since his passing with an immense outpouring of love and remembrance from co-stars and fans alike. Most reflected on Nimoy’s iconic portrayal of the inimitable Mr. Spock character from the original Star Trek series and subsequent movies, while others remembered fondly his recorded readings of classic sci-fi literature written by the man who coined the phrase, Ray Bradbury, and still yet others recalling Nimoy’s sensitivity and grace as depicted through his poetry.

The character of Mr. Spock, by all accounts from those closest to Nimoy and who knew him best, could be said to have been an exaggeration of Nimoy’s actual sensibilities and personality. Where Spock erred on the side of logic, Nimoy exhibited similar thoughtfulness and consideration whenever he shared himself with his fans. Through his work, his social media, and most importantly, his friendships, Nimoy exalted the virtues of love and understanding and often spoke in favor of causes that he knew could benefit from his voice.

Which is why it is so disturbing and disconcerting to see the backlash against Nimoy co-star and close friend, William Shatner, who announced his personal disappointment in not being able to attend Nimoy’s funeral.

Shatner explained that a prior commitment to appear for a charitable cause, in this case, the Red Cross Ball, held in Florida on Saturday night, would mean that it would not be possible to return in time for Nimoy’s memorial, held early Sunday morning, due simply to the logistics of travel. Shatner did not blow the ceremony off nor did he take his missing of the funeral lightly. Shatner explained not only why he would not be able to attend, but also expressed his immense disappointment and sorrow and not being able to make it back across the country in time.

The New York Daily News decided in favor of sensationalism and against sympathetic restraint and ran a full age cover with the headline in big, bold letters that read, “Captain Jerk! Claims night event in Florida means he can’t ‘beam up’ to L.A. in time.”

And then, the internet happened.

Shatner’s twitter feed blew up with internet trolls taking the Daily News headline and running with it, condemning him for not making Nimoy’s funeral a priority over a charitable event that he had committed to appearing at months in advance. This is how the internet consoles a beloved legend who has just lost one of his closest friends.

Shatner and Nimoy have been linked together for nearly fifty years with both of their characters, Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock, closely linked with each, having both shared and individually massive fan bases. Throughout the decades, the two appeared together at pop culture conventions, guest starred in television series like The Simpsons, and continued to act as the foremost Star Trek ambassadors. By all accounts, they were close friends with a deep and mutual love and respect for one another. And yet, fans of Nimoy, perhaps lashing out due to their own hurt and loss, have aimed their sights on Nimoy’s most closely identified cohort, forgetting, or maybe not caring, that like them, Shatner is probably hurting, likely feeling the weight of this immense loss far deeper than any of us who never even met him could.

So, instead of taking the day to mourn the loss of his close friend, as would have been expected and understandable, William Shatner spent his Saturday defending himself and his decision against the throngs of online haters who callously and insensitively took him to task for doing what Nimoy, and what Mr. Spock, logically would have likely advised Shatner to do: honor your commitment and appear at an event that had already raised a lot of money for the Red Cross based largely on the promise of Shatner’s appearance.

Shatner explained that, contrary to popular thought, it is not always possible to get a flight back into LAX overnight. Planes do not continuously run non-stop from coast to coast, twenty-four hours. The event Shatner appeared at in Florida likely would have went deep into the night. Nimoy’s funeral was scheduled for 9 a.m. the next morning. Even if Shatner would have been able to book a private jet on such short notice, it would have been questionable whether Shatner could have arrived back to the west coast in time.

Another factor the online hate brigade seems to have forgotten is that Shatner himself is also 83 years old. 83 years old! How many 83-year-olds do you know that have the energy or are in exceptional enough health to battle the rigors of travel, of jet lag, attend an event and be “on” all night, and then be expected to, instead of going back to a hotel room and getting, at this point, much needed rest, jump back on an airplane and endure the taxation of traveling back to Los Angeles to attend a friend’s early morning funeral? If this was even at all possible, that likely would have meant that William Shatner, at 83 years of age, would have been expected to pull an all nighter, place his own health and well-being at risk, simply to put in an appearance at a memorial because that’s what is expected of him.

Sounds fair, right?

William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy’s close friend, surely wanted to be there to lay his friend to rest. He said as much. Perhaps none of you has felt the sorrow and crushing disappointment of not being able, not not wanting to, but not being able to say goodbye to someone you loved in the manner you would have liked. If you are fortunate, you hopefully never will. Instead, Shatner did the next best thing, and took to Twitter, the same medium Nimoy himself had utilized for so many years to stay connected with his fans and share his thoughts and sentiments and poetry, to conduct an online funeral for Nimoy. He spoke sweetly of his friend, and responded to questions from those who asked him about his relationship with Nimoy. When asked what his favorite role of Nimoy’s was, Shatner’s response was “friend.” When asked if there was anything about their friendship he would have changed if he could, Shatner said, “that it could have lasted longer.”

These are not the words of a man who took missing his friend’s funeral lightly. These are the words of a man, also an icon, is mourning the loss of a fifty year friendship, not merely someone of whom he was a fan, but someone who he looked at like a brother. William Shatner does not deserve your scorn or your judgement. If anything, he deserves your sympathy and understanding. Better yet, he deserves to just be left alone to grieve in peace.