Spock Dies at 83

Leonard Nimoy, the deep voiced, instantly recognizable actor who won an intensely loyal worldwide fan base for his portrayal of Mr. Spock, the consummately logical first officer of the Enterprise on the Star Trek television series and films, died Friday morning at his Los Angeles home at the age of 83 after being released from the hospital earlier this week. His death was confirmed by his wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, who said that the cause of the actor’s death was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Nimoy was known to be suffering from COPD; Mr. Nimoy himself had announced on Twitter last year that he had the disease, chalking it up to his decades as a heavy smoker.

Leonard Nimoy as SpockMr. Nimoy’s acting career was far more wide ranging than his role in the Star Trek franchise; he was a published poet, photographer and musician as well as an actor. However, Mr. Spock was the character with which the actor will always be identified. Nimoy himself was somewhat ambivalent about being so closely tied to the character, titling his two autobiographies “I Am Not Spock” and “I Am Spock,” respectively, but came to appreciate his Vulcan alter ego and legions of loyal fans, often using Spock’s phrase “live long and prosper” when communicating with the public.

Leonard Nimoy once said that he always enjoyed playing the outsider, and when he was cast as Mr. Spock in the original 1960’s Star Trek series (he was teaching Method acting at the time), he was given what may have been the ultimate outsider role: the only non-human on the bridge of the Enterprise. The series only lasted three seasons from 1966 to 1969, but made Nimoy a star almost instantly for his portrayal of Spock,
a character the show’s creator, Gene Rodenberry has called “the conscience of Star Trek.” Out of all of the surviving cast members from the 1960’s TV series, only Nimoy appeared in J.J. Abrams reboot of the film franchise in 2009, playing an older version of Mr. Spock (now portrayed in the films by actor Zachary Quinto). Nimoy also appeared as Spock in the 2013 sequel, Star Trek: Into Darkness. 

Beyond Star Trek

Outside of Star Trek, Nimoy’s best known roles were his portrayal of the agent Paris on seasons 4 and 5 of the TV series Mission: Impossible and on stage as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. He also published books of poetry and photography and directed films (including two Star Trek films, Star Trek III and Star Trek IV as well as writing Star Trek VI) and television shows. Nimoy also dabbled in music, recording pop songs and original, often Star Trek-themed songs and performing as a spoken word artist. While universally panned by critics, fans appreciated the inherent camp of his work and his albums, including “Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space” have become cult classics.

Admirer of Boris Karloff and Charles Laughton

Leonard Nimoy was an admirer of Boris Karloff and Charles Laughton for their roles as Frankenstein’s monster and Quasimodo, both characters who were reviled as monsters and transformed by love. Nimoy’s turn at this theme came in Episode 24 of Star Trek, where Spock is affected by alien spores which allow his human side to take over; he then professes his love for Leila Kalomi, a woman he knows from Earth. In the episode, Spock declares “I am what I am, Leila, and if there are self-made purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine can be no worse than someone else’s.”

Biography

Leonard Nimoy was born in Boston on March 26, 1931, the son of Ukrainian Jewish parents. He began his acting career early, taking his first roles in local productions by the age of 8 and continuing through high school. He visited Hollywood in 1949, but wouldn’t be hired for his first movie roles until two years later – small parts in the films Rhubarb and Queen for a Day, followed by his first leading role in Kid Monk Baroni in 1952, where he played a gang leader turned boxer.

Two Years in the Army

Nimoy spent two years in the Army, becoming a sergeant and producing shows for the Special Services branch at Fort McPherson in Georgia. He also starred as Stanley and directed the Atlanta Theater Guild production of A Streetcar Named Desire while serving in the Army. He returned to California after leaving the military, working various jobs while studying at the Pasadena Playhouse and landing the occasional role on TV shows including Perry Mason, Rawhide and Wagon Train as well as teaching acting before being cast as Mr. Spock. He returned to college after his roles on Star Trek and Mission: Impossible ended, earning a master’s degree in Spanish from Antioch University Austin; he would later receive an honorary doctorate from the university.

Other highlights of Mr. Nimoy’s career included directing the hit 1987 comedy Three Men and a Baby and his Emmy-nominated role as Golda Meir’s husband in the 1982 film A Woman Called Golda; Golda Meir was portrayed by Ingrid Bergman. This was Nimoy’s only non-Star Trek related Emmy nomination, although it was the fourth of his career.

Later in his career, Mr. Nimoy was heavily in demand as a voiceover actor. He narrated eight seasons of the History Channel series Ancient Mysteries and provided voices for as well as appearing in commercials, including a few with his former Star Trek co-star William Shatner for Priceline.com. He also voiced characters in animated films including 1994’s The Pagemaster and the 1986 animated film Transformers: The Movie. You may have also heard him as the voice of the king of Atlantis in the Disney animated feature Atlantis: The Lost Empire in 2001 and as the voiceover talent for the popular computer game Civilization IV. He also had recurring roles on the sci-fi TV series Fringe and (in voice only) the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, appropriately enough as the “Voice Of Spock.”

Nimoy wasn’t just an artist and entertainer, he was also a lifelong and very active patron of the arts. For his dedication to and support of the dramatic arts, the Thalia, a 1931 movie theater located on 95th Street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and now part of Symphony Space, was renamed the Leonard Nimoy Thalia in 2002.

He embraced his Jewish roots late in life, a rediscovery which informed work including the 1991 television movie “Never Forget,” produced by and starring Nimoy. The film was based on the true story of a Holocaust survivor who sued neo-fascist Holocaust deniers. His faith also inspired his book of photography “Shekhina,” an exploration of the feminine aspect of God. Criticized as heretical by some Orthodox Jewish rabbis for its inclusion of nude and seminude photographs of women, Mr. Nimoy maintained that the work was firmly in the spirit of and in according to the teachings of the Kabbalah. Nimoy also published less religiously themed works of photography and poetry, including his 2002 book “A Lifetime of Love: Poems on the Passages of Life.” The actor’s Orthodox upbringing also influenced his portrayal of Mr. Spock. Spock’s distinctive salute was based on the kohanic blessing which Nimoy said he learned by watching the rabbi in his youth.

While Leonard Nimoy was so much more than simply Mr. Spock, there was more than a little of Mr. Nimoy in the beloved character and vice versa. As he wrote looking back on his experience playing the first officer of the Enterprise years later, “To this day, I sense Vulcan speech patterns, Vulcan social attitudes and even Vulcan patterns of logic and emotional suppression in my behavior.” However, he thought of it as a positive thing, adding “Given the choice, if I had to be someone else, I would be Spock.”

Mr. Nimoy is survived by his wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, his children, Julie and Adam Nimoy, his stepson Aaron Bay Schuck, six grandchildren, a great grandchild and his older brother, Melvin Nimoy.

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