Leonard Nimoy

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The Man Who Was Spock

Leonard Nimoy, best known for playing the character Spock in the Star Trek television shows and films, died at 83.

By Robin Lindsay on Publish DateFebruary 27, 2015. Photo by NBC, via Photofest.

His wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, confirmed his death, saying the cause was end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Mr. Nimoy announced last year that he had the disease, attributing it to years of smoking, a habit he had given up three decades earlier. He had been hospitalized earlier in the week.

His artistic pursuits — poetry, photography and music in addition to acting — ranged far beyond the United Federation of Planets, but it was as Mr. Spock that Mr. Nimoy became a folk hero, bringing to life one of the most indelible characters of the last half century: a cerebral, unflappable, pointy-eared Vulcan with a signature salute and blessing: “Live long and prosper” (from the Vulcan “Dif-tor heh smusma”).

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Nimoy Explains Origin of Vulcan Greeting

As part of the Yiddish Book Center Wexler Oral History Project, Leonard Nimoy explains the origin of the Vulcan hand signal used by Spock, his character in the “Star Trek” series.

By Yiddish Book Center on Publish DateFebruary 27, 2015. Photo by Yiddish Book Center’s Wexler Oral History Project.

Mr. Nimoy, who was teaching Method acting at his own studio when he was cast in the original “Star Trek” television series in the mid-1960s, relished playing outsiders, and he developed what he later admitted was a mystical identification with Spock, the lone alien on the starship’s bridge.

Yet he also acknowledged ambivalence about being tethered to the character, expressing it most plainly in the titles of two autobiographies: “I Am Not Spock,” published in 1975, and “I Am Spock,” published in 1995.

In the first, he wrote, “In Spock, I finally found the best of both worlds: to be widely accepted in public approval and yet be able to continue to play the insulated alien through the Vulcan character.”

“Star Trek,” which had its premiere on NBC on Sept. 8, 1966, made Mr. Nimoy a star. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the franchise, called him “the conscience of ‘Star Trek’ ” — an often earnest, sometimes campy show that employed the distant future (as well as some special effects that appear primitive by today’s standards) to take on social issues of the 1960s.

His stardom would endure. Though the series was canceled after three seasons because of low ratings, a cultlike following — the conference-holding, costume-wearing Trekkies, or Trekkers (the designation Mr. Nimoy preferred) — coalesced soon after “Star Trek” went into syndication.

The fans’ devotion only deepened when “Star Trek” was spun off into an animated show, various new series and an uneven parade of movies starring much of the original television cast, including — besides Mr. Nimoy — William Shatner (as Captain Kirk), DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy), George Takei (the helmsman, Sulu), James Doohan (the chief engineer, Scott), Nichelle Nichols (the chief communications officer, Uhura) and Walter Koenig (the navigator, Chekov).

When the director J. J. Abrams revived the “Star Trek” film franchise in 2009, with an all-new cast including Zachary Quinto as Spock, he included a cameo part for Mr. Nimoy, as an older version of the same character. Mr. Nimoy also appeared in the 2013 follow-up, “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

His zeal to entertain and enlighten reached beyond “Star Trek” and crossed genres. He had a starring role in the dramatic television series “Mission: Impossible” and frequently performed onstage, notably as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.” His poetry was voluminous, and he published books of his photography.

He also directed movies, including two from the “Star Trek” franchise, and television shows. And he made records, singing pop songs as well as original songs about “Star Trek,” and gave spoken-word performances — to the delight of his fans and the bewilderment of critics.

But all that was subsidiary to Mr. Spock, the most complex member of the Enterprise crew, who was both one of the gang and a creature apart, engaged at times in a lonely struggle with his warring racial halves.

In one of his most memorable “Star Trek” performances, Mr. Nimoy tried to follow in the tradition of two actors he admired, Charles Laughton and Boris Karloff, who each played a monstrous character — Quasimodo and the Frankenstein monster — who is transformed by love.

In Episode 24, which was first shown on March 2, 1967, Mr. Spock is indeed transformed. Under the influence of aphrodisiacal spores he discovers on the planet Omicron Ceti III, he lets free his human side and announces his love for Leila Kalomi (Jill Ireland), a woman he had once known on Earth. In this episode, Mr. Nimoy brought to Spock’s metamorphosis not only warmth, compassion and playfulness, but also a rarefied concept of alienation.

“I am what I am, Leila,” Mr. Spock declares after the spores’ effect has worn off and his emotions are again in check. “And if there are self-made purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine can be no worse than someone else’s.”

Born in Boston on March 26, 1931, Leonard Simon Nimoy was the second son of Max and Dora Nimoy, Ukrainian immigrants and Orthodox Jews. His father worked as a barber.

From the age of 8, Leonard acted in local productions, winning parts at a community college, where he performed through his high school years. In 1949, after taking a summer course at Boston College, he traveled to Hollywood, though it wasn’t until 1951 that he landed small parts in two movies, “Queen for a Day” and “Rhubarb.”

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Leonard Nimoy Dies at 83

Leonard Nimoy Dies at 83

CreditJerry Mosey/Associated Press

He continued to be cast in little-known movies, although he did presciently play an alien invader in a cult serial called “Zombies of the Stratosphere,” and in 1961 he had a minor role on an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” His first starring movie role came in 1952 with “Kid Monk Baroni,” in which he played a disfigured Italian street-gang leader who becomes a boxer.

Mr. Nimoy served in the Army for two years, rising to sergeant and spending 18 months at Fort McPherson in Georgia, where he presided over shows for the Army’s Special Services branch. He also directed and starred as Stanley in the Atlanta Theater Guild’s production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” before receiving his final discharge in November 1955.

He then returned to California, where he worked as a soda jerk, movie usher and cabdriver while studying acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. He achieved wide visibility in the late 1950s and early 1960s on television shows like “Wagon Train,” “Rawhide” and “Perry Mason.” Then came “Star Trek.”

Mr. Nimoy returned to college in his 40s and earned a master’s degree in Spanish from Antioch University Austin, an affiliate of Antioch College in Ohio, in 1978. Antioch University later awarded Mr. Nimoy an honorary doctorate.

Mr. Nimoy directed the movies “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” (1984) and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986), which he helped write. In 1991, the same year that he resurrected Mr. Spock on two episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Mr. Nimoy was also the executive producer and a writer of the movie “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.”

He then directed the hugely successful comedy “Three Men and a Baby” (1987), a far cry from his science-fiction work, and appeared in made-for-television movies. He received an Emmy nomination for the 1982 movie “A Woman Called Golda,” in which he portrayed the husband of Golda Meir, the prime minister of Israel, who was played by Ingrid Bergman. It was the fourth Emmy nomination of his career — the other three were for his “Star Trek” work — although he never won.

Mr. Nimoy’s marriage to the actress Sandi Zober ended in divorce. Besides his wife, he is survived by his children, Adam and Julie Nimoy; a stepson, Aaron Bay Schuck; six grandchildren and one great-grandchild; and an older brother, Melvin.

Though his speaking voice was among his chief assets as an actor, the critical consensus was that his music was mortifying. Mr. Nimoy, however, was undaunted, and his fans seemed to enjoy the camp of his covers of songs like “If I Had a Hammer.” (His first album was called “Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space.”)

From 1977 to 1982, Mr. Nimoy hosted the syndicated series “In Search Of …,” which explored mysteries like the Loch Ness monster and U.F.O.s. He also narrated “Ancient Mysteries” on the History Channel and appeared in commercials, including two with Mr. Shatner for Priceline.com. He provided the voice for animated characters in “Transformers: The Movie,” in 1986, and “The Pagemaster,” in 1994.

In 2001 he voiced the king of Atlantis in the Disney animated movie “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” and in 2005 he furnished voice-overs for the computer game Civilization IV. More recently, he had a recurring role on the science-fiction series “Fringe” and was heard, as the voice of Spock, in an episode of the hit sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.”

Mr. Nimoy was an active supporter of the arts as well. The Thalia, a venerable movie theater on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, now a multi-use hall that is part of Symphony Space, was renamed the Leonard Nimoy Thalia in 2002.

He also found his voice as a writer. Besides his autobiographies, he published “A Lifetime of Love: Poems on the Passages of Life” in 2002. Typical of Mr. Nimoy’s simple free verse are these lines: “In my heart/Is the seed of the tree/Which will be me.”

In later years, he rediscovered his Jewish heritage, and in 1991 he produced and starred in “Never Forget,” a television movie based on the story of a Holocaust survivor who sued a neo-Nazi organization of Holocaust deniers.

In 2002, having illustrated his books of poetry with his photographs, Mr. Nimoy published “Shekhina,” a book devoted to photography with a Jewish theme, that of the feminine aspect of God. His black-and-white photographs of nude and seminude women struck some Orthodox Jewish leaders as heretical, but Mr. Nimoy asserted that his work was consistent with the teachings of the kabbalah.

His religious upbringing also influenced the characterization of Spock. The character’s split-fingered salute, he often explained, had been his idea: He based it on the kohanic blessing, a manual approximation of the Hebrew letter shin, which is the first letter in Shaddai, one of the Hebrew names for God.

“To this day, I sense Vulcan speech patterns, Vulcan social attitudes and even Vulcan patterns of logic and emotional suppression in my behavior,” Mr. Nimoy wrote years after the original series ended.

But that wasn’t such a bad thing, he discovered. “Given the choice,” he wrote, “if I had to be someone else, I would be Spock.”

Correction: February 27, 2015
An earlier version of this obituary, using information from Antioch College, misstated the name of an institution that awarded Mr. Nimoy an honorary doctorate. It was Antioch University, not Antioch College.

Correction: March 3, 2015
An obituary on Saturday about the actor Leonard Nimoy misstated the year his first autobiography, “I Am Not Spock,” was published. It was 1975, not 1977.

Kenny Agosto

The Bronx March 1, 2015

I will miss Leonard who channeled the concept of Infinite Diversity In Infinite Combinations, his humanity and his Jewish spirituality on to this stoic hybrid alien/human iconic figure of science fiction called Spock. He will be missed. May his legacy Live Long and Prosper…

#RIPLeonard”Spock”Nimoy1931-2015LLAP

David

Paris March 1, 2015

Mr. Nimoy was amazing as Martin Dysart in Shaffer’s EQUUS, on Broadway, back in the 1970s. Quite a brave career decision, considering he’d followed Richard Burton in that same role on the same stage, just weeks after. I remember his performance better because I found Nimoy’s Dysart more compassionate and empathetic than Burton’s. He was simply a better listener and found so much humanity in the role.

Idlewild

Queens March 1, 2015

I’m a huge fan of Star Trek and Nimoy. But let’s not forget that Nimoy didn’t invent Spock. Gene Roddenberry did.

Ray Cass

Dublin, Ireland March 1, 2015

Ah we must be getting old if even the Vulcans are dying around us – without Spock there may be life, but not as we knew it….

zanoni98

Bronx, NY March 1, 2015

After nearly 1000 comments I’m sure anything I say has been said before. I grew up watching Star Trek on re-runs, and in the movies. It was always a cast piece for me, but with Shatner, Kelley and Nimoy in the center. The show and Spock’s character have clearly embedded themselves in and affected the culture, even, maybe the world. Nimoy was a huge part of that. There is only one Spock (poor Zachary Quinto!). I just wanted to remind everyone that Spock is a creation of Gene Roddenberry, and so we can thank him as well, and the writers who captured the essence of a divided more deeply than any interracial human could ever be.
That was perhaps the subtle point that seems to be missing in all of these reviews. Spock does not simply hide or struggle with his emotions. In fact, none of his friends ever really buy into the idea that he is without emotions. He is more emotionally well adjusted than Sheldon Cooper will ever be. Sheldon can’t. Spock could but chooses not to.

lg58

Springhill, La March 1, 2015

The Star Trek original crew grows smaller, and we who remember them so well mourn their passing. If I may borrow from an old rock and roll song: “If you believe in forever, that life is just a one night stand, If there’s a starship heaven, well you know they’ve got a hell of a bridge crew.” Good bye Mr. Nimoy/Mr. Spock. We’ll miss you now, and hope to join you someday in our continued journey to the stars.

CBarriteau

NY March 1, 2015

Yes, Mr Nimoy has died, but Spock will now live forever. I find it impossible for the next generation to journey into the unknown, without taking Mr. Spock with them…

IClaudius

USVI March 1, 2015

I love the character of Spock that was made for only him to play. I learned so much from that character as in one episode when he questioned Capt.Kirk’s fixation on the beauty of a young woman, by saying ” physical beauty is only transitory.” Yes, for those of us who admired Spock while growing up, he taught us to look deeper.

Ed

Washington, Dc March 1, 2015

A few quotes from Spock:

Chekov: A madman got us into this, and it’s beginning to look as if only a madman can get us out.
Mr. Spock: An entertaining suggestion, Mr. Chekov, but not very helpful.

Spock: [of the tribbles] They remind me of the lilies of the field. They toil not, neither do they spin. But they seem to eat a great deal. I see no practical use for them.
Dr. McCoy: Does everything have to have a practical use for you? They’re nice, they’re soft and they’re furry, and they make a pleasant sound.
Spock: So would an ermine violin, Doctor, but I see no advantage in having one.

Scott: What a mess.
Spock: Picturesque descriptions will not mend broken circuits, Mr. Scott.

MP

Vienna, Austria March 1, 2015

rest in peace leonard. You will live forever in your role as mr. spock.

Lulu

New York March 1, 2015

I loved ‘Mission Impossible’ as a kid (reruns? Not sure). and he was a total favorite!

One of my favorite Spock scenes was when He and Kirk are on a San Francisco bus with an obnoxious punk and his boom-box. Spock has only just been brought back to life and is addled, but he has muscle memory of that Vulcan Neck Grip, and knocks the punk out to general applause.

What a great guy! NYC was lucky to have him.

edstock

midwest March 1, 2015

I got into Star Trek after getting an ankle injury during my junior year of high school. I’d end up sleeping all day with my ankle elevated and flipping through the TV channels at night. One night I came across “Star Trek” which used to be played at midnight on Channel 11/ WPIX. I have been a science fiction fan ever since. In the character of Spock, among other things, Nimoy gave one of the first (at the time) examples that all aliens do not have to 1) be evil, 2) look fearful, and 3) maybe they truly are not that much different than we are. Overall, “Star Trek” showed a very idealistic version of the future, one which all can aspire to.

Farewell Leonard Nimoy. Your great works and contributions will not be forgotten.

AlysonRR

WA March 1, 2015

I remember watching Star Trek as a young teen and hearing my father complain about the number of times I watched the same episode on reruns. Star Trek introduced me to the worlds of science fiction and I’ve been devoted ever since.

As a mother of a young man with Asperger’s (or high-functioning autism, which I’m told is the new official diagnosis…), we have often used how Spock reacted to typical human behavior as an example of the differences between people and different ways to react.

One thing I remember clearly about Leonard Nimoy, though, which wasn’t mentioned in the obituary, is the wonderful narration he supplied to the Imax theater in the Museum of Science in Boston. How fun it was for me and my pre-K son to hear “Mister Spock” speak in a local (then) place that we visited frequently! I enjoyed hearing how he grew up near the MoS and his dramatic explanation of the Imax experience.

But most of all, I’m sad that I will no longer wait to hear if he voices a character on Big Bang Theory, or does a cameo on the new Star Trek movies, or see his fat-positive artwork.

Leonard Nimoy – you will be missed. Condolences to your familyl.

MCE

Wash DC March 1, 2015

There are many of us who will retain a bit of his katra. I was very much inspired by him as a kid and went on to become a scientist.

bigkahuna72

Mililani, Hawaii February 28, 2015

Hs seemed to be an all around good guy and I mourn his passing. It was certainly refreshing to hear something I did not know until yesterday. He was a fellow military veteran. He had a full life and entertained many.

penuin2

NY March 1, 2015

Wonderful story. I am saddened by his passing. I enjoyed his acting, especially as Mr. Spock. I wonder why you refer to yourself as “a nobody “. Wouldn’t non-famous been more esteemable?

rita

nyc February 28, 2015

To me, he will always be a great man. When I was 16 years old or so, Mr. Nimoy was at the NYC Department Store, S. Klein for a book signing. No one showed up. He stood and talked with me for about 2 hours, while he await others to stop by. No one did. He was so kind, a real gentleman. I was still and then a nobody. I am of color so I was especially moved by the fact that he actually looked at me like I was a human being. That meeting stays in my mond as a mental picture, although I am now 65 years old. For me, Leonard Nimoy has lived long in my heart and prospered. Yes, I told my 38 year old son, and others my story and I know my son will pass that story on to my grandchildren, etc.

Judy Phelps

Chelan, Washington February 28, 2015

The character Mr. Spock is responsible for my success in life and for a girl from the inner city becoming interested in science. He was my ticket out of poverty and a role model that showed me it was ‘cool’ to be smart. I earned a Masters Degree and went on to a successful career in science. Thank you Leonard Nimoy for the inspiration and saving me from a much different life than what I became.

donna

colorado February 28, 2015

He will be missed by my generation. I loved all of his shows. I will miss you. Spock was my favorite character. Good bye Leonard. Donna

EMF

Boone, NC February 28, 2015

my bad, the spears on view at the Portales, NM Blackwater Draw museum from the Galileo 7 episode are there because they used Clovis Points on the spears, which one of the professors at Eastern NM University recognized ( go George Agogino!), and Clovis NM, home of the Clovis point type site is just up the road! Geeks Rule!

EMF

Boone, NC February 28, 2015

oh and by the by, should you be in Portales, NM go to the Blackwater Draw Museum, and in the video room ( or whatever it is currently) look on the wall and you will find the spears from the Galileo 7!

David

Paris February 28, 2015

Mr. Nimoy, as Mr. Spock was, for many of us, our earliest exposure to and love of Baruch Spinoza. The future and world view based on logic and secularism, in rebellion to superstition and unexamined assumptions under the guise of tradition. Many of us would not have grown up were it not for the two of them watching over each other and mentoring us, in TV land. Live long and prosper. Thank you.

Robbie

Tokyo, Japan February 28, 2015

Such a sad time for lovers of Scifi, art, and yes, music (okay, well, maybe not the music part, but I just wanted everyone to smile a bit). It’s a sad time for all of us humans because a giant among us has passed on. Like others have said, we all expected Leonard Nimoy to live on, to continue, as long as Star Trek continued. I guess we all knew he couldn’t do that, no mortal can. And we’ve all seen enough Star Trek episodes to know that immortality ain’t what it’s cracked up to be.

But like McCoy said in ‘The Wrath of Khan’, which has been repeated countless times this weekend, he is not really gone as long as we remember him. And by that logic, judging by the outpouring of tributes to the man known as Spock, he shall never, ever be gone. Pure logic.

We WILL remember. And you shall continue to live on among us.
Rest in Peace, Leonard. Thank you for the lifelong adventure.

Neal D. Frishberg

Goshen, NYFebruary 28, 2015

Leonard Nimoy lived long and prospered. And, deservedly so.

Posted by Louis Sheehan

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