Leonard Nimoy, known to millions through his role as Spock on the original Star Trek series and film franchise, died today at age 83 after a battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
While there is no doubt the half-Vulcan/half-human science officer accounted for his best-known work, he also was a prolific artist. In addition to appearing on television throughout most of his career, even prior to Star Trek, Mr. Nimoy wrote poetry, performed spoken word pieces, acted on stage, recorded music, pursued photography, and taught acting at his own studio.
He was also a director, helming two installments of the original Star Trek film series, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and the beloved Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, serving also as a writer on those films and on that cast's final movie, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Improbably, he also directed the smash hit comedy Three Men and a Baby, perhaps his most accessible non-Trek work.
Mr. Nimoy had a deep relationship with the character he made iconic, even titling two of his books, both autobiographies, after him: 1977's I Am Not Spock and 1995's I Am Spock. His influence on the character, and on the franchise as a whole, cannot be denied.
|Leonard Nimoy reprised his role as Spock in JJ Abrams 2009 reboot,|
pictured here alongside Zachary Quinto as the newest iteration of the character.
Nimoy himself invented many of Spock's trademarks. During the filming of the episode "The Enemy Within," Spock must subdue an evil double of Captain Kirk. The script called for Spock to hit him with the butt of his phaser, which Nimoy found too violent for the character. Instead, he showed the director something he worked up with William Shatner: he placed his hand on Shatner's shoulder and neck and pinched. Shatner stiffened and crumpled in a heap. Thus, the Vulcan neck pinch was born. Similarly, Nimoy derived the famous "live long and prosper" V-shaped Vulcan hand salute from his Jewish heritage.
There is no question that Spock made Star Trek hugely popular. Without him, Star Trek may never have become the venerable franchise it is today. Issac Asimov wrote an essay about the character's mysterious appeal, even over that of the red-blooded American boy Captain James T. Kirk. "I Grok Spock" buttons were everywhere to be found for a time after the show. When Paramount rebooted the franchise in 2009, director J.J. Abrams made sure that the actor reprised his role to provide some linkage and credibility to the new series. Nimoy was even given a degree of casting approval over who would next become Spock.
Over a career that spanned decades and mediums, Nimoy never stopped creating and entertaining. He took what other actors might have seen as an impenetrable or unrelatable character and turned Spock into something unique, someone beloved. Leonard Nimoy played the character over the course of 79 original episodes, 2 Next Generation episodes, and 8 films including the Abrams series.
I have watched Star Trek since I was 4 years old. For all the souls I have encountered in my travels, few characters—few actors—were as wise and dependable, as constant, calm, and logically reassuring. Leonard Nimoy created a quietly titanic force in Spock. I thought it only fitting to quote some of that wisdom to mark his passing. It's not from a movie or TV series, it's a bit of dialogue from the short-lived Star Trek animated series. Leonard Nimoy lent his vocal talents to the show on the sole condition that the entirety of the original cast, many of whom the studio was considering dropping or recasting, be brought back to reprise their roles as well.
In the episode "Yesteryear," Spock travels back in time to save his younger self from an accident. When their pet, an enormous mammal called a sehlat, is killed by a monster that otherwise would have killed Spock, the younger Vulcan looks to his older self for comfort.
"A Vulcan would face such a loss without tears," he tells the child.
"How?" he replies.
"By understanding every life comes to an end, when time demands it. Loss of life is to be mourned, but only if the life was wasted."
Leonard Nimoy's was not.