Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek’s Spock, Dead at 83

Leonard Nimoy, the actor who became a household name as Mr. Spock with the "Star Trek" television series and movies, has died at 83.

leonard-nimoy-star trek

Leonard Nimoy, the actor who became a household name as Mr. Spock with the “Star Trek” television series and movies, has died at 83.

NYT (“Leonard Nimoy, Spock of ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 83“):

Leonard Nimoy, the sonorous, gaunt-faced actor who won a worshipful global following as Mr. Spock, the resolutely logical human-alien first officer of the Starship Enterprise in the television and movie juggernaut “Star Trek,” died on Friday morning at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. He was 83.

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

Mr. Nimoy announced that he had the disease last year, 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”).

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 1977, 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 primitive special effects 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 Capt. James T. 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.”

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.

The Army Times (“Leonard Nimoy, a former soldier, dies at 83“) highlights an aspect of Nimoy’s career most obits will skip:

Actor Leonard Nimoy, a former Army staff sergeant, died Friday at age 83.

Nimoy, who immortalized the science officer Mr. Spock on TV and in movies, wore the Army uniform long before he wore the Star Fleet ensemble for “Star Trek.”

He served as a soldier from 1953 to 1955. The Army took him to Fort Ord, Calif., Fort Benning, Georgia, and Fort McPherson, Georgia, according to a Twitter post from Nimoy for Veterans Day in 2013.

He posted a photo of himself in uniform, wearing the rank of staff sergeant, with a “T” that in the 1950s would indicate a technician.

leonard-nimoy-army

Nimoy certainly lived up to the “Live long and prosper” motto he made famous. He not only lived to a ripe old age but was still contributing to the culture up to the very end. Indeed, I wasn’t even aware that he had been ill.

The original Star Trek series debuted before my first birthday, so I literally don’t remember a time before Star Trek. It’s truly remarkable that, not only did the show spawn a franchise that continues almost a half century later despite being canceled after only three seasons in its initial run but that three of its original cast—Nimoy, William Shatner, and George Takei—continue as such major cultural figures beyond the roles that made them famous and, indeed, beyond movies and television.

 

FILED UNDER: Obituaries, Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. KM says:

    \\.// You lived long and prospered – now rest in peace.
    Geekdom weeps for one of our own.

  2. Franklin says:

    Not a Trekkie here, but plenty of respect for the man.

  3. Mr. Prosser says:

    The Army photo shows he definitely had a sense of humor and I also like his final tweet:

    A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP

    — Leonard Nimoy (@TheRealNimoy) February 23, 2015

  4. michael reynolds says:

    One of the signs of a really well-constructed character is that the reader or viewer comes to know them so well they can anticipate the character’s action in any given setting. Spock – co-created, you’d have to say, by Roddenberry and Nimoy – was that kind of character.

    It seems I’m at the age where people I’ve relied on are dying. Carlin, Ebert, Patrick O’Brian, Hitchens. Now the Trek crew. Scotty and Bones already dead, now Spock. I’d worry about Shatner but I’m pretty sure he’ll just Kobiyashi Maru death.

  5. C. Clavin says:

    The original Star Trek series debuted before my first birthday

    Was it really necessary to make me feel old on a Friday afternoon?
    Pretty amazing cultural effect for a show that only ran three seasons.
    RIP good man.

  6. J-Dub says:

    I have been, and always shall be, your friend. RIP

  7. DrDaveT says:

    I think it helps appreciate how good he was as an actor — and how carefully the Spock character was designed — to have seen him in other things. Shatner always plays Shatner, and sometimes (as with Kirk) that’s fine. Nimoy as Spock was completely different from Nimoy as Paris (Mission: Impossible) or Nimoy on stage.

    I wish I’d seen him on the stage in Equus or Vincent, back in the day…

  8. Electroman says:

    “Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… human.”

  9. CSK says:

    He was a teacher, a soldier, a pilot, a writer, an actor, a director, and a musician: Renaissance Man.

    He did, indeed, live long and prosper.

  10. anjin-san says:

    Josh Marshall said it better than I could have:

    We each have people that when we hear about their passing, it hits us with special force, because of a special mix of things unique to yourself and to that other person. For me, Nimoy is one of those people. As a fan from early boyhood, if you were a Trek fan and a Spock fan, if you got to know more about who Nimoy was, he was exactly who you would have wanted him to be. That is a very, very special thing.

  11. Mikey says:

    I just sat with my wife and son and a few good friends and watched the Spock-est Star Trek episode: Amok Time. One of the very best of the entire series, as well.

    I’ve been a fan of Star Trek for as long as I can remember. When I was a boy and loved anything to do with sci-fi and space, I watched every episode as many times as I could. I’ve seen every subsequent series and all the movies. There has been no part of my life until today without Spock. I am saddened by his passing. A great actor, and by all accounts a fine man, part of so many lives for so many years. May he rest in peace.

  12. Hal_10000 says:

    A bunch of my fellow astronomers are talking about how he inspired them to go into science. He will be missed.

  13. Modulo Myself says:

    RIP. Love that his first autobiography was I Am Not Spock and the second I Am Spock. He basically invented an alien race that in many ways is better than anything humans have ever done. I found out he died at work; immediately teared up thinking of the death scene in Wrath of Khan and his speech to Jim. And then remembered he sang the Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.

    Also, according to Wikipedia, he directed Three Men And A Baby. That makes no sense to me. None.

  14. DrDaveT says:

    @Mikey:

    the Spock-est Star Trek episode: Amok Time. One of the very best of the entire series

    I can’t pass this up without noting that this episode (along with “Shore Leave”, another classic) was written by Theodore Sturgeon, the not-remembered-nearly-enough short story genius of the Golden Age of Science Fiction.

    If you’re an sf fan and haven’t read Sturgeon, go find a copy of one of these stories:
    Microcosmic God
    It’s You!
    And Now the News…
    A Saucer of Loneliness
    Bright Segment
    Slow Sculpture
    The Comedian’s Children
    Largo
    Extrapolation

  15. Mu says:

    I remember the neighborhood kids conglomerating all at one family’s home for Star Trek – the one house with color TV. Long time ago.

  16. Mikey says:

    @DrDaveT: Star Trek had some notable writers. Harlan Ellison, who also wrote episodes of The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, and Babylon 5 (among others), wrote “City on the Edge of Forever,” which is right up there with “Amok Time” as one of the best original series Trek episodes.

  17. Two quotes have been rolling around in my head since I saw the news of his passing yesterday:

    “I was a hell of a thing when Spock died”–George Costanza, Seinfeld (a quote clearly with new meaning).

    “Part of my childhood died. Just died” –The Kinks, “Come Dancing.”

  18. (Not to mention some of the Trek quote noted above).

    #LLAP

  19. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    @anjin-san: That is … just right.

    Still tearful about the death of a man I never even met in person.