Tragic news for television and science fiction fans in Fresno and all over the world today as actor, film director, poet, singer and photographer Leonard Nimoy passed away today at the age of 83 at his home in Bel-Air, California.
As reported by The New York Times, Nimoy’s wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, confirmed that the actor’s death was the result by end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Nimoy announced that he had the disease last year, which he attributed to years of smoking, which he had given up three decades earlier. He had been hospitalized for his condition earlier in the week.
Nimoy is fondly remembered, nee legendary, for his performance as Mr. Spock, the half-Vulcan crew member of the Starship Enterprise on the original Star Trek television series, as well a an animated series, the first six feature films, guest appearances on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and most recently reprising the role alongside Zachary Quinto in the 2009 Star Trek reboot and it’s 2013 sequel Star Trek Into Darkness.
While Nimoy’s artistic pursuits — poetry, photography and music in addition to acting — have ranged far beyond the Gene Roddenberry’s iconic space franchise, it was in his performance as Mr. Spock that Nimoy became a folk hero for generations, 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.” So great was his fame in this role that he had written two autobiographies from the point-of-view of playing the character; the first being 1975’s I Am Not Spock, which he later revised into 1995’s I Am Spock.
As outlined by The New York Times, 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 character on the starship’s bridge. In his first autobiography 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.”
When Star Trek premiered on NBC on Sept. 8, 1966 the show made Nimoy a star. Roddenberry even 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. Even after the original series was canceled after only three seasons due to low ratings, his stardom would still endure thanks to the cultlike following of devoted, hardcore Trekkies, or Trekkers (the designation Mr. Nimoy preferred).
As of this moment, Nimoy is only the third of the original series seven principal cast members to have passed away, following DeForest Kelley in 1999 and James Doohan in 2005.
Nimoy’s 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 was also a gifted poet and has published books of his photography.
He also a film director, including two of the earliest Star Trek franchise–Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home–and television shows. He also recorded 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, such as his cover of “If I Had a Hammer.” One of these recordings, “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” based on the adventures of the titular character of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, has gained particular notoriety since its rediscovery in recent years.
Leonard Nimoy was born in Boston on March 26, 1931, the second son of Max and Dora Nimoy, Ukrainian immigrants and Orthodox Jews. His father worked as a barber. Leonard acted in local productions from age 8, 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. He continued to be cast in little-known movies, although, in what may almost be seen as a precursor to his significant role in the history of science fiction, he did presciently play an alien invader in a cult serial called Zombies of the Stratosphere, played an army sergeant in the 1954 cult classic Them!, and in 1961 he had a minor role on an episode of The Twilight Zone called “A Quality of Mercy.” His first starring movie role was in 1952’s Kid Monk Baroni, in which he played a disfigured Italian street-gang leader who becomes a boxer.
Nimoy then 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.
After that he then returned to California, where he worked as a soda jerk, movie usher and cabdriver while studying acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. He managed to achieve wide visibility in the late 1950s and early 1960s on television shows like Wagon Train, Rawhide and Perry Mason.
Then he signed on to don the iconic pointy ears to play Mr. Spock on Star Trek…the rest is history.
During his 40s Nimoy returned to college and earned a master’s degree in Spanish from Antioch University Austin, an affiliate of Antioch College in Ohio, in 1978. Antioch College would later award Nimoy an honorary doctorate.
In addition to the two Star trek films he directed (as well as co-wrote, in addition to his producing and writing credits on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country), he also directed the hugely successful 1987 comedy Three Men and a Baby 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. The performance marked the fourth Emmy nomination of his career — the other three were for his Star Trek performances — although he never won.
Mr. Nimoy’s first marriage to the actress Sandi Zober ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his children, Adam and Julie Nimoy; a stepson, Aaron Bay Schuck; and six grandchildren; one great-grandchild, and an older brother, Melvin.
Nimoy was also notworthy during his career for his distinctive voice. From 1995 to 2003, he narrated Ancient Mysteries on the History Channel. He also appeared in commercials, including two memorable ads with his Star Trek co-star and close friend William Shatner for Priceline.com. He also provided the voices of Galvatron for 1986’s Transformers: The Movie, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1994’s The Pagemaster, the king of Atlantis in the 2001 Disney animated movie Atlantis: The Lost Empire, he furnished voice-overs for the 2005 computer game Civilization IV, and returned to the Transformers franchise to voiced Sentinel Prime in 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon. 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 Big Bang Theory.
In addition to all of his other accomplishments, 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 published novels in addition to his autobiographies, including A Lifetime of Love: Poems on the Passages of Life in 2002. Typical of Mr. Nimoy’s simple free verse are lines such as: “In my heart/Is the seed of the tree/Which will be me.” He would also rediscover his Jewish heritage in his later years 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. It was also in 2002, after illustrating his books of poetry with his photographs, that 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 had struck some Orthodox Jewish leaders as heretical, but Nimoy asserted that his work was consistent with the teaching of the kabbalah.
Interestingly, as pointed out by The New York Times, Nimoy’s religious upbringing served to influence the characterization of Spock. The character’s famous split-fingered salute, he often explained, had been his idea, basing 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.
Of his most famous role, Nimoy wrote years after the original series ended, “To this day, I sense Vulcan speech patterns, Vulcan social attitudes and even Vulcan patterns of logic and emotional suppression in my behavior.” And yet, he would also find himself writing this, “Given the choice, if I had to be someone else, I would be Spock.”
Leonard Nimoy will long be missed not only be the science fiction community but my appreciators of all the arts. This examiner would like to extend his condolences to his family, friends and fans in their time of grieving.
Farewell Mr. Nimoy, we will miss you, and if I may be aloud to say it in good taste…Live long and prosper.