Leonard Simon Nimoy (March 26, 1931 – February 27, 2015) was an American actor, film director, poet, singer and photographer. Nimoy was known for his role as Spock in the original Star Trek series (1966–69), and in multiple film, television and video game sequels.
Nimoy began his career in his early twenties, teaching acting classes in Hollywood and making minor film and television appearances through the 1950s, as well as playing the title role in Kid Monk Baroni. Foreshadowing his fame as a semi-alien, he played Narab, one of three Martian invaders in the 1952 movie serial Zombies of the Stratosphere.
In 1965, he made his first appearance in the rejected Star Trek pilot The Cage, and went on to play the character of Spock until 1969, followed by eight feature films and guest slots in the various spin-off series. The character has had a significant cultural impact and garnered Nimoy three Emmy Award nominations; TV Guide named Spock one of the 50 greatest TV characters. After the original Star Trek series, Nimoy starred in Mission: Impossible for two seasons, hosted the documentary series In Search of…, narrated Civilization IV, and made several well-received stage appearances. He also had a recurring role in the science fiction series Fringe.
Nimoy’s fame as Spock was such that both of his autobiographies, I Am Not Spock (1975) and I Am Spock (1995), were written from the viewpoint of sharing his existence with the character.
Nimoy was born on March 26, 1931 in the West End of Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Yiddish-speaking Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Iziaslav, Soviet Union (now Ukraine). His parents left Iziaslav separately—his father first walking over the border into Poland—and reunited in the United States. His mother, Dora (née Spinner), was a homemaker, and his father, Max Nimoy, owned a barbershop in the Mattapan section of the city.
Nimoy began acting at the age of 8 in a children’s and neighborhood theater. His parents wanted him to attend college and pursue a stable career, or even learn to play the accordion—with which, his father advised, Nimoy could always make a living—but his grandfather encouraged him to become an actor. His first major role was at 17, as Ralphie in an amateur production of Clifford Odets’ Awake and Sing!Nimoy took drama classes at Boston College and at the Pasadena Playhouse, and in the 1970s studied photography at the University of California, Los Angeles. He had an MA in Education from Antioch College, an honorary doctorate from Antioch University in Ohio, awarded for activism in Holocaust remembrance, the arts, and the environment,and an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Boston University.
In 1953, Nimoy enlisted in the United States Army Reserve, serving for 18 months and separating in 1955 as a technician 3rd grade, equivalent to the World War II-era rank of staff sergeant (E-5). While enlisted, Nimoy was assigned to the Army Special Services, putting on shows for army personnel.
Nimoy believed that playing the title role in the 1952 film Kid Monk Baroni would make him a star, but later said that “it played about three days as a second bill somewhere in Hollywood and then died.” While serving in the military the film gained a larger audience on television, and Nimoy said that after his discharge “I began to work steadily as a ‘heavy.’ I learned to use a switchblade and a gun, how to kick people, hit people, choke ’em, threaten ’em, torture ’em—all the nice things heavies do.”He played more than 50 small parts in B movies, television series such as Perry Mason and Dragnet, and serials such as Republic Pictures’ Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952). To support his family, he often did other work, such as delivering newspapers.
He played an Army sergeant in the 1954 science fiction thriller Them! and a professor in the 1958 science fiction movie The Brain Eaters, and had a role in The Balcony (1963), a film adaptation of the Jean Genet play. With Vic Morrow, he produced a 1966 version of Deathwatch, an English-language film version of Genet’s play Haute Surveillance, adapted and directed by Morrow and starring Nimoy.
On television, Nimoy appeared as “Sonarman” in two episodes of the 1957–1958 syndicated military drama The Silent Service, based on actual events of the submarine section of the United States Navy. He had guest roles in the Sea Hunt series from 1958 to 1960 and a minor role in the 1961 The Twilight Zone episode “A Quality of Mercy”. He also appeared in the syndicated Highway Patrol starring Broderick Crawford.
In 1959, Nimoy was cast as Luke Reid in the “Night of Decision” episode of the ABC/Warner Bros. western series Colt .45, starring Wayde Preston and directed by Leslie H. Martinson.
Nimoy appeared four times in ethnic roles on NBC’s Wagon Train, the No. 1 program of 1962. He portrayed Bernabe Zamora in “The Estaban Zamora Story” (1959), “Cherokee Ned” in “The Maggie Hamilton Story” (1960), Joaquin Delgado in “The Tiburcio Mendez Story” (1961) and Emeterio Vasquez in “The Baylor Crowfoot Story” (1962).
Nimoy appeared in Bonanza (1960), The Rebel (1960), Two Faces West (1961), Rawhide (1961), The Untouchables (1962), The Eleventh Hour (1962), Perry Mason (1963; playing murderer Pete Chennery in “The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe”, episode 13 of season 6), Combat! (1963, 1965), Daniel Boone, The Outer Limits (1964), The Virginian (1963–1965; first working with Star Trek co-star DeForest Kelley in “Man of Violence”, episode 14 of season 2, in 1963), Get Smart (1966) and Mission: Impossible (1969–1971). He appeared again in the 1995 Outer Limits series. He appeared in Gunsmoke in 1962 as Arnie and in 1966 as John Walking Fox.
In February 2014, Nimoy revealed that he had been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition he attributed to a smoking habit he had given up approximately 30 years prior. On February 19, 2015, Nimoy was taken to UCLA Medical Center for chest pain and had been in and out of hospitals for the “past several months.”
Nimoy and Star Trek co-star William Shatner first worked together on an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., “The Project Strigas Affair” (1964). Their characters were from opposite sides of the Iron Curtain, though with his saturnine looks, Nimoy was the villain, with Shatner playing a reluctant U.N.C.L.E. recruit.
On the stage, Nimoy played the lead role in a short run of Gore Vidal’s Visit to a Small Planet in 1968 (shortly before the end of the Star Trek series) at the Pheasant Run Playhouse in St. Charles, Illinois.
Nimoy’s greatest prominence came from his role in the original Star Trek series. As the half-Vulcan, half-human Spock—a role he chose instead of one on the soap opera Peyton Place—Nimoy became a star, and the press predicted that he would “have his choice of movies or television series”.He formed a long-standing friendship with Shatner, who portrayed his commanding officer, saying of their relationship, “We were like brothers.”Star Trek was broadcast from 1966 to 1969. Nimoy earned three Emmy Award nominations for his work on the program.
He went on to reprise the Spock character in Star Trek: The Animated Series and two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. When a new Star Trek series was planned in the late 1970s, Nimoy was to be in only two out of eleven episodes, but when the show was elevated to a feature film, he agreed to reprise his role. The first six Star Trek movies feature the original Star Trek cast including Nimoy, who also directed two of the films. He played the elder Spock in the 2009 Star Trek movie and reprised the role in a brief appearance in the 2013 sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, both directed by J. J. Abrams.
Spock’s Vulcan salute became a recognized symbol of the show and was identified with him. Nimoy created the sign himself from his childhood memories of the way kohanim (Jewish priests) hold their hand when giving blessings. During an interview, he translated the priestly blessing from Numbers 6:24–26 which accompanies the sign and described it during a public lecture:
May the Lord bless and keep you and may the Lord cause his countenance to shine upon you. May the Lord be gracious unto you and grant you peace. The accompanying spoken blessing, “Live long and prosper.”
Nimoy died on February 27, 2015 at the age of 83 in his Bel Air home from complications of COPD. A few days before his death, Nimoy shared some of his poetry on social media website Twitter: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”.
On Twitter, William Shatner wrote of his friend, “I loved him like a brother. … We will all miss his humor, his talent, and his capacity to love.” George Takei stated, “The word extraordinary is often overused, but I think it’s really appropriate for Leonard. He was an extraordinarily talented man, but he was also a very decent human being.”