On February 27 we lost the entertainer who is closely identified with one of the most iconic and influential characters in TV and film history. Of course, I am referring to Leonard Nimoy, who is best known for his portrayal of “Mr. Spock” on Star Trek. He passed away at age 83 of end stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Although Nimoy had a long and varied career, he will forever be identified as the half-vulcan Mr. Spock. In fact, many casual fans are probably unaware that he ever performed in any other roles or even that he spent 60 years in the entertainment business as an actor, director and writer. To his fans, he didn’t just play Spock; he was Spock. The role and he became one and the same. Spock was calm, unflappable and omniscient. He continually used logic and reason to extricate the Star Trek crew from tight situations. He created the “V” shaped “Vulcan salute (which was, in fact, based on the Hebrew letter “Shin,” which signifies the word “Shaddai” or God). In addition, he coined several famous expressions on the show, such as “Live long and prosper” and “highly illogical.”
“Trekkie” lore says that he became so absorbed in the role that he took the persona home with him on off days. He morphed into Spock around the house. I can imagine how tough that was on his family. Nimoy often said that the role “affected [him] personally, socially, psychologically [and] emotionally.” He credited it with “giving” [him] a career. Nimoy received three Emmy Award nominations as Spock. Furthermore, “TV Guide” magazine has identified “Spock” as one of the 50 top TV characters of all time.
Looking back, it is hard to believe that Star Trek’s original run only lasted three seasons, a victim of sub par ratings. Puzzling, since at the time, most everyone I knew loved the show. In any event, after the show was cancelled it and the major characters became even more popular in reruns, movies and memorabilia. It even spawned a fan club called “Trekkies. Its popularity has lasted to this day, over 40 years after its cancellation.
Leonard Nimoy was born in Boston in 1931 to Orthodox Jewish parents who had emigrated from Russia. His father owned a barbershop. He briefly attended Boston College but dropped out to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. After serving in the army, he worked at various odd jobs, such as movie theatre usher, taxi driver and vacuum cleaner salesman while looking for his big break. Beginning in 1951 he found work mostly as a “heavy” in several small parts. In his words, he became proficient in the use of a “switchblade and a gun” and would often “kick people, hit people, choke ‘em, threaten ‘em, torture ‘em – all the nice things heavies do.” He appeared in dozens of such small, forgettable roles in “B” movies. (One of those was as an Army sergeant in a horror flick called “Them,” which I actually saw in the movies as a 9 or 10-year-old, although I don’t remember him specifically.) He also “guested” on dozens of TV shows, such as “The Twilight Zone,” “Wagon Train,” and “Perry Mason.” Basically, he was earning a living while waiting for his big break, just like countless other actors.
Finally, in 1966 he got his big break. In a classic “Road Not Taken” moment, Nimoy had to choose between the role of Spock and one on “Peyton Place.” He chose Spock and became an overnight success after bouncing around for 15 years.
Nimoy’s career did not end after “Star Trek” was cancelled. He appeared in dozens of other roles, most notably as “Paris” in “Mission Impossible.” He also achieved notoriety as a director, writer and photographer.
But, he will forever be remembered as Spock. After all, it is only logical.