Leonard Nimoy - Actor
Created | Updated Apr 23, 2017
Updated March 2015
'I am not Spock', then 'I am Spock'. Most illogical... '
Like any self-respecting Vulcan - er, Jewish boy - all Leonard Nimoy wanted to do was earn a living. He was already an established theatre actor with some film and TV experience when he was offered a part in a strange new TV series - he could hardly have suspected that he would be dogged for the rest of his life by his green-blooded, logical, half-human alter-ego.
It is perhaps ironic that, in the same way that Spock was forever torn between his rational Vulcan side and his emotional human side, Leonard Nimoy has often seemed ambivalent about his most famous character. When the first volume of his autobiography was entitled I am not Spock his fans were greatly disappointed and he was widely reviled by Trekkers1 as having repudiated the part which undoubtedly made his name - yet it is literally true. He is a talented actor with a wide dramatic range and a substantial career since Star Trek, and has worked with such cinematic titans as Henry Fonda and Ingrid Bergman. Yet, as he acknowledges in his second book I am Spock, he owes a debt of gratitude to the role which made him a household name throughout the world.
Nimoy was born in Boston and raised in a tenement there, where he gained his first acting experience in local theatre groups. He later moved to Los Angeles and worked for a while in a Yiddish theatre group until he won a part in Queen for a Day (1951), his first film. He appeared in several unmemorable films; however odd the part in Star Trek may have looked, it had to compare favourably with sub-B movies about zombies. His deep voice, cadaverous thinness and superb dead-pan delivery fitted him perfectly for the part, and he shares with Roger Moore the ability to steal an entire scene with just a single raised eyebrow.
I am Spock
It is widely documented that the original pilot of Star Trek had a completely different dynamic on the bridge of the Enterprise - the ship on which the original Star Trek series was set. The unemotional second-in-command was originally a woman. This character was divided between Spock, the unemotional Vulcan, and Uhura, the striking black woman, due in part to irreconcilable tensions in the ending of the original film.
In any case, Spock was the perfect foil for the emotional Kirk - the captain of the Enterprise in the original series - and together they killed aliens, watched old friends die (only if they had never appeared in the series before, obviously) and counted the death toll of sacrificial red-shirted security types.
Spock was (and is) unquestionably the fans' favourite character, so obviously the network tried to drop him after the first episode. But Nimoy survived and developed the role, including his invention of the classic Vulcan greeting - first and second fingers together, third and fourth fingers together but separated from first and second, thumb joints at right-angles, palm forwards and the intonation 'live long and prosper' - based on Jewish kohanim (priests) who would part their fingers in similar fashion to symbolise the Hebrew letter shin.
I Am Not Spock
When Star Trek was cancelled in 1969, Nimoy signed on to play Paris the Great, master of disguise, on the Mission: Impossible series. He left in 1971, and went on to provide the voice of Spock in the Star Trek animated series and to host a long-running weekly show, In Search of..., which investigated such mysteries as the Loch Ness Monster and UFO sightings. In 1980, the Star Trek franchise was revived with Star Trek: the Motion Picture. Although the movie was panned, it made money, and the cast returned for the much-improved follow-ups. Nimoy produced the critically and commercially successful third and fourth instalments (he also scripted number four), and went on to direct such non-Trek fare as The Good Mother and Three Men and a Baby. He also directed the Broadway-bound play, The Apple Doesn't Fall..., a comedy written by Trish Vradenburg.
Apart from his work on the big screen and stage, Nimoy served as host of the cable TV show Ancient Mysteries, and has also served as host of Jewish Short Stories from Eastern Europe and Beyond, a series on National Public Radio. He made peace with Mr Spock, and though he may have strayed from the Star Trek fold (he declined to participate in the film Star Trek: Generations because the role was little more than a walk-on), he has come to terms with the fact that he can never truly escape it. Nimoy is Spock - any other conclusion would be illogical.
In 1996, Leonard Nimoy, John de Lancie and Nat Segaloff teamed up to create Alien Voices, Inc. Alien Voices is a company of Star Trek actors who come together to perform dramatisations of the great science fiction classics. Alien Voices is the premier acting company in science fiction today. Their first three selections were HG Wells' The Time Machine, Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World. They have performed live The First Men on the Moon, The Lost World and their Hallowe'en Trilogy for the Sci-Fi Channel. Leonard Nimoy and John de Lancie performed their Spock vs Q at many conventions around the world. In 2001 they recorded Spock vs Q: the Sequel. Alien Voices' Plays for the Mind are available at their website. Ask for the Alien Voices audio titles at your favourite book store.
For history's sake, it should be noted that during this period, Nimoy released a now camp-classic album entitled Mr Spock's Music from Outer Space, a collection so horrifying that it should not be listened to without restraints.
He Lived Long, and Prospered
For many years Nimoy suffered from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) despite having kicked his smoking habit. The disease took his life on 27 February, 2015; he was 83 years old. The announcement caused an outpouring of grief from his many legions of fans the world over and tributes from his peers.
A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP.
- Leonard Nimoy's final tweet.