Actor, poet, author, songwriter Leonard Nimoy, who played one of the most iconic characters in the history of series television, died at his home in Los Angeles today. He was 83.
Nimoy’s portrayal of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock made him an international star and celebrity. For more than 40 years he played the half-human, half-alien character on Star Trek TV shows and movies.
The New York Times described Spock as “a cerebral, unflappable, pointy-eared Vulcan with a signature salute and blessing: ‘Live long and prosper’ (from the Vulcan ‘Dif-tor heh smusma’).” Mind melding, 3-dimensional chess, and that marvelous knock-out pinch made Spock a singular character — one to be admired and parodied over the years.
The Times recalls an episode that expressed Spock’s dual nature:
In one of his most memorable “Star Trek” performances, Mr. Nimoy tried to follow in the tradition of two actors he admired, Charles Laughton and Boris Karloff, who each played a monstrous character — Quasimodo and the Frankenstein monster — who is transformed by love.
In Episode 24, which was first shown on March 2, 1967, Mr. Spock is indeed transformed. Under the influence of aphrodisiacal spores he discovers on the planet Omicron Ceti III, he lets free his human side and announces his love for Leila Kalomi (Jill Ireland), a woman he had once known on Earth. In this episode, Mr. Nimoy brought to Spock’s metamorphosis not only warmth, compassion and playfulness, but also a rarefied concept of alienation.
“I am what I am, Leila,” Mr. Spock declares after the spores’ effect has worn off and his emotions are again in check. “And if there are self-made purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine can be no worse than someone else’s.”
We all have our favorite Spock episodes or movies. Mine is The Wrath of Khan * which shows him making the ultimate sacrifice for his friends and the ship. The scene of his death with Kirk on the other side of a glass wall is full of pathos and a surprising tenderness. He also directed the film and was given a writing credit. Unforgettable.
The Times lists some of his other credits:
Though his speaking voice was among his chief assets as an actor, the critical consensus was that his music was mortifying. Mr. Nimoy, however, was undaunted, and his fans seemed to enjoy the camp of his covers of songs like “If I Had a Hammer.” (His first album was called “Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space.”)
From 1995 to 2003, Mr. Nimoy narrated the “Ancient Mysteries” series on the History Channel. He also appeared in commercials, including two with Mr. Shatner for Priceline.com. He provided the voice for animated characters in “Transformers: The Movie,” in 1986, and “The Pagemaster,” in 1994.
In 2001 he voiced the king of Atlantis in the Disney animated movie “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” and in 2005 he furnished voice-overs for the computer game Civilization IV. 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 hit sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.
Nimoy won an Emmy for his portrayal of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s husband. He also played Paris for three seasons on the original Mission: Impossible. He has numerous credits for TV movies and episodes.
There is little doubt that the character of Mr. Spock will live long after the Star Trek franchise remains viable. He has taken on a life of his own and it wouldn’t surprise me if, 50 years from now, kids were still trying to knock out their friends by pinching them on their shoulders.
Live long and prosper.
* An earlier version of this article featured a major league brain cramp on my part, when I combined The Wrath of Khan death scene with The Voyage Home plot. Not the most embarrassing error I’ve made, but it’s in the top 5 for sure.