He had one of the most iconic ‘looks’ of the 1960s and 1970s, seen and recognised around the globe in an age long before the Internet. Quite possibly the most famous actor/character in a television and film series of all time. Played the same character on and off across 47 years, from 1966 to 2013. Leonard Nimoy, despite the title of his 1975 autobiography, was Spock.
Born 26 March 1931 in Boston, Massachusetts, to Ukrainian Jewish parents, his acting C.V. for the 1960s represents the most famous television series of that era. He played guest roles in Bonanza, Rawhide, The Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, Wagon Train, Perry Mason, General Hospital, The Outer Limits, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Virginian, as well as the regular role of Paris in 49 episodes of Mission: Impossible. But it was for the half-human, half-Vulcan science officer of the Starship Enterprise in Gene Roddenbury’s ground breaking Star Trek that he will be forever remembered.
Nimoy is the only actor to appear in all 80 episodes of the original series of Star Trek (including the first, unaired pilot) and all 22 episodes of Star Trek: The Animated Series. He also played Spock in the first six movies of the franchise, directing two of those (The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home) as well as making guest cameos in the first two movies of the rebooted version. And he appeared in the two-part Star Trek: Next Generation episode Unification, the first original series actor to have a substantial role in the second television incarnation of Star Trek (discounting DeForest Kelley’s brief role at the start of Encounter At Farpoint). He voiced himself/Spock in both The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory.
Despite his most famous role however, and in line with that fervent wish in the 1970s not to be completely associated with that one part, Nimoy was able to go beyond Spock to create success in other areas. As noted above, virtually as soon as Star Trek finished he moved over to another successful television series, Mission: Impossible, clocking up almost 50 episodes in that. Further guest roles in known as well as minor small screen shows continued until 2012 when he made the last of his eleven appearances as Dr William Bell in Fringe. His deep, baritone voice led to plenty of voice work, including numerous video games in the 21st century, plus Galvatron in the 1986 Transformers Movie and Sentinel Prime in the reboot Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011). He scored a box office hit away from acting when he directed the movie Three Men and a Baby in 1987 and turned his hand to directing music videos with the Bangles hit Going Down to Liverpool (1984).
“I am endeavoring, Madam, to construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knives and bear skins.”
But it will of course be the defining role of Spock for which he will be most remembered. Building the character through iconic episodes such as The Galileo Seven, Amok Time, Journey to Babel and All Our Yesterdays, Nimoy created a rounded yet still alien performance that touched the viewers on a basic level, stirring in them a sense of understanding and, strangely, humanity. In the hands of a lesser actor Spock could have come across as completely cold and unlikeable, yet somehow this green blooded, pointy eared hobgoblin, as McCoy might have put it, captured the hearts and minds first of a nation, then of the world.
Part of the triumph of his performance was the on-screen chemistry with his co-stars, especially that with William Shatner. The Kirk/Spock relationship was pivotal to so many episodes and moved on into the film series, with the ending of The Wrath of Khan and the death of Spock an especially moving moment and very well played by all concerned. Until the title of the next movie (The Search for Spock) was announced, many fans openly grieved for the loss of their favourite character.
“I have been, and always shall be, your friend.”
Possibly the most interesting part of Spock’s character was his reliance on logic. For many young fans growing up with the series, this would be their first exposure to logic. Many modern day scientists, not only in America but across the world, claim their interest in the subject came from watching Leonard Nimoy play science officer Spock week in and week out on the television screens of their childhoods. Such an inspirational performance, influencing so many, is to be applauded.
But that is only part of the legacy. Others claim they chose acting, writing, directing and many other professions based upon Star Trek, and to a large degree, the character of Spock. To be able to command such devotion from an audience, that they choose a career path based upon you trading lines of dialogue with other actors in front of a television camera on a weekly basis, shows you are doing something right.
“Insufficient facts always invite danger.”
Basically, Leonard Nimoy was loved by people around the world, both by those who met him and by those who never did. A friendly and affable interviewee, he spent more than sixty years doing what he loved, acting. Be it on television, film, on stage or in the audio/voice over medium, he was never happier than when he was performing.
It could have all been different though. Away from acting he was married twice, had two children and enjoyed writing poetry, singing and was a keen photographer. Excelling in all three of these disciplines, he did consider changing career in the 1970s and becoming a full time photographer after gaining a degree in the subject from the University of California. His numerous fans around the world are no doubt happy he did not pursue this idea and continued with his first love, acting.
“Random chance seems to have operated in our favor.”
On a personal level, I have been aware of Star Trek for most of my life. Born on 1964 (the year of the first pilot, The Cage) my earliest memories are of the fake alien puppet used by Balok in The Corbomite Maneuver. I think this would have been around 1969 at the latest, as I also recall the first Moon landing around the same time. While I consider myself predominantly a Doctor Who fan, I didn’t start watching that until Jon Pertwee’s début the following year, so I actually watched Star Trek first.
Also, I did not realise until around 1973 that the Doctor wasn’t human. However, Spock was obviously an alien and therefore he was my first encounter with a friendly and benevolent non-human aspect in science fiction. The power of Nimoy’s acting was a reassuring presence on the screen, allowing comfort to be drawn from the fact that Spock could sort out any situation that the Enterprise crew found themselves in. He, and they, always won.
“Logic and practical information do not seem to apply here.”
The sad death of Leonard Nimoy on 27 February 2015, aged 83, has been felt around the world. Tributes have poured in on news broadcasts and across all social media platforms. As well as his family and friends, hardcore fans and casual viewers alike will miss him. I will miss him. The word ‘legend’ is used far too often these days, but here it applies.
Leonard Nimoy. Actor. Director. Husband. Father. Icon. Legend. Spock.
He lived long, and prospered.