Arts & Entertainment

Leonard Nimoy, actor who portrayed Spock on 'Star Trek,' dead at 83

File: In this Aug. 9, 2006 file photo, actor Leonard Nimoy poses for a photograph in Los Angeles. Nimoy, famous for playing officer Mr. Spock in “Star Trek” died Friday, Feb. 27, 2015 in Los Angeles of end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 83.
File: In this Aug. 9, 2006 file photo, actor Leonard Nimoy poses for a photograph in Los Angeles. Nimoy, famous for playing officer Mr. Spock in “Star Trek” died Friday, Feb. 27, 2015 in Los Angeles of end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 83.
RIC FRANCIS/AP

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Leonard Nimoy, the actor known and loved by generations of "Star Trek" fans as the pointy-eared, purely logical science officer Mr. Spock, has died.

Nimoy's son, Adam Nimoy, said the actor died Friday of end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at his Los Angeles home. He was 83.

Although Leonard Nimoy followed his 1966-69 "Star Trek" run with a notable career as both an actor and director, in the public's mind he would always be Spock. His half-human, half-Vulcan character was the calm counterpoint to William Shatner's often-emotional Captain Kirk on one of television and film's most revered cult series.

"I loved him like a brother. We will all miss his humor, his talent, and his capacity to love," Shatner said in a statement shared with KPCC.

George Takei spoke to KPCC about Leonard Nimoy's death and the legacy he leaves behind as an actor and director.

"Spock is really a singular creation of Leonard Nimoy. He brought so much to it," Takei said.

Takei noted that the Vulcan greeting Spock does on the show was inspired by Nimoy's Jewish faith. The greeting is a gesture used in a Jewish ceremony, Takei said. He also said that Nimoy invented the Spock pinch on set. 

"He has an amazing ability to analyze a scene very quickly and he works collaboratively. He singularly is a very talented actor, a brilliant actor, but he also recognizes the importance of the whole scene working, " Takei said. "I think that's what made him a very good director as well."

"Beyond that he was a very loyal and supportive friend," Takei said.

Takei shared how Nimoy would go see Takei star in his own acting projects, once even traveling to San Diego from Los Angeles to congratulate him on his performance for "Allegiance," a musical on the Japanese-American interment. 

Takei last saw Nimoy this past summer.

"'Star Trek' will be 50 next year, and I am so sorry that he couldn't be with us for that."

On KPCC's AirTalk, writer and producer of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," Ronald D. Moore said: "Leonard had made choices as an actor that define an entire culture. Leonard gave the character Spock a dignity, an eloquence."

Other reactions have been pouring in from Nimoy's co-stars, friends and fans.

"He was an enormously humble man and that humility was a lesson to me as I grew in my acting career," said Armin Shimerman, who played Quark on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."

Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura on the original series, had this to say:

"I am deeply saddened by the death of my dear friend Leonard Nimoy.  But, I also want to celebrate his extraordinary life.  He was a true force of strength and his character was that of a champion.  Leonard’s integrity and passion as an actor and devotion to his craft helped transport STAR TREK into television history.  His vision and heart are bigger than the universe.  I will miss him very much and send heartfelt wishes to his family."

 

"He was an exciting person, I think he was a good person. He was passionate, he was mercurial, he was industrious — God knows," said Nicholas Meyer, who directed Nimoy in the Star Trek movies "The Wrath of Khan" and "The Undiscovered Country."

Meyer spoke with KPCC's Off-Ramp:

"And I also find myself thinking about a line in 'The Wrath of Khan' which was not my line, but somebody else said it and I used it. They were talking about the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, and they said, 'He is not dead, as long as we remember him.'"

Nimoy's ambivalence to the iconic role was reflected in the titles of his two autobiographies, "I Am Not Spock" (1975) and "I Am Spock" (1995).

After "Star Trek" ended, the actor immediately joined the hit adventure series "Mission Impossible" as Paris, the mission team's master of disguises. From 1976 to 1982 he hosted the syndicated TV series "In Search of ... " which attempted to probe such mysteries as the legend of the Loch Ness Monster and the disappearance of aviator Amelia Earhart.

He played Israeli leader Golda Meir's husband opposite Ingrid Bergman in the TV drama "A Woman Called Golda" and Vincent van Gogh in "Vincent," a one-man stage show on the life of the troubled painter. He continued to work well into his 70s, playing gazillionaire genius William Bell in the Fox series "Fringe."

He also directed several films, including the hit comedy "Three Men and a Baby" and appeared in such plays as "A Streetcar Named Desire," ''Cat on a Hot Tim Roof," ''Fiddler on the Roof," ''The King and I," ''My Fair Lady" and "Equus." He also published books of poems, children's stories and his own photographs.

But he could never really escape the role that took him overnight from bit-part actor status to TV star, and in a 1995 interview he sought to analyze the popularity of Spock, the green-blooded space traveler who aspired to live a life based on pure logic.

People identified with Spock because they "recognize in themselves this wish that they could be logical and avoid the pain of anger and confrontation," Nimoy concluded.

"How many times have we come away from an argument wishing we had said and done something different?" he asked.

In the years immediately after "Star Trek" left television, Nimoy tried to shun the role, but he eventually came to embrace it, lampooning himself on such TV shows as "Futurama," ''Duckman" and "The Simpsons" and in commercials.

He became Spock after "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry was impressed by his work in guest appearances on the TV shows "The Lieutenant" and "Dr. Kildare."

The space adventure set in the 23rd century had an unimpressive debut on NBC on Sept. 8, 1966, and it struggled during its three seasons to find an audience other than teenage boys. It seemed headed for oblivion after it was canceled in 1969, but its dedicated legion of fans, who called themselves Trekkies, kept its memory alive with conventions and fan clubs and constant demands that the cast be reassembled for a movie or another TV show.

Trekkies were particularly fond of Spock, often greeting one another with the Vulcan salute and the Vulcan motto, "Live Long and Prosper," both of which Nimoy was credited with bringing to the character. He pointed out, however, that the hand gesture was actually derived from one used by rabbis during Hebraic benedictions.

When the cast finally was reassembled for "Star Trek — The Motion Picture," in 1979, the film was a huge hit and five sequels followed. Nimoy appeared in all of them and directed two. He also guest starred as an older version of himself in some of the episodes of the show's spinoff TV series, "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

"Of course the role changed my career— or rather, gave me one," he once said. "It made me wealthy by most standards and opened up vast opportunities. It also affected me personally, socially, psychologically, emotionally. ... What started out as a welcome job to a hungry actor has become a constant and ongoing influence in my thinking and lifestyle."

In 2009, he was back in a new big-screen version of "Star Trek," this time playing an older Spock who meets his younger self, played by Zachary Quinto. Critic Roger Ebert called the older Spock "the most human character in the film."

Among those seeing the film was President Barack Obama, whose even manner was often likened to Spock's.

"Everybody was saying I was Spock, so I figured I should check it out," Obama said at the time.

Obama issued a statement on Nimoy's death:

"Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy. Leonard was a lifelong lover of the arts and humanities, a supporter of the sciences, generous with his talent and his time. And of course, Leonard was Spock. Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the center of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future.

"I loved Spock.

"In 2007, I had the chance to meet Leonard in person. It was only logical to greet him with the Vulcan salute, the universal sign for 'Live long and prosper.' And after 83 years on this planet — and on his visits to many others — it’s clear Leonard Nimoy did just that. Michelle and I join his family, friends, and countless fans who miss him so dearly today."

Upon the movie's debut, Nimoy told The Associated Press that in his late 70s he was probably closer than ever to being as comfortable with himself as the logical Spock always appeared to be.

"I know where I'm going, and I know where I've been," he said. He reprised the role in the 2013 sequel "Star Trek Into Darkness."

Born in Boston to Jewish immigrants from Russia, Nimoy was raised in an Italian section of the city where, although he counted many Italian-Americans as his friends, he said he also felt the sting of anti-Semitism growing up.

At age 17 he was cast in a local production of Clifford Odets' "Awake and Sing" as the son in a Jewish family.

"This role, the young man surrounded by a hostile and repressive environment, so touched a responsive chord that I decided to make a career of acting," he said later.

He won a drama scholarship to Boston College but eventually dropped out, moved to California and took acting lessons at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Soon he had lost his "Boston dead-end" accent, hired an agent and began getting small roles in TV series and movies. He played a baseball player in "Rhubarb" and an Indian in "Old Overland Trail."

After service in the Army, he returned to Hollywood, working as taxi driver, vacuum cleaner salesman, movie theater usher and other jobs while looking for acting roles.

In 1954 he married Sandra Zober, a fellow student at the Pasadena Playhouse, and they had two children, Julie and Adam. The couple divorced, and in 1988 he married Susan Bay, a film production executive.

Nimoy's thumbprint can still be felt here in Los Angeles by tourists and space fans alike. Nimoy and his wife, Susan, were major donors to the renovation of the Griffith Observatory, where visitors every day file into his namesake theater, the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater, to watch an introductory film explaining the site's history and renovation — a brief movie that is narrated by the man himself.

Were you fan of Leonard Nimoy? Please share your best memories of him in the comments below.

Videos: Remembering Leonard Nimoy

In 2009, he reprised the role of Spock in a reboot of the Star Trek franchise:

In addition to his work as an actor, Nimoy also had a singing career, releasing several albums. Among his best-remembered songs is 1967's "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins":

Nimoy's ties to Spock were so strong that he titled his two books "I Am Spock" and "I Am Not Spock". He also lent his voice to the audiobooks:

Associated Press reporter Lynn Elber contributed to this report. This story contains biographical material compiled by late AP Entertainment Writer Bob Thomas.

This story has been updated.

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