Leonard Nimoy: He Lived Long and Prospered - NBC New York

Leonard Nimoy: He Lived Long and Prospered

The actor transformed Mr. Spock into perhaps the most human member of the "Star Trek" universe.

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    Leonard Nimoy: He Lived Long and Prospered
    CBS via Getty Images
    Leonard Nimoy in the 1966 "Star Trek" episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before."

    Leonard Nimoy's finest moment as Mr. Spock came in his death scene from 1982’s "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" as he haltingly bid James T. Kirk farewell: "I have been, and always shall be, your friend."

    The dramatic, if temporary, goodbye underscored the most highly illogical – and winning – aspect of Nimoy's uptight, iconic Vulcan: Mr. Spock, in some respects, emerged as the most human member of the "Star Trek" universe.

    Nimoy, who died Friday at age 83, will be remembered for that scene and many others from nearly a half-century’s worth of "Star Trek" TV episodes and movies. He'll also be remembered for embodying his wish for others, bestowed with a blessing-like V-shaped split of his fingers: Leonard Nimoy lived long and prospered.

    Television viewers had never encountered a show like "Star Trek" before the space drama's 1966 debut on NBC, and they certainly never met a character like Mr. Spock. He spoke with a deep, calm voice, though he often said more with the raise of an eyebrow, which, like his ears and hair, was of the pointy variety.

    Spock's first name was unpronounceable, and it could be harder at times to put into words what the data-spewing science officer was thinking as he shot quizzical looks at his crewmates on the Starship Enterprise.

    Nimoy generated his most amusing moments when playing the preternaturally unflappable foil to William Shatner's often-impulsive Kirk and DeForest Kelley's excitable Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy.

    But Nimoy made Spock far more than a spiky-eared straight man for his beloved scenery-chewing co-stars. Rather than portraying Spock as an automaton, he imbued him with a wry sense of humor, offering a balancing subtlety on a show that mixed melodrama and action with allegories during a turbulent social period.

    Spock didn't understand humans – and he wasn't alone. That, combined with own identity crisis as a half human, half Vulcan, made him oddly relatable.

    The crew's voyage to Omicron Ceti III, where Spock's human side – brimming with laughter and love – most memorably surfaced thanks to some spores and a woman named Leila, could have been played for laughs. But Nimoy, by emphasizing Spock's internal struggle, brought out the Vulcan's vulnerability.

    Spock also brought out Nimoy's vulnerability. The actor, who also was a poet and photographer, grew sensitive about being pigeonholed and penned a 1975 memoir defiantly titled, "I Am Not Spock." He wrote a sequel 20 years later – "I Am Spock" – after growing to appreciate his role not only in entertainment history, but in helping inspire countless imaginations – including that of President Barack Obama, our Trekker-in-Chief – and a scientific revolution forged by geeks raised on "Star Trek."

    Nimoy’s fans span decades and universes, from the short-lived first series to the franchise's movie-house rebirth to his parts in the two most recent "Star Trek" big-screen reboots, in which Spock meets his younger self, as portrayed by Zachary Quinto.

    Nimoy, by bringing his uncommon talent to an uncommon character, leaves this planet as a TV and movie friend to legions of admirers able to see part of themselves in an alien who made the search for Spock one of pop culture's greatest adventures.

    Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multimedia NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.