Los Angeles (LA Times) — When Leonard Nimoy was approached about acting in a new TV series called “Star Trek,” he was, like any good Vulcan contemplating a risky mission in a chaotic universe, dispassionate.
“I really didn’t give it a lot of thought,” he later recalled. “The chance of this becoming anything meaningful was slim.”
By the time “Star Trek” finished its three-year run in 1969, Nimoy was a cultural touchstone — a living representative of the scientific method, a voice of pure reason in a time of social turmoil, the unflappable and impeccably logical Mr. Spock.
He was, as The Times described him in 2009, “the most iconic alien since Superman” – a quantum leap for a character actor who had appeared in plenty of shows but never worked a single job longer than two weeks.
Nimoy, who became so identified with his TV and film role that he titled his two memoirs, somewhat illogically, “I Am Not Spock” (1975) and “I Am Spock” (1995), died Friday at his home in Bel-Air. He was 83.
The cause was end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said his son, Adam.
Nimoy revealed last year that he had the disease, a condition he attributed to the smoking he gave up 30 years earlier.
While he was best known for his portrayal of the green-tinted Spock, Nimoy more recently made his mark with art photography, focusing on plus-sized nude women in a volume called “The Full Body Project” and on nude women juxtaposed with Old Testament tales and quotes from Jewish thinkers in “Shekhina.”
He also directed films, wrote poetry and acted on the stage.
While worlds apart from the racial strife and war protests of the 1960s, “Star Trek” explored such issues by setting up parallel situations in space, “the final frontier.”
“Spock was a character whose time had come,” Nimoy later wrote. “He represented a practical, reasoning voice in a period of dissension and chaos.”
Spock's feature films: "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" (1979); "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (1982); "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" (1984); "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" (1986): "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" (1989); and "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" (1991).
He retired from “Star Trek” pictures until 2009, when he became Spock Prime, a Mr. Spock who inhabited an alternate universe in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek.” He did a cameo performance as the same character in “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013).
Rumors of Spock’s impending on-screen demise in “Star Trek II” prompted death threats to director Nicholas Meyer.
“I received a helpful letter that ran: ‘If Spock dies, you die,’ ” Meyer wrote in “The View from the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood.”
The scene was filmed anyway — so affectingly, according to Meyer, that the crew wept openly “as the dying Spock held up his splayed hand and enjoined Kirk to ‘live long and prosper.’ ”
Thanks to an ancient Vulcan ceremony and some tortuous plot twists, Spock was resurrected in “Star Trek III.” Nimoy directed that film, as well as “Star Trek IV.” He went on to direct the 1987 comedy “Three Men and a Baby” and the 1988 drama “The Good Mother.”
Beyond Star Trek
Nimoy received a master’s degree in education from Antioch University. He turned out seven books of poetry and created a comic book series with science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. He directed six films and, from 1978 to 1980. toured in a one-man show, “Vincent,” about Vincent Van Gogh.
From 1977 to 1982, he hosted “In Search Of …”, a documentary TV series about paranormal phenomena. In 1978, he played a pompous self-help guru in the film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
He poured himself into projects reflecting his Jewish heritage. In 1982, he appeared as Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s former husband in the TV movie “A Woman Called Golda”; nine years later, he played a Holocaust survivor who waged a courtroom battle against Holocaust deniers in the TV movie “Never Forget.”
His photography book, “Shekhina,” pictured nude and sensually draped women, with a cover shot of a woman wearing tefillin, Jewish ritual objects traditionally worn by men. It raised some hackles in the Jewish community, but Nimoy said it was his vision of feminine Jewish spirituality.
“I’m not introducing sexuality into Judaism,” he said. “It’s been there for centuries.”
In 2009, the Santa Monica Museum of Art exhibited images Nimoy made in Northampton, Mass., of strangers willing to be photographed as their “secret selves.”
The show, called “Who Do You Think You Are?” featured a rabbi with a leather vest over his bare torso and a conservatively dressed female psychologist toting a chain saw.
Asked by a Times reporter about his own secrets, Nimoy demurred.
“I have to laugh,” he said. “I have no secrets left. I revealed it all a long time ago.”
Nimoy was married to Sandi Zober from 1954 to 1987, when they divorced.
In addition to his children from that marriage, son Adam and daughter Julie, his survivors include Susan Bay, his wife since 1989; his stepson Aaron Bay Schuck; six grandchildren; a great-grandson; and his brother Melvin.