Leonard Nimoy, the actor behind one of pop culture’s most famous and distinctive fictional characters, the half-human, half-alien Mr. Spock in the “Star Trek” television series and films, has died. He was 83.
His death was reported by the New York Times, without providing additional information. He was diagnosed in May 2013 with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which he attributed to the cigarette habit he had quit 30 years before.
As the Vulcan science officer Spock, Nimoy was part of the “Star Trek” crew of the fictional U.S.S. Enterprise on its five-year mission in the 23rd century “to seek out new life and civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
The show, which aired on NBC from 1966 to 1969 before being canceled after 79 episodes, became a cult hit in syndication and led to Nimoy and co-stars including William Shatner and George Takei reprising their roles in several feature films, with Nimoy directing two. He most recently appeared as an elderly Spock in director J.J. Abrams’ 2009 and 2013 big screen reboots of the “Star Trek” franchise.
Spock, with his large pointy ears and arched eyebrows, introduced many of the show’s hallmarks: the V-shaped hand salute of the Vulcan race, their “live long and prosper” farewell and disdain for anything “illogical,” and an ability to share thoughts through a “mind meld” and paralyze an enemy with a pinch of the neck.
Nominated for Emmy awards for each of the show’s three seasons, Nimoy created a character that won honors of his own. Cable television’s Bravo channel named Spock No. 21 on its list of 100 greatest television characters in 2004 (with Shatner’s Capt. James T. Kirk at No. 9). The Chicago Tribune ranked Spock seventh on its 1995 list of the 25 greatest characters, noting, “He made being calm and smart – not to mention having pointed ears – cool.”
Though his half-human side gave Spock emotional conflict on occasion, the character’s hallmark was calm decisiveness. Barbara Walters, in a 2011 interview on ABC’s “20/20,” asked President Obama, “What’s the biggest misconception about you?” Obama answered, “Detached, or Spock-like, or very analytical.”
To the astonishment of many, Nimoy among them, Spock even became something of a sex symbol.
“The sacks of Spock mail reached 10,000 letters a month,” People magazine reported in 1977, “mostly from women, much of it torridly erotic.”
For all his success, Nimoy long gave off hints that he resented how his acting career, which included films and Broadway plays, became so entwined with one role.