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Obituary: Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy

Obituary by Jack Foley

LEONARD Nimoy, beloved by millions for playing Mr Spock in the cult sci-fi series Star Trek, has died at the age of 83 in Los Angeles, his family has said.

The actor passed away from end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on Friday morning (February 27, 2015), according to his son, Adam.

Despite being best known as Spock, Nimoy had a long career as both an actor and director. He also appeared in the hit TV series Mission: Impossible prior to his Star Trek days and voiced Sentinen Prime in Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

As a director, he will also be fondly remembered for his work on smash hit comedy 3 Men and a Baby, starring Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenburg and Ted Danson.

Nimoy had been battling ill health for the past 12 months after revealing last year that he was suffering from the chronic lung disease COPD, despite stopping smoking 30 years ago.

However, earlier this week it was reported that he had been taken to hospital on February 19 after suffering from chest pains.

He later tweeted: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.”

He signed off what was to be his final tweet with “LLAP” – a reference to his character’s famous catchphrase, “Live long and prosper”.

The same Twitter account was used by his grand-daughter to confirm the news of his passing at home on Friday in Bel-Air, California.

Dani Nimoy described her grandfather as an “extraordinary man, husband, grandfather, brother, actor, author – the list goes on – and friend.”

And she added that special merchandise was being added to Nimoy’s website, with all proceeds going to the COPD foundation.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 26, 1931, Nimoy was the son of Orthodox Jews who had emigrated from an area of the Soviet Union which is now part of Ukraine.

His passion for acting began as a child and he soon became determined to pursue it as a profession, attending a local drama school and the quitting school to the dismay of his parents.

He moved to LA and made his first, and uncredited, film appearance in 1951, before subsequently landing the title role in Kid Monk Baroni, playing a boxer, in 1952.

However, the film flopped at the box office and condemned Nimoy to a decade of having to search for bit parts. But he never gave up on his dream, even when drafted into the US Army in 1953 where he reached the rank of sergeant, only to return to his beloved profession after his discharge.

While serving, however, he married his first wife, Sandy, who was also instrumental in persuading him to continue pursuing his dream.

He subsequently appeared in a variety of films and TV series, always in small roles, including a 1964 episode of cult favourite The Man from U.N.C.L.E. where, for the first time, he worked with William Shatner.

Ironically, the path to getting Star Trek to the screen was just as lengthy and it was down to the perseverence of series creator Gene Roddenberry that both Desilu Productions and NBC were eventually persuaded to take a risk with it – which they did by greenlighting a pilot entitled The Cage and casting Nimoy – now renowned as a solid character actor – as the ship’s science officer Spock.

Ironically, NBC decided the original pilot was too intellectual and slow to commission to series but did commission a second pilot and retained Nimoy as the only surviving cast member. And this was the episode that prompted NBC to risk a full series.

The second pilot also introduced many of the now famous characters, including William Shatner as Captain Kirk and James Doohan as Scott, the engineer.

Star Trek became a global TV phenomenon and earned Nimoy three supporting Emmy Award nominations, one for each season of the show. But the pressure of playing Spock eventually took its toll on Nimoy, who confessed to finding the intensity of the role demanding to the extent that he often had trouble shaking it off.

He found solace in drink and was eventually forced to check himself into rehab as one drink after each episode eventually led to more.

Once NBC dropped Star Trek as a TV series in 1969, Nimoy found more work in Mission: Impossible, whose producers needed to replace the lead character originally played by Martin Landau, and also dabbled more in film and on stage, where he was able to show his extensive range as an actor in productions as varied as Caligula and My Fair Lady.

But Spock was never far away. In 1973, he returned to provide his voice to the role of the character for Star Trek: The Animated Series, and then found further success on the big screen when Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in 1979 and grossed $139 million worldwide.

Nimoy directed two of the subsequent films, The Search for Spock and The Long Voyage Home, as well as contributing to the screenplays, and he also made two appearances in character when the franchise returned to television in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

But even though he was able to make a time out with the 80s smash 3 Men And A Baby, as the film’s director (it became one of the top-grossing films of its year, spawning a sequel), he remained largely synonymous with Spock.

Indeed, it was his association with the sci-fi icon that prompted the creators of hit TV series Fringe to coax him out of retirement to play Dr William Bell in the show, while he also reprised his role of Spock in JJ Abrams’ critically acclaimed reboot and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness.

He also made regular appearances at Star Trek conventions but admitted he didn’t always share the same encyclopaedic knowledge of the show as many of his fans.

Tributes

Tributes have been pouring in since news of his death broke, most of them via Twitter.

William Shatner, aka Captain Kirk, said he loved the actor “like a brother”, adding: “We will all miss his humor, his talent, and his capacity to love.”

And George Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu and was a friend of Nimoy’s, told US broadcaster MSNBC: “The word extraordinary is often over-used but I think it’s really appropriate for Leonard. He was an extraordinarily talented man but he was also a very decent human being.”

Nimoy’s legacy was such that even NASA posted its own tribute on Twitter, writing: “RIP Leonard Nimoy. So many of us at NASA were inspired by Star Trek. Boldly go…”

Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation, said: “We stood on your shoulders, and wouldn’t have had a galaxy to explore if you hadn’t been there, first. Thank you, Leonard, Rest in peace.”