After roles on Dragnet and The Twilight Zone, Leonard Nimoy earned the attention of producer and writer Gene Roddenberry and was cast on Star Trek as Mr. Spock. Star Trek premiered in 1966 and turned Nimoy into a legitimate star. Nimoy always stayed active as an actor with other projects, working as a photographer and director as well, while his role as Spock on the television show and Star Trek movies over the years dominated his reputation. Nimoy died on February 27, 2015, at the age of 83.
Aspiring Young Actor
Leonard Simon Nimoy was born on March 26, 1931, in Boston, Massachusetts. Nimoy was the youngest child of Max and Dora, Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants who had escaped from Stalinist Russia. The family settled in the West End of Boston, where Max was a popular local figure and enjoyed his life as a barber. The young Nimoy brothers—Leonard and older brother Melvin—were neighborhood fixtures and sold newspapers in Boston Common.
The acting bug bit Nimoy early on, and he was just 8 years old when he appeared in his first play. He performed throughout his teen years at Boston's English High School, and after his graduation in 1949, he attended Boston College. While playing the role of Ralphie in a collegiate production of Clifford Odets' Awake and Sing, Nimoy noticed that another Odets play was making a professional, pre-Broadway debut in Boston. After seeking career advice from one of the play's established cast members, Nimoy submitted an application to California's Pasadena Playhouse. He made his way out to the West Coast using money he earned by selling vacuum cleaners.
Big Break: 'Star Trek'
By the early 1950s, Nimoy was appearing in bit parts in feature films, and his first title role came with 1952's boxing-themed Kid Monk Baroni. After a two-year stretch in the U.S. Army Reserve beginning in 1953, and marrying Sandra Zober in 1954, Nimoy resumed his acting career in 1955. He began studying with Jeff Corey, a highly respected acting coach, and continued to land bit parts on television series and B-movies. During this time, he became a father of two; daughter Julie was born in 1955 and son Adam followed in 1956.
After carving out a niche with day-player roles on shows that included Dragnet, The Rough Riders, Sea Hunt, Bonanza, The Twilight Zone, Dr. Kildaire and Perry Mason, Nimoy's featured role on a 1965 episode of The Lieutenant earned the attention of producer and writer Gene Roddenberry. At the time, Roddenberry was casting for the upcoming sci-fi series Star Trek and thought Nimoy would be ideal for the role of the stoic, logical and brilliant science officer known as Mr. Spock. Roddenberry even allowed Nimoy to contribute his own elements to the character. Nimoy developed both the pacifistic Vulcan nerve pinch and the Vulcan salute; the latter is reportedly based on a Jewish blessing.
"Live long and prosper."
Star Trek premiered in 1966 and turned both Nimoy and co-star William Shatner into legitimate stars. The groundbreaking show garnered a steady following (and earned Nimoy three Emmy nominations) but forged an active rivalry between its two competitive leading men. "The truth is, every good actor has an ego," Shatner said in his book Up Till Now: An Autobiography. "I was supposed to be the star, but Leonard was getting more attention than I was. It bothered me." Despite the show's cult popularity, Star Trek closed down production and was taken off the air by 1969.
After the series ended, Nimoy was snapped up as a series regular on the show Mission: Impossible. He spent the next two years playing the role of the Great Paris, a master of disguise and illusion. He left the show in 1971.
After recovering from a stomach ulcer, Nimoy resumed an intensive acting schedule, touring as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and adding made-for-TV movies to his usual roster of work. During this time, he began to explore other pursuits as well. Nimoy stepped behind the camera and established a reputation as a competent television director. Throughout the 1970s, he issued several volumes of poetry, and in 1975 he released his self-penned (and fan-offending) autobiography, I Am Not Spock, which featured a series of imagined discussions between himself and his most famous character. However, he never strayed far from on-screen work, and in 1976, he began hosting the long-running series In Search Of..., a show devoted to investigations of the unusual and the paranormal. And in 1978, he starred in the hit big-screen remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
'Star Trek' Films
With the blockbuster success of George Lucas' 1977 blockbuster Star Wars, America confirmed its love of big-budget sci-fi. At the same time, audiences showed a renewed interested in Star Trek as a result of re-run syndication. Paramount Pictures, determined to stay competitive with Lucas' high-grossing creation, decided to capitalize on the Star Trek series and gave the green light to a big-screen version of Star Trek. After settling some longstanding financial issues with the studio, Nimoy signed on to reprise his role as Mr. Spock.
The film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, was released in December of 1979. It was a box-office smash and was nominated for three Oscars (although critics nearly universally panned it). Nimoy returned for 1982's sequel, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, and even directed the third and fourth installments in the series—1984's Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and 1986's Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
After Mr. Spock
The following year, Nimoy used his brief time away from the franchise to focus on directing, and in 1987 he helmed the enormously successful Three Men and a Baby, starring Ted Danson, Steve Guttenberg and Tom Selleck. That same year, he and wife Sandra divorced, and two years later he wed actress Susan Bay.
As the Star Trek film series continued on, Nimoy and Shatner began to feel the strain. The two had put their contentiousness aside for the sake of the movies, but by the time 1989's Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and 1991's Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country hit movie theaters, Nimoy was ready to say his goodbyes to the franchise. The following year, he showcased his first screenwriting effort with Vincent, an adaptation of a former work that he directed and starred in based on Vincent Van Gogh.
Nimoy spent the rest of the 1990s honing his directing chops, voicing animated projects and appearing in the occasional acting role. In 1995, he released his second biography, I Am Spock.
Largely retired from acting, Nimoy embraced a new career as a photographer and a philanthropist. He also mended fences with his former Star Trek co-star, serving as best man in Shatner's 1997 wedding to Nerine Kidd. His 2002 photography book, The Shekhina Project, drew controversy for its depiction of Jewish themes with nude forms, and his equally provocative 2007 work, The Full Body Project, toyed with the idea of physical size and beauty. He and wife Susan also continued to support the arts with generous financial gifts from the Nimoy Foundation. The actor returned to acting to reprise his most famous role in J.J. Abrams' reimagining of Star Trek in 2009 and Star Trek Into Darkness in 2013.
In February 2014, Leonard Nimoy revealed he was suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The progressive lung disease makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and is primarily caused by smoking. "I quit smoking 30 years ago. Not soon enough. I have COPD. Grandpa says, quit now!! LLAP," Nimoy tweeted, using the abbreviation LLAP for Spock's famous line "Live long and prosper."
In February 2015, the actor was treated at the UCLA Medical Center for intense chest pains and was released. Later that same week, Nimoy died at his home in Los Angeles on February 27 at the age of 83. His wife confirmed that the cause was COPD.
Even during his last days, Nimoy endeared himself to fans when he wrote in his last tweet on February 22: "A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP."
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