Late legend Leonard Nimoy will forever be remembered for his role of Spock on Star Trek: The Original Series – that is aside from his incredible musical performance of “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.” And while all these decades later, fans still tie his name to the half-Vulcan, half-human character, there was a point during the earlier days when the actor was ready to leave the character in space.
Nimoy took some heavy convincing to rejoin the team for the second film from the universe, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
When it came down to his reasoning behind not wanting to join the production, Leonard Nimoy revealed a high dedication to the franchise’s devoted fanbase. Because the first venture into feature-length productions aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise hadn’t gone quite as well as was hoped for, Nimoy was uncertain if another movie was exactly what the fanbase needed.
Speaking with Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman for their book, The Fifty Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: The First 25 Years, Nimoy recalls feeling “adamant” that he would stay away from the project, adding that he had an overall “negative” feeling about it.
Fully understanding that without Spock, they had nothing, the sequel’s producer Harve Bennett and screenwriter Jack B. Sowards were prepared to do everything in their power to ensure Leonard Nimoy would sign on – even if that meant pitching the unthinkable. According to Sowards, Bennett called Nimoy and simply asked him how he wanted his death scene to play out. Unfazed by the aggressiveness, Nimoy had a back-and-forth with Bennett before the call came to an end, agreeing that if they were to kill off Spock, he would join the production.
Again, Leonard Nimoy says that it was his feeling of duty to the fans that gave him the final push to appear in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Realizing that he owed it to the folks who made Star Trek the success that it became, Nimoy said that he recognized finishing it was “the honest thing to do” and that it would be better to go out with a bang, “‘than turn your back on it.’” With both sides feeling happy with the compromise, now they only had to figure out exactly how Spock would die.
During that first phone call, it was said that Leonard Nimoy’s character would breathe his final breath at the very opening of the film. But, of course, all of that changed with Nimoy commenting, “It got to be a messy situation.”
As fans will know, the idea of having Spock’s death come at the beginning of the film was flipped completely upside down as it instead came at the tail end of the film. Making the heaviest impact imaginable, those final moments between William Shatner’s James T. Kirk and Leonard Nimoy’s Spock didn’t leave a dry eye in the theater.
In the end, even Spock’s death couldn’t keep Leonard Nimoy away from the Star Trek franchise as the actor would go on to reprise the role in a handful of projects, including Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek Into Darkness. While other actors have attached themselves to the iconic role in the years since Spock’s first farewell in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, none will ever be as synonymous with the performance as Nimoy.