Leonard Nimoy: A Vulcan On Star Trek, Ukrainian In Origin
Leonard Nimoy is best known for starring as Spock on Star Trek. His parents were Jewish-Ukrainian immigrants.
Leonard Nimoy will forever be known to the world as Star Trek’s Spock, the half-human, half-Vulcan science officer who imparted his stoic wisdom aboard the USS Enterprise. It was a role meant for Nimoy to play and one he fully embraced over a more than a six-decade career.
Yet Leonard Nimoy was much more than just Spock, even in the eyes of the most ardent Trek fans. He was an actor, but also a husband and father, a writer, a photographer, and believe it or not even a singer. He lived a full life and prospered throughout while entertaining fans around the globe.
LEONARD NIMOY’S PARENTS IMMIGRATED FROM UKRAINE
On Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy played an alien from a race called Vulcans. In real life, Leonard Nimoy’s race was Jewish. Jewish-Ukrainian to be specific.
Leonard Simon Nimoy was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1931. His parents, Max and Dora, were Jewish-Ukrainian immigrants who found their way to America from Iziaslav, Ukraine. Their journey was not an easy one.
Max and Dora did not leave Iziaslav together. Instead, Max walked himself over the Soviet Union border into Poland for his freedom. Leonard’s mother and his grandmother escaped from the Soviets by way of a horse-drawn carriage. They found their freedom by being smuggled out, hiding under bales of hay.
As a child in Boston, Leonard Nimoy did what he had to do to help bring in money for his family. His father owned a barbershop and his mother was a homemaker so, as with many families during that time, money was tight.
Leonard helped his father by first selling newspapers and greeting cards. He would also bring in some money by shining shoes or even setting up chairs in theaters. When he was older, Leonard helped by selling vacuum cleaners.
Nimoy’s love for movies and theater came at an early age. When he was only eight years old, Leonard Nimoy began acting in a children’s theater. His parents, loving as they were, knew how fleeting an acting career could be, and wanted their son to go to college and find himself a stable, well-paying career.
They also wanted Leonard to play the accordion, knowing his talent for music. It was Leonard’s grandfather who convinced him to pursue the career that would make him happy, which was acting.
Not only was Leonard fond of acting and music, but he also learned that he could actually sing. His voice was something that he developed while he sang in his synagogue’s choir and it would be something he’d use a little later on in life.
HIS FIRST EARLY ROLES INCLUDED A MUSICAL
Leonard Nimoy got his first major role at the age of 17. It was in a musical titled Clifford Odets’ Awake and Sing! In it, he played Ralphie. The story told of the struggles of a Jewish family during the Great Depression that had Leonard seeing many similarities to his own family. “Playing this teenage kid in this Jewish family that was so much like mine was amazing,” Nimoy explained in the Abigail Pogrebin book, Stars of David. “The same dynamics, the same tensions in the household.”
Acting took over and Leonard Nimoy went to college, with mixed emotions from his parents. At Boston College, Nimoy had earned a drama scholarship. He wasn’t there long before he realized that college wasn’t going to work for him. So, Leonard took the money he saved up from his vacuum-selling gig and headed west. Once on the West Coast, Leonard enrolled in the Pasadena Playhouse.
Here, it only took him six months to figure out that the acting skills he had already acquired were much more advanced than what the Pasadena Playhouse offered. “I thought, I have to study here three years in order to do this level of work, and I’m already doing better work.” Future colleague and fellow Star Trek icon William Shatner explained in his book, Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man, that this is what Leonard told him about his early acting adventures.
Feeling he could learn more on his own, Leonard turned to method acting. He studied concepts that came from the teachings of Konstantin Stanislavsky, a Russian practitioner of the theater, who had a profound influence on Leonard’s growth as an actor. As he began to grow as a performer Leonard took on famous method actor, Marlon Brando (The Godfather, A Streetcar Named Desire) as a role model. In fact, Leonard was so into Brando that he began to mimic Marlon by wearing Brando’s trademark blue jeans and a white tee shirt. Method acting took some time to learn so in-between gigs Mr. Nimoy found himself raising survival money by taking on a job at a Sunset Strip ice cream parlor.
LEONARD NIMOY ENLISTED IN THE ARMY RESERVE
Things weren’t moving fast enough for Leonard Nimoy, so in 1953, he decided to enlist in the United States Army Reserve. He would remain in the Reserve for 18 months and in 1955 when discharged, he left with the rank of Staff Sergeant.
Even during this time, he remained focused on his acting. As part of his duties, Mr. Nimoy was with the Army Special Services. There, he helped put on shows for the soldiers. He would write the shows, as well as narrate them and emcee them as well.
Nimoy couldn’t get rid of that acting bug. Perhaps that is why he chose not to make the military his long-term career. It could also be why he told friend and actor Ken Berry to follow his dream to become a performer and actor in Hollywood.
Leonard Nimoy, while in the Army Reserve, was a platoon leader and in his platoon was Berry. Nimoy understood Berry’s desire to perform and advised Berry to finish his hitch and head to Hollywood.
Berry did and gave credit to Nimoy over the years for pushing him in the right direction. Berry’s career started in 1960 and throughout he was known as a funny man dancer.
Known for his pratfalls and slapstick, along with his obvious dancing talent, Berry found time on shows such as The Ann Southern Show, Ensign O’Toole, F Troop, The Andy Griffith Show, Mayberry R.F.D., Fantasy Island, and Mama’s Family.
MARRIED FOR 32-YEARS AND THEN SUDDENLY DIVORCED
Leonard Nimoy’s time in the military was not all centered around entertainment. In 1954, Mr. Nimoy married Sandra Zober. Mrs. Nimoy would eventually be best known for her work in costume and wardrobe departments, well after the pair married.
The Nimoys had two children: Julie and Adam. Julie was born in 1955 while Leonard was still in the Army Reserve and Adam came a year later in 1956. Neither child deterred Leonard Nimoy from wanting to become an actor. Instead, having a family fueled his drive to make sure he had a successful career.
The Nimoys were married for 32 years. As many Hollywood marriages were wont to be, theirs was an eventful one. Still, they did survive for over three decades until Leonard left Sandi on her 56th birthday. Less than one year later, in 1987, the Nimoys divorced.
It was New Year’s Day in 1989 that Leonard Nimoy married for the second time. This was to actress Susan Bay, seen in television series such as The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Dr. Kildare, Perry Mason, One Day at a Time, and Starsky and Hutch. She was also on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and in the film Mother and Child.
On top of Bay’s acting credits, she was also a director. If her last name (Bay) seems familiar, it should be. Susan Bay is the cousin of famous blockbuster movie director, Michael Bay.
A ROCKY FATHER-SON RELATIONSHIP WITH ADAM NIMOY
Leonard Nimoy’s relationship with his son, Adam, was a complicated one. This played out in the 2016 documentary, For the Love of Spock, which turned out to be a love letter from a son to a father. Although his father had already passed, Adam had some unfinished business. His documentary spoke to their relationship and how, through all the ups, downs, and fights that the two eventually made peace and reconciled.
Adam talked about how tough it was to cut certain things from his documentary. He spoke about one of Leonard Nimoy’s lesser-known films, Catlow, in which the senior Nimoy co-starred with Yul Brynner and Richard Crenna. Leonard took his family to Spain for two months in 1971 for the film shoot and though Adam calls the film a “C western”, it was one of the films of his father’s that he loved.
“My dad was so good in it,” he said via The Wall Street Journal. “He played the heavy, a character named Miller, and he had a beard going. Dad looks great in buckskin. He had a leather hat. He looked like Clint Eastwood. It was just so cool. The film was not that good, but he was so good in it.”
Though as much as he wanted to keep this part in the documentary, Nimoy was instead convinced by the documentary’s senior editor to leave this portion out of the film. “It stopped the pace of the film, and the senior editor kept telling me, “No, it doesn’t fit. There’s no point in it.”
Adam also touched on the difficulties he had with his father. He shared that although his dad was only 25 years older, he “was generations away. He was really rooted in the old-world tradition of his parents.
He grew up in an immigrant neighborhood in the west end of Boston. He was the son of Russian immigrant parents. He grew up there in the Depression, and my dad was not necessarily academically inclined. But he was quite a businessman. He was doing all these little odd jobs as a kid.”
The younger Nimoy then pointed out the stark differences between his upbringing and his father’s. “But I didn’t come from that tradition. I was born and raised in sunny Southern California. When I was 10 years old, we had a pretty good upper-middle-class lifestyle with Star Trek on the air.
“I had a very different sensibility, a different attitude. I didn’t have odd jobs. I didn’t have paper routes. I wasn’t doing that stuff. I was collecting Beatles cards and going to concerts and listening to rock ‘n’ roll. I had a very different upbringing.”
Through it all, says Adam Nimoy, he knew his father cared for and loved him. “I just think he had trouble finding ways to connect to me. He was very caught up in his own life, his own world, and in the celebrity lifestyle, frankly, and it was very difficult for him to get away from that and get back to Earth, so to speak, and really be a part of my life and take an interest in my life.
“Very challenging for him. I just came to recognize that at various times in my life, and he made the efforts when he could. He did reach out to me on various occasions, and I just tried to be there for him when was willing to do that.”
For his part, Adam felt he did all he could to keep the relationship with his father on workable terms. He said he was always supportive of his father. He would, when he could, show up for his plays, if he was filming a movie, or shooting a series for television.
“The fact is, there were so many moments in our lives when we did connect in a loving fashion. That was the string that held it all together, even though there would be huge periods of alienation or outright conflict with him. The love was always there. We were just missing each other at various periods in time.”
One struggle that Adam had was separating the cultural icon that was Mr. Spock and his father, Leonard Nimoy. Every time Adam had difficulties with his father – the father/son relationship was fractured or he simply wasn’t happy with Leonard on a personal level – he didn’t find any pleasure in seeing his father as Spock.
Adam shared the story of when he went into the cleaners to pick up his clothes. They asked his last name and after he’d give it, they’d ask if he was related to Leonard Nimoy. Adam says he’d stupidly say yes, then the counterperson raved about his father, telling Adam just how wonderful of a father he had. Of course, it was something Adam didn’t care to hear.
Eventually, Adam “big pictured” his relationship with his dad. “We’ve led such blessed lives, we have been so fortunate. I have been so lucky throughout my life, particularly in the fact that I was able to reconnect with my dad, that those things fade away in my memory, is all I’m trying to say.” In the end, that is all that counts.
LEONARD NIMOY’S FIRST MOVIE APPEARANCE WAS IN 1951’S QUEEN FOR A DAY
Leonard Nimoy enjoyed a nice career before Mr. Spock came into his life. He made his first appearance in the 1951 movie Queen for a Day. Up until Mr. Nimoy joined the military, he was also seen in films like Kid Monk Baroni, Rhubarb, Francis Goes to West Point, and Zombies of the Stratosphere. Even though Mr. Nimoy’s military career began in 1953, he continued to star in films and television. In 1953 he appeared in episodes of the Four Star Playhouse, Old Overland Trail, an episode of the Fireside Theater, and Them!
After he received his honorable discharge from the Army Reserve, Leonard Nimoy ramped up his career. 1955 saw him appear in Your Favorite Story and Luke and the Tenderfoot. 1956 was an even busier year for Mr. Nimoy as he found time on Matinee Theater, Navy Log, The Man Called X, and the series West Point.
For the next number of years, Leonard Nimoy continued to build his acting résumé. There was The Silent Service, Broken Arrow, The Brain Eaters, and Highway Patrol. He appeared in a couple of Dragnet episodes as well as Mackenzie’s Raiders. Mr. Nimoy saw extended time on the hit series Sea Hunt and as the decade moved into the 1960s, he continued to get a lot of work in Hollywood.
1964 would be a very important year for Leonard Nimoy, although the importance of this year wouldn’t be known until well after. This year, Mr. Nimoy found himself in a guest role on a series titled The Lieutenant.
The episode was titled “In the Highest Tradition” and while his work was solid as always, the importance of it was because the series starred Gary Lockwood and was created by Gene Roddenberry.
You may have heard of the latter because Mr. Roddenberry was also, at the time, developing a science fiction television series and felt that Mr. Nimoy would be perfect for the series. It took another two years for the series to hit the small screen, but when it did, Star Trek was a smash. Even if for only three years on the small screen.
LEONARD NIMOY WAS 35 WHEN HE BEGAN STAR TREK
Leonard Nimoy was not a young pup when Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek came calling. Though Roddenberry felt Nimoy was perfect for the series, the latter also felt Leonard at 35 years of age, was better suited to play the Enterprise’s chief medical officer. Nimoy even tried out for the role, but eventually logical heads prevailed and he was offered the part of Spock. Little did anyone know that it would be his career-defining role. This was the beginning of a fandom that would carry throughout Leonard Nimoy’s life and continue even now, years after his death.
The first Star Trek pilot was produced and filmed in November and December of 1964. It was called The Cage and we say “first” pilot because NBC rejected it.
The original series pilot had Jeffrey Hunter as an Enterprise captain named Christopher Pike. While that character would continue on in Star Trek canon, appearing in other stories within the franchise, in this series it wasn’t working.
For what it’s worth, Anson Mount is currently portraying the character on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds on Paramount+ and people seem to love it.
Though the initial episode for Star Trek didn’t land, NBC did allow Mr. Roddenberry to produce a second pilot called Where No Man Has Gone Before. There were numerous casting changes between the first and second pilots and
Leonard Nimoy was the only main cast member from the first failed first pilot to remain a main player in the second one. Majel Barret played Number One alongside Nimoy on the original pilot, but became a secondary character named Nurse Chapel (and also the voice of the Enterprise computer) in the new version. NBC liked the second pilot and Star Trek was picked up.
Star Trek lasted only three seasons and 80 episodes. The main cast included Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner as Captain Kirk, DeForest Kelly as Dr. Bones McCoy, Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, James Doohan as Scotty, George Takei as Sulu, and Walter Koenig as Chekov.
Two other actors also spent a lot of time on the Star Trek set. These were Eddie Paskey as Lt. Leslie (he starred in 60 episodes, more than both George Takei and Walter Koenig) and Majel Barrett, who claimed 34 episodes.
THE VULCAN NERVE PINCH
Forget Bruce Lee’s “The Way of the Intercepting Fist,” (Jeet Kune Do) or Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Shōtōkan Karate, or even Steven Seagal’s Aikido Aikikai. This particular means of attack is probably even more famous than all those combined. Nothing beats Spock’s world-famous Vulcan Nerve Pinch, also called the Vulcan Neck Pinch.
The Vulcan Nerve Pinch was introduced to the world during the original Star Trek episode, The Enemy Within. The script called for Spock to knock out the duplicate of Captain Kirk with violence, but two things were wrong with this idea. One was that Leonard Nimoy was very opposed to violence. He had spoken out against the Vietnam War, and at the time and was also a big supporter of Senator Eugene McCarthy. This caused consternation for Nimoy.
Secondly, Nimoy felt that this type of violent action went against everything Vulcan. Instead, Leonard wanted to come up with a type of action that would be non-violent but would also have ultimate effectiveness.
As he described what he wanted to do, the episode’s director couldn’t understand Nimoy’s explanation. Apparently, though, William Shatner knew exactly what Nimoy had in mind. As Shatner explained it to the director, he described the Vulcan Neck Pinch as a feeling like an electrical charge.
The technique, as developed by Nimoy, had Spock apply pressure to the base of the neck and shoulder. A Vulcan Nerve Pinch would immediately render any victim unconscious.
Not only would they drop, but they would be out so fast that they couldn’t counter the “attack”, nor could they cry out in pain. Every time Spock was to use the famous move, the scripts would read “FSNP” for Famous Spock Nerve Pinch.
Although the FSNP was purely fictional, many viewers thought it was real. It was talked about at length by Nimoy, as he tried to explain just how the move could result in victims falling unconscious so quickly.
It got to the point where Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, along with scribe Stephen E. Whitfield, decided to explain how the pinch would work in the book, The Making of Star Trek. Roddenberry says the Vulcan Neck Pinch blocks blood and nerve response to the brain, which leads to immediate unconsciousness. What they do not offer detail on is just how this pinch could actually lead to instantaneous sleep.
There have been plenty of instances in which Spock used the famous move. It was always very effective on regular human beings, dropping them where they stood. In the original series’ entirety, there has been only one human that the Vulcan Nerve Pinch was ineffective.
It came in the Assignment Earth episode, and it was Gary Seven who didn’t feel the effects of the pinch. Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelly) surmised that although human, the alien-raised Seven’s body was perfect and therefore could be the reason why the Vulcan Nerve Pinch didn’t affect him.
Even though the Vulcan Nerve Pinch was a perfect weapon for Leonard Nimoy’s Spock, it was not a move easily mastered by others. When Spock used the technique in the original Star Trek episode, The Omega Glory, Shatner’s Captain Kirk comments to Spock that it’s a “pity you can’t teach me that,” to which Spock coolie replies, “I have tried, Captain.” Captain Kirk never once mastered the move.
Captain Kirk was not the only member of the original series’ characters to give the Vulcan Nerve Pinch a try. In the third movie with the original cast members, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Dr. McCoy finds himself possessed by Spock’s Katra (his spirit or his soul) but is unable to complete the famous maneuver.
Believe it or not, the Vulcan Nerve Pinch is effective on more than just humans. During the episode Yesteryear, which was part of the Star Trek animated series, Spock used the famous nerve pinch on a Le-Matya, which fans know as a vicious mountain lion-like creature.
It worked to stop the beast from killing Spock’s younger self. In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Leonard Nimoy’s Spock breaks out the incapacitating move once again, this time he uses it on a horse to take it out during a battle sequence.
Over the years since the Vulcan Nerve Pinch was introduced, references have been made on different television shows or in films. The move has been talked about on shows such as Stephen King’s The Langoliers, Carmen Sandiego, The O.C., and on an episode of the animated series Phineas and Ferb. On iCarly, Sam uses the move on Nora, who kidnapped Sam. She uses the move to escape and once she does, Spencer says to Sam, “You did the Vulcan squeezer thing?” Sam calmly responds to the positive.
In one fun commercial, the two Spocks square off. Leonard Nimoy takes on Zachary Quinto in the Audi commercial titled Leonard Nimoy vs Zachary Quinto – The Challenge. Quinto is well-known for the superhero television series, Heroes, where he played the brutal bad guy Sylar, and he is also known for playing Spock in the 2010s J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films.
The two start with a friendly game of virtual chess where Quinto appears to have the upper hand until he doesn’t. Leonard Nimoy gets him in checkmate.
Quinto then decides to toss another challenge Nimoy’s way, challenging him to a race to the golf club. The last one there has to buy lunch. As they both head out, Quinto shows how spacious his Audi is by getting his golf clubs in the car easily. Nimoy, on the other hand, is having a much harder time with his Mercedes Benz.
The two trade some light-hearted banter on the way to the club, which Quinto arrives at well before Leonard Nimoy. After another chuckle where Leonard Nimoy plays up his death scene from Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, he gets out of his car to where Quinto declares himself the winner.
The smooth and cool Leonard Nimoy calmly puts his arm around Quinto’s shoulders telling him, “Technically, we’re not inside yet.” He then slides his hand to Quinto’s neck and performs the Vulcan Neck Pinch. Quinto drops to the ground unconscious.
The move was also attempted for laughs in Mel Brooks’s Spaceballs. Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) attempts to use it on a henchman, but he is unsuccessful. The henchman decides to explain to Lone Starr that he used the grip incorrectly, telling him the right way for it to be effective. Lone Starr tries again, this time with much better results.
THE VULCAN SALUTE IS BASED ON JUDAISM’S PRIESTLY BLESSING
Along with that famous Vulcan Nerve Pinch, Leonard Nimoy created another, even more famous, Star Trek tradition – the split-fingers Vulcan salute. The very first time the “V” appeared was in the original series’ second season premiere in 1967. It was during the episode, Amok Time when Spock whipped it out. It was seen a number of times after and caught on with viewers to make it one of the most recognizable salutes ever given.
According to Mr. Nimoy in his 1975 autobiography, I Am Not Spock, he claims to have invented the salute and based it on the Priestly Blessing. This blessing, which was performed by Jewish priests, was done with both hands, fingers split like the Vulcan salute, but with thumbs touching. Mr. Nimoy took that and created his own salute, using only one hand.
The Vulcan salute was so well-known and popular that upon Mr. Nimoy’s passing, then-President Barack Obama made reference to the Vulcan salute when expressing his sentiment toward Mr. Nimoy’s death. He said in his statement that Leonard Nimoy’s creation of the Vulcan salute was “the universal sign for ‘Live Long and prosper.’”
In fact, President Obama said many things that a generation was feeling shortly after Mr. Nimoy passed: “Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy. Leonard was a lifelong lover of the arts and humanities, a supporter of the sciences, and generous with his talent and his time. And of course, Leonard was Spock. Cool, logical, big-eared, and level-headed, the center of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future. I loved Spock.”
DIF-TOR HEH SMUSMA or LIVE LONG AND PROSPER
Every time Mr. Spock offered his famous Vulcan salute, he would also say the words, “Live long and prosper.” This saying comes from the traditional Jewish blessing, dif-tor heh smusma, though it is an abbreviated form of the blessing. As with the Vulcan salute, his saying of “Live long and prosper” became just as popular.
The phrase “live long and prosper” was first uttered during the same Amok Time episode that also saw the first use of the Vulcan Salute. As the series continued, the departure between Vulcan characters would be extended.
The first Vulcan would say, “Peace and long life,” while the other would then conclude with, “Live long and prosper.” This would be seen and heard not only in the original series but also in the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and also in the TV series, Star Trek: The Next Generation.
STAR TREK – SEASON 2, RENEWAL, AND CANCELLATION
Star Trek wasn’t a massive hit during its first season and when Season 2 came about, William Shatner felt the series was dead in the water. The ratings continued to decline as Season 2 progressed, almost for certain giving NBC a reason to give the series its pink slip. But as the second season continued on, ratings got better. Ultimately, demographics helped the series.
Rumors almost took out the series in late 1967, but the response to that surprised NBC. By that time, the network had received over 29,000 letters in attempts to stave off its cancellation. Mr. Roddenberry, fearing the worst, began a secret campaign to have viewers write letters to save the show.
Between December 1967 and March 1968, the network received an additional 116,000 letters. One NBC executive said the actual number of letters surpassed the one million mark. The network made the unprecedented move right after the second season’s The Omega Glory aired to announce on TV that the series had been renewed for a third season. The thought here was that the network was tired of fielding all the letters and felt that if they made the announcement that the letter-writing would stop.
When Star Trek’s third season premiered and Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner and the crew of the Enterprise returned, NBC wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. The series was first scheduled to show on Monday nights, hoping that this move would increase the viewing audience.
Instead, and for some inexplicable reason, they moved Star Trek to 10:00 pm on Friday nights. It was a horrible time for the show that effectively removed it from a younger viewing audience.
But NBC, in their reasoning, didn’t want the series to conflict with the highly-rated and watched variety show, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. George Schlatter, Laugh-In’s producer, made his feelings well known, demanding that his show not be rescheduled to a different night.
The move, as predicted, was a terrible one for Star Trek. On top of the awful time slot, NBC was showing the series on only 181 of their 210 station affiliates. It was a move that frustrated Roddenberry and ultimately led to him stepping away from the day-to-day of the series. He lobbied unsuccessfully to get the network to move the series to better night, but NBC didn’t budge.
The series’ writing took a hit. Shatner felt the stories were simply improbable, even for a series about space travel. Leonard Nimoy felt the whole move by NBC was strictly a financial decision. Whatever NBC’s reasoning behind the move, it ultimately doomed the show.
The series’ final day of filming came on January 4, 1969, and by February of that year, NBC had pulled the plug. TV Guide Network said in their 25 Biggest TV Blunders 2 article that NBC’s decision to cancel Star Trek was the fourth worst of all time.
STAR TREK TOOK A DEEP TOLL ON HIS LIFE
Fame can be fleeting. Fame can also be lifelong. For Leonard Nimoy, the latter was true and because of it, he paid the price, not only with his family but with himself. The actor began to drink heavily in 1967. Although things appeared fine for the actor, it wasn’t. It was during this time that Nimoy’s drinking got so bad, that he became a self-labeled alcoholic.
Mr. Nimoy never drank on the job. Somehow, he was able to keep things together until that final “wrap” was called, then he went off and drank. His drinking got to the point that he became depressed and even suicidal. So, for over 20 years, Mr. Nimoy was a functioning alcoholic. Never once did the bottle interfere with his work, but it definitely took its toll outside of filming. After Star Trek, Mr. Nimoy ended up in rehab. It helped him for some time but eventually, the drinking returned.
In 1989, Mr. Nimoy knew it was time to stop drinking. As he said via Esquire, “Stopping wasn’t difficult once I understood that I had to stop. I was trying to control it, but I had no control. I’d promise myself that on a Sunday I’d only have a beer or two, but within a few hours, I’d be drinking heavily. So, I realized that I can’t drink at all. They say with alcoholism that one drink is too many and a gallon is not enough.”
LIFE AFTER THE STAR TREK SERIES INVOLVED VERY LITTLE WORK
Leonard Nimoy and the rest of the original Star Trek crew didn’t realize that Star Trek ending in 1969 was not the end for them. Not in the least. As time went on, the series began to get a cult following. Trekkies, or Trekkers as they were first known, saved the series during its second season but couldn’t pull off the same feat the following year. Even though the series was canceled, the Trekkie following was just starting.
Trekkies got their wish granted in 1973, though it didn’t happen the way they had hoped for. Star Trek was back, but this time it returned in animated form. Along with Mr. Nimoy, the entire original cast returned to lend their vocal talents to the animated show. The series lasted a paltry 22 episodes, but they at least got to hear their favorite Star Trek characters one more time.
After the animated series ended, Leonard Nimoy slowed down. He made one made-for-TV movie called The Missing Are Deadly and then for the next three years was absent from both the big and small screens. 1978 saw Mr. Nimoy return to the big screen in the horror film remake (and underrated) Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The film was a modest hit, but not as big as his next adventure. He was boldly going back to the final frontier.
SPOCK RETURNED IN THE MOTION PICTURE
For years Trekkies had been clamoring for more Star Trek. But years went on and nothing seemed like it was going to happen. If you had been a betting person back in the day, you definitely would not have put money on Leonard Nimoy returning as Spock.
When the idea was hatched to bring back Star Trek, it was planned as a television project. The project, though, was so big that it was going to cost Paramount $3.2 million to make it happen.
Those were big bucks for television back in the late ‘70s. So, that idea was effectively killed. But Paramount had seen the numbers that Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind were putting up, so they decided to make themselves a Star Trek movie. It was a big and bold move.
As a film, the Star Trek budget jumped to $18 million. Robert Wise (West Side Story) was brought on to direct the film and had agreed only because his wife was a Trekkie. Because of how they saw the film and the importance of specific characters, Wise told Paramount’s top execs at the time, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, that having Spock in the film was a must.
But there was one big problem. Actually two. The first was that Leonard Nimoy had no love lost for series creator Gene Roddenberry. Seems that Roddenberry did Mr. Nimoy dirty. Apparently, Roddenberry had reached out to Mr. Nimoy on an earlier project, but without warning or explanation, he dropped Mr. Nimoy from the project. This did not sit well with Mr. Nimoy.
The other big problem was that Mr. Nimoy was in the middle of a lawsuit against Paramount for them using his likeness on Star Trek merchandise without his permission. So, when Mr. Nimoy’s agent called him up broaching the Star Trek subject, Mr. Nimoy impolitely told his agent that “If you ever call me again about Star Trek, you’re fired.”
So, we don’t have Mr. Nimoy’s agent to thank for him returning to the fold, but we should thank Jeffrey Katzenberg. At that time, Mr. Nimoy was appearing in a New York play called Equus. Mr. Katzenberg had called up Nimoy and told him he’d love to fly out to see the play. Mr. Nimoy was immediately flattered so when Mr. Katzenberg also suggested a meeting, to which the former gladly obliged.
After Mr. Katzenberg got his coffee meeting with Mr. Nimoy, the pair met three more times over the next few days during which time Katzenberg listened to every complaint Nimoy had about Roddenberry and Paramount Studios. When Katzenberg told Mr. Nimoy he could still shoot the picture while litigation was ongoing, Mr. Nimoy told him, “I just can’t do that. I’m sorry.”
Mr. Katzenberg was not dissuaded. It took just a couple of weeks and Paramount settled the lawsuit with Mr. Nimoy. He got this settlement check from Paramount at 5 pm and the Star Trek script an hour later. By 7 pm, Paramount had called to set up a meeting.
While things seemed to be trending in the right direction, they ultimately were not. Mr. Nimoy hated Roddenberry’s ideas for the script. While he wanted to turn it down after reading the script, Mr. Nimoy knew he’d be answering the tough questions for years to follow.
“How could I answer those questions?” he said. “I didn’t like the script? I hated Gene? I was angry at the studio? I would be carrying that negative shit around with me for the next five years at least.”-Leonard Nimoy
Still, even with Mr. Nimoy finally, onboard it was not smooth sailing. Star Trek: The Motion Picture started filming before the final script was even set. This forced Mr. Nimoy and William Shatner to come up with a workable third act as Roddenberry was being forced out. But the budget also jumped from $18 million to $45 million and almost ended Mr. Katzenberg’s career.
The word on the street was so negative about the film that many theaters were trying to get out of showing it. Thankfully for the studio, they held all those movie theaters to their contracts and made them show the film. Remarkably, Star Trek: The Motion Picture made $82 million and helped usher in a new era of Star Trek films. Leonard Nimoy and Spock were back in action.
SPOCK’S DYING WORDS WERE: OR THE ONE
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan premiered three years after the first film debuted. To many, it was the film that saved Star Trek. While the first film was a big enough hit for Paramount to justify a second film, the prevailing wisdom was that if the second film didn’t far surpass the first, there would be no third movie. The Wrath of Khan did just that. A swashbuckling adventure that was high on energy and thoroughly compelling to the very end, it also offered one of the most emotional scenes in Star Trek history.
Toward the end of the film, the U.S.S. Enterprise was close to destruction. To ensure that the ship and more importantly the crew, survive, Spock enters a highly radioactive chamber so he can fix the ship’s warp drive and allow the crew to escape. The radiation quickly gets to Spock and as he dies, he tells Admiral Kirk, “Don’t grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh…” and Kirk finishes for him, “…the needs of the few.” Spock responds with, “Or the one.”
DID LEONARD NIMOY DIRECT ANY STAR TREK MOVIES?
The heart-wrenching ending to the second Star Trek film only set up the next film and after the response the second film got, there definitely was going to be a third. Here is where Leonard Nimoy made himself a little power play. In the past, Mr. Nimoy, on top of being in front of the camera, found himself behind the camera directing a few TV series episodes.
He was itching to make his feature film directorial debut and he wanted the third Star Trek movie to be the one. Mr. Eisner, though, was very reluctant to hand Nimoy the keys to his very expensive car.
But Mr. Nimoy reminded Eisner that they needed a director and the film needed Spock. “You and I are having a very important meeting,” he told Eisner via The Hollywood Reporter. “This might be the last time we ever speak to each other. We’re either going to start working together on something, or we’re literally down to the final moments of our relationship!”
The move turned out to be a brilliant one as the third film in the series, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, was a hit with critics as well as at the box office. The pairing was so good that Leonard Nimoy was brought back to direct the fourth film, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Leonard Nimoy didn’t stop with those two Star Trek films. He went on to also direct the hit comedy, Three Men and a Baby. And he also found time behind the camera on The Good Mother, Funny About Love, and Holy Matrimony.
WILLIAM SHATNER AND LEONARD NIMOY STOP TALKING BEFORE THE END OF HIS LIFE
At times they were very close. William Shatner even had Leonard Nimoy as his best man during Shatner’s third marriage to Nerine Kidd. But alas, in the end, sadly both Mr. Nimoy and Mr. Shatner had a falling out that would never be repaired.
To hear Shatner tell it, the two really were best friends. He has even said on numerous occasions that Leonard Nimoy was “the only friend I ever had.” But, Shatner finally came clean on the oft bitter battles between the two during the original series days and those battles are something that Bill Shatner feels both were at fault for.
“Nothing is ever one person’s fault — one hand clapping doesn’t make a sound,” Shatner started before giving high praise to Leonard Nimoy. “And at the same time he had created a unique character with Spock, and it’s a beautiful example of an actor bringing pieces of his own life to bear on a character that he’s playing,” Shatner said via The Hollywood Reporter. “When I realized that, I found that admirable. I was filled with admiration for Leonard on many levels. His intelligence and his creativity and his passions and his focus as an actor.”
But as Shatner went on, it was clear that his uneasiness with Spock’s popularity was at the center of their early issues. “I would think that any clashes that we had in the beginning … you know it was so long ago that I am forced to try and re-create what fireworks that might have been. I don’t remember any fireworks, I remember going to the producers and wondering whether they were going to change the thrust of the show as a result of the popularity of Spock. So my anxieties were never directed at Leonard per se, it was about “How was the show going to go?”
But the two always seemed to come around and patch things up. This was until Shatner was trying to get Nimoy involved in a documentary relating to Star Trek that Leonard did not want to be part of. Nimoy never gave Shatner permission and Shatner ended up filming him without it. “I don’t know. I thought he was joking at first and treated it as a joke because he sometimes would pretend and say, “No, I’m not going to do that” and then say, “yes,” so that’s what I thought he did. But that time he really meant, no. … I just don’t know, and it is sad and it is permanent. I don’t know why he stopped talking to me.”
It was a rift that would take up the final five years of Leonard Nimoy’s life. The two never spoke again, wounds never healed, and Nimoy passed away after his long battle with COPD. “Leonard was my dearest friend. I loved Leonard Nimoy. We had success, envy, anger, love, passion,” Shatner said via the New York Post. “I loved Leonard as my dearest brother,” he continued. “When he died, a part of me died.”
Although William Shatner had his issues with Leonard Nimoy, the same can’t be said about the rest of the original series cast. George Takei, who has been famously feuding with William Shatner for years, called Nimoy “the most human person I’d ever met.”
Before DeForest Kelly passed, he explained why he passed on Star Trek Generations saying he felt that only being in a cameo in the first ten minutes of the movie just didn’t make sense. When he found out that Nimoy had also passed for the same reason, he said, “I certainly wouldn’t have done the film without him in it.”
One wonderful story comes from the original cast during the filming of the series. Nichelle Nicols played Lt. Uhura in the show and it came to the attention of Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov) that Ms. Nichols was not making as much money as the other cast members were making.
As Koenig told the Las Vegas Sun, the situation was taken care of quickly. “When it came to the attention of the cast that there was a disparity in pay in that George and I were getting the same pay but Nichelle was not getting as much, I took it to Leonard and he took it to the front office and they corrected that.”
LEONARD NIMOY IS MORE THAN MR. SPOCK
It is true. Leonard Nimoy will forever be known as Mr. Spock, but his professional life was much, much more than the Star Trek franchise. We’ve already talked about his foray behind the camera, but the talented Mr. Nimoy has other adventures he can brag about.
The first is that of his vocal talents. This goes for video games and yes, believe it or not, Leonard Nimoy was a singer. Of the video games, he was part of the following: 1992 Star Trek: 25th Anniversary as Spock; 1993 Star Trek: Judgment Rites as Spock; 1999 Seaman as The Narrator; 2005 Civilization IV as The Narrator; 2010 Star Trek Online as Spock; 2010 Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep as Xehanort; 2012 Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance as Xehanort.
As a singer, Leonard Nimoy recorded five albums. They include Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music from Outer Space (1967); Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy (1968); The Way I Feel (1968); The Touch of Leonard Nimoy (1969); and The New World of Leonard Nimoy (1970).
Leonard Nimoy’s talents don’t stop there. He is also very handy with the pen and paper. As an author, Mr. Nimoy has written two books, I Am Not Spock in 1975 and the follow up written 20 years later and conveniently titled, I Am Spock. But he is also known as a screenwriter having penned the stories for Vincent (1981) and two Star Trek movies – Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
If that is not impressive enough, Leonard Nimoy was a poet and photographer. On the poetry side he published You & I (1973); Will I Think of You? (1974); We Are All Children Searching for Love: A Collection of Poems and Photographs (1977); Come be with Me (1978); These Words Are for You (1981); Warmed by Love (1983); and A Lifetime of Love: Poems on the Passages of Life (2002).
Leonard Nimoy even published three books on his photography. The first one was called Shekhina and it was a series of images of nude women draped in Jewish religious accouterments. The second one was titled The Full Body Project which featured portraits of nude obese women. His third was titled Secret Selves.
Still not impressed? Well, maybe this will help. NASA even named an asteroid after him. It is called the 4864 Nimoy.
HIS LAST APPEARANCE AS SPOCK WAS IN 2013’S STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS
In 2010, Leonard Nimoy said he was finally done with Mr. Spock. He was also done with acting, hanging up his pointy ears after a career that spanned over six decades. His 2009 appearance in J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek reboot as Spock Prime was to be his last. Well, sort of. Mr. Nimoy did voice Spock Prime for the 2010 Star Trek Online video game. He also slipped those familiar pointy ears on for an episode of The Big Bang Theory in 2012.
But his final FINAL time came in 2013 when he returned at J.J. Abrams’s request for Star Trek Into Darkness. The movie offered a circular element to the Spock story, wrapping up timelines and arcs from the original series and movies. It was a fitting end for the character, one moving into the Kelvin Timeline of the franchise. That would also be the last time Leonard Nimoy would be in front of the camera. He did voice Spock one last time in 2014 for the video game Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff.
LEONARD NIMOY’S LAST WORDS WERE: I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE
Leonard Nimoy lost his battle with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease in 2015 at the age of 83. He left behind two children, six grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Before he passed he was able to share some final thoughts with not only his family, but also with the world.
On February 23, 2015, a little over a month before he passed away, Leonard Nimoy shared one final tweet. In it he wrote, “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP.” You may recognize the “LLAP”, something that Leonard Nimoy signed off with many times – Live long and prosper.
Mr. Nimoy’s wife Susan was at his side right before he passed. He told her that it was time for him to go. Susan said that Leonard was in a terrible amount of pain and after telling his wife it was time, he called in his nurses and asked them to ease him out. They did, slowly raising his morphine dosage to allow him to pass pain-free.
Leonard Nimoy was able to share his feeling with both his children before he left. He told his daughter Julie, ‘Julie I love you. I’m very proud of you. I just want you to be able to let me go now. It’s time for me, I can’t do this anymore.’”
His son Adam, with whom he had many issues as his son grew older, but eventually found common ground, said, “Just before he died, he reminded me that Spock, half Vulcan, was the only alien on the bridge of the Enterprise. Spock always wanted to integrate himself among his crewmates, Dad said, ‘to give the best that he had to offer.’ I feel the same way about how my father lived his own life.”