Remembering Leonard Nimoy on his birthday: Spock’s legacy lives long, and we prosper

March 26, 2015 | 12:48 p.m.
leonardnimoy Remembering Leonard Nimoy on his birthday: Spocks legacy lives long, and we prosper

Leonard Nimoy, famous for his "Star Trek" role as Mr. Spock, has died. Click through the gallery for a look back at his life and career. (Ric Francis / Associated Press)

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Leonard Nimoy's first title role was in the 1952 film "Kid Monk Baroni," playing a street tough turned boxer.

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Nimoy's big break was playing Mr. Spock on the TV series "Star Trek" from 1966 to 1969. (Paramount)

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In 1971, Nimoy played a bounty hunter in the western film "Catlow." (MGM)

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In 1976, Nimoy played the title role in the stage production "Sherlock Holmes." (Los Angeles Times)

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In 1982, Nimoy played Achmet, the devious regent to Kublai Khan, in the TV miniseries "Marco Polo." (NBC)

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Nimoy in the 1984 miniseries "The Sun Also Rises," adapted from the Ernest Hemingway novel. (NBC)

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Nimoy starred in and directed the 1986 film "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home." (Los Angeles Times)

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Nimoy also directed the 1987 comedy "Three Men and a Baby," starring Steve Guttenberg, Tom Selleck and Ted Danson. (Touchstone Pictures)

1990 funny about love Remembering Leonard Nimoy on his birthday: Spocks legacy lives long, and we prosper

Nimoy directing Gene Wilder on the 1990 film "Funny About Love." (Paramount)

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In 2001, Nimoy donated $1 million to the renovation of the Griffith Observatory. (Los Angeles Times)

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Nimoy reprised his role as Spock for the 2009 reboot "Star Trek." (Paramount)

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Nimoy in his recurring role on the sci-fi series "Fringe." (Fox)

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Leonard Nimoy's rubber ears from the "Star Trek" series are shown on display in his Bel-Air home in 2002. (Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times)

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Leonard Nimoy inside his synagogue, Temple Israel of Hollywood, in 2004. (Los Angeles Times)

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Leonard Nimoy arrives onstage during the Paramount Pictures panel on the new "Star Trek" film at Comic-Con in 2007. (Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times)

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Leonard Nimoy poses for a portrait at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles in 2009. He returned to the role of Spock for the J.J. Abrams reboot of "Star Trek," released that year. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

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In 2009, Leonard Nimoy guest-starred in the season finale episode of Fox's "Fringe." (Craig Blankenhorn/Fox)

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Leonard Nimoy, left, and William Shatner help host "Science Fiction: A Journey into the Unknown, " a 1994 chronicle of TV shows in the science fiction and fantasy genre.

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Nimoy is amused by a fan's attire on his visit to Walt Disney World in 1995 to sign his new book, "I Am Spock," from Hyperion Press. (Walt Disney World)

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Leonard Nimoy holds up a copy of his autobiography, "I Am Spock," at the Science Museum in southwest London in 1995. (Michael Stephens / Associated Press)

ls nimoy Remembering Leonard Nimoy on his birthday: Spocks legacy lives long, and we prosper

Leonard Nimoy at his Bel-Air home in 1996, on the 30th anniversary of the "Star Trek" phenomenon. (Perry C. Riddle / Los Angeles Times)

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Leonard Nimoy costars in 1996 as the prophet Samuel in TNT's two-part, four-hour "David" production. (TBS)

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Jane Wyatt is shown with Nimoy in 1966. She played Mr. Spock's mother in the original "Star Trek" TV series. (File photo)

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Leonard Nimoy, voice of King of Atlantis in "Atlantis, the Lost Empire." (Disney Enterprises)

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Leonard Nimoy visits the Kennedy Space Center as host of the Buena Vista Television special "Armageddon: Target Earth," which aired on ABC in 1999. (Business Wire)

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Leonard Nimoy was the guest speaker in 1994 for the induction of five Edwards Air Force Base test pilots into Lancaster's Aerospace Walk of Honor. Nimoy said the pilots were true heroes. (Scott Rathburn / For The Times)

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In 2001, Leonard Nimoy read "The Cooking Poet," a short story by Samrat Upadhyay, at the Getty museum in Los Angeles. (Stefano Paltera / For The Times)

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Spock (Nimoy) with Capt. Kirk (William Shatner) and Chekov (Walter Koenig) in the TV series "Star Trek."

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William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in character. (Gregory Schwartz / Paramount Pictures)

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Captain Kirk (William Shatner) checks the progress of other members of the U.S.S. Enterprise crew as Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) listens in "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home." (Bruce Birmelin / Paramount Pictures)

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Jonathan Pryce, left, and Leonard Nimoy in TNT's "David." (Erik Heinila / TBS)

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"Star Trek's" William Shatner, left, and Leonard Nimoy, right, in "The Trouble With Tribbles" episode.

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Leonard Nimoy is shown with Mona Knox, his costar in 1952's "Kid Monk Baroni."

Leonard Nimoy, who died last month from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, would have celebrated his 84th birthday Thursday. The beloved actor is best known for playing the iconic “Star Trek” character Mr. Spock. Author Steve Hockensmith examines Nimoy’s legacy in a guest essay for Hero Complex.

He was Spock — even if, as obituary after obituary recently reminded us, he once tried to deny it.

Fortunately, Leonard Nimoy seemed to have made his peace with the character that largely defined his career. When he passed away in late February at the age of 83, Nimoy was a sort of benevolent father figure to the flourishing nerd culture he helped create.

Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock in "Star Trek."  (CBS)

Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock in “Star Trek.” (CBS)

Though he’d officially passed the Spock mantle to another actor, he remained a supportive presence in the new “Star Trek” films, continued to (lovingly) spoof his connection to the franchise in TV commercials and sitcom cameos and turned one of his character’s signature phrases — “Live long and prosper” — into a tag (LLAP) that he regularly shared with more than 1.2 million Twitter followers.

Nimoy was many things in his long career: poet, singer, photographer, director. As an actor he played everything from a master-of-disguise spy on “Mission: Impossible” to (on the stage) Vincent van Gogh, Sherlock Holmes and the show-tune-belting peasant Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Yet Mr. Spock was, to use “Star Trek” parlance, his first, best destiny.

The Vulcan first officer wasn’t just unflappably cool and analytical. If that were all he had going for him, he wouldn’t have become a cultural phenomenon (and Nimoy wouldn’t have earned three Emmy nominations for playing him). Spock was dignified, wry, sensitive and, as was once pointed out by his friend James T. Kirk, possessed of a deeply human soul.

That dignity and depth elevated the series and allowed fans to form a connection to it that survived, stronger than ever, after its cancellation. There’s a reason buttons at 1970s “Star Trek” conventions didn’t say “KIRK LIVES.” They said “SPOCK LIVES,” because Spock was the friend whose loss fans felt the most.

For a time, it looked as though Nimoy would have preferred that Spock not live. In 1975, he wrote the book “I Am Not Spock,” and not long afterward “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry came close to relaunching the series with a new Vulcan officer played by another actor. Fortunately, Nimoy agreed to return for “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” and after inspiring Spock’s death in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and directing his rebirth in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,” he seemed more comfortable and content in the role.

Fans were thrilled to have him back. Their devotion demonstrated the amazing potential a science-fiction/fantasy franchise could have. “Trek” inspired young viewers to become scientists, sparked technological innovations, supported a thriving fan culture and, yes, made certain people a lot of money. Which opened a lot of doors for a lot of other franchises.

Without Leonard Nimoy, there would have been no “Star Trek” phenomenon. And without “Star Trek” … well, that’s a parallel universe most of us probably wouldn’t want to visit.

— Steve Hockensmith

Hockensmith is the author of more than a dozen novels, including the upcoming middle-grade mystery “Nick and Tesla’s Special Effects Spectacular.” The first “grown-up” novel he can remember checking out of the library is “Vulcan!” by Kathleen Sky.

RELATED:

Full coverage: Leonard Nimoy

Obituary: Leonard Nimoy dies at 83; ‘Star Trek’s’ transcendent alien Mr. Spock

Leonard Nimoy in search of human life forms through photography

Watch Leonard Nimoy’s best William Shatner impression

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