LOS ANGELES — When Leonard Nimoy was approached about acting in a new TV series called “Star Trek,” he was, like any good Vulcan contemplating a risky mission in a chaotic universe, dispassionate.
“I really didn’t give it a lot of thought,” he later recalled. “The chance of this becoming anything meaningful was slim.”
By the time “Star Trek” finished its three-year run in 1969, Nimoy was a cultural touchstone — a living representative of the scientific method, a voice of pure reason in a time of social turmoil, the unflappable and impeccably logical Mr. Spock.
He was, as the Los Angeles Times described him in 2009, “the most iconic alien since Superman” — a quantum leap for a character actor who had appeared in plenty of shows but never worked a single job longer than two weeks.
Nimoy, who became so identified with his TV and film role that he titled his two memoirs, somewhat illogically, “I Am Not Spock” (1975) and “I Am Spock” (1995), died Friday at his home in the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles. He was 83.
The cause was end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said his son, Adam.
Nimoy revealed last year that he had the disease, a condition he attributed to the smoking he gave up 30 years earlier.
As Spock, he was the pointy-eared, half-Vulcan, 23rd-century science officer whose vaulted eyebrows seemed to express perpetual surprise at the utterly illogical ways of the humans who served with him on the starship Enterprise.
Spock could barely wrap his mind around feelings. He was the son of a human mother and a father from Vulcan — a planet whose inhabitants had chosen pure reason as the only way they could survive. When he thwarted deep-space evil-doers, it was with logic simple enough for a Vulcan but dizzying for everyone else, including his commanding officer, Capt. James T. Kirk, played by William Shatner.
While worlds apart from the racial strife and war protests of the 1960s, “Star Trek” explored such issues by setting up parallel situations in space, “the final frontier.”
“Spock was a character whose time had come,” Nimoy later wrote. “He represented a practical, reasoning voice in a period of dissension and chaos.”
He also turned Nimoy into an unlikely sex symbol.
When he spoke at Ohio’sBowling Green State University in the 1970s, a young woman asked: “Are you aware that you are the source of erotic dream material for thousands and thousands of ladies around the world?”
“May all your dreams come true,” he responded.
Trekkies everywhere greeted each other with Nimoy’s “Vulcan salute” — a gesture he adapted from one he had seen at an Orthodox synagogue when he was a boy.
Nimoy appeared in the original “Star Trek” TV series, which ran on NBC from 1966 to 1969. He received three successive Emmy nominations.
He also was Spock in feature films, including: “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979); “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982); “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” (1984); “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986): “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” (1989); and “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991).
He retired from “Star Trek” pictures until 2009, when he became Spock Prime, a Mr. Spock who inhabited an alternate universe in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek.” He did a cameo performance as the same character in “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013).
Rumors of Spock’s impending on-screen demise in “Star Trek II” prompted death threats to director Nicholas Meyer.
“I received a helpful letter that ran: ‘If Spock dies, you die,’” Meyer wrote in “The View from the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood.”
The scene was filmed anyway — so affectingly, according to Meyer, that the crew wept openly “as the dying Spock held up his splayed hand and enjoined Kirk to ‘live long and prosper.’”
Thanks to an ancient Vulcan ceremony and some tortuous plot twists, Spock was resurrected in “Star Trek III.” Nimoy directed that film, as well as “Star Trek IV.”
Nimoy was married to Sandi Zober from 1954 to 1987, when they divorced.
In addition to his children from that marriage, son Adam and daughter Julie, his survivors include Susan Bay, his wife since 1989; his stepson Aaron Bay Schuck; six grandchildren; a great-grandson; and his brother Melvin.