Nimoy said he based Spock’s split-finger salute, now a pop culture fixture, on a Kohanic blessing
Leonard Nimoy, the Jewish actor best known for his role as Spock on Star Trek, died Friday morning at his home in Los Angeles.
The cause of death was end-stage chronic pulmonary disease, the The New York Times reported. He was 83.
Nimoy’s Spock proved to be one of the most famous television characters of the second half of the 20th century. Nimoy said he based the character’s split-finger salute, now a pop culture fixture, on a Kohanic blessing that involves a manual approximation of the Hebrew letter shin.
Nimoy was born in Boston’s West End neighborhood in 1931 to Yiddish-speaking, Orthodox Jewish immigrant parents from then Soviet Ukraine.
After teaching method acting in his own studio and making several minor film and television appearances in the 1950s and early 1960s, Nimoy was cast as Spock, a pragmatic alien with trademark pointed ears, in 1965. Star Trek became a cult classic show in the 1970s and eventually spawned five subsequent TV series and 12 films.
Nimoy held the role of Spock for over four decades and sustained a successful Broadway theater career. His other notable acting roles include Paris in the spy series Mission Impossible and the psychiatrist David Kibner in a 1978 remake of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. He also directed two of the Star Trek films and the comedy Three Men and a Baby in 1987.
Nimoy showcased his ambivalence about being closely identified with the Spock role through the titles of his two autobiographies, entitled I Am Not Spock (1975) and I Am Spock (1995).
In his later years, Nimoy rediscovered his Jewish roots. In 1991, he produced and starred in Never Forget, a TV movie based on the story of a Holocaust survivor who sues a group of neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers. In 2002, he published Shekhina, a book of photographs of semi-nude Jewish women, which angered Orthodox leaders.
A year later, he came to the Philadelphia area to appear at Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park. He was narrating a cantata on the lives of seven Chasidic masters, written by Cantor Charles Osborne, remembers Hazzan David F. Tilman, the former cantor at Beth Sholom Congregation who conducted the concert.
Tilman, now an associate professor at the H.L.Miller Cantorial School of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, recalls hosting Nimoy at his home before the concert.
“I have vivid memories of his charm, calmness, intense Jewish identity and good nature,” Tilman said upon learning of Nimoy's death.
Nimoy was also nominated for an Emmy Award for his role as Golda Meir’s husband in A Woman Called Golda in 1982.