“Live Long and Prosper.” Leonard Nimoy gave these last words to the public via Twitter shortly before he passed away at 83. Nimoy died earlier this week after announcing last year the he was suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Spock first spoke those iconic words in “Amok Time,” an episode of the original Star Trek series. The meaning behind those words was at first unknown to the producer of Star Trek, when the character of Spock was brand new to the world. At the time, it was simply a way for Leonard Nimoy to add a sense of depth to the Vulcans while providing cultural history for Mr. Spock. Little did Leonard Nimoy know that he would soon create a worldwide phenomenon and give his fans a way to salute him for years to come.
The gesture itself is a variation of the sign for “Shin,” or “Almighty God,” which is a blessing given by priests called the Kohanim who form a priestly subset of the Levite tribe. When the salute is given with the right hand, it is the reverse of the Hebrew letter for Shin. Even the accompanying words were taken from the Hebrew call and response, “Peace and long life” and “Upon you be peace.”
Originally, Spock was to kneel down before the Vulcan Matriarch, and she was to lay her hands upon his shoulders in ceremony. Nimoy, who thought that the greeting was too subjugated for the telepathic Vulcan, changed it to the salute, and the salute stuck. With this improvisation, Nimoy breathed life into an entire civilization that might have otherwise remained an empty science fiction trope.
Leonard Nimoy could not possibly have foreseen how combining a traditional Jewish gesture along with the greeting “Live long and prosper” in a low-budget sci-fi television show would sweep the world and give a symbol to Star Trek fans that they could take as their own personal greeting.
Since the days after Star Trek, the phrase “Live Long and Prosper” rose again in prominence with the series’ second feature-length production, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, in 1982. It would become the icon of the series every bit as much as the starship Enterprise, red shirts, or William Shatner’s halted manner of speech.
Anyone who heard the greeting “Live long and prosper” recognized that a profound and utterly selfless blessing had been granted to them. Those words, first uttered by Mr. Spock, became Leonard Nimoy’s very own catchphrase, and he had adopted it in his public life as well as on-screen.
Nimoy would go on to live a long life and prosper greatly after the original Star Trek series was canceled. While he would voice the character Spock for the rest of his life, Nimoy narrated countless documentaries and had a variety of television roles. As a man and as an actor, Leonard Nimoy will be sorely missed, as evidenced by the many tweets left after the news of his passing.