‘Star Trek’: Leonard Nimoy Invented the ‘Vulcan Nerve Pinch’

Vulcans: They are known for their logic, refraining from emotions, and experiencing their sex drive only once every seven years. They are also known for having their own greeting, mind-melds, and a knockout nerve pinch — which was first portrayed by the original and best-known Vulcan, Commander Spock (Leonard Nimoy). In the original Star Trek TV series, Spock served alongside Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) on the USS Enterprise.

Leonard Nimoy portrayed the original and iconic Spock

Leonard Nemoy as Spock from 'Star Trek'
Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock in ‘Star Trek: The Original Series.’ | CBS via Getty Images

In September 1966, the late writer/producer Gene Roddenberry launched a new TV series. Although it was canceled after only three seasons, Star Trek catapulted into a sci-fi cult taking viewers through eight television series, two animated series, and 13 films.

Nimoy’s character of Spock appeared or was mentioned at some time in just about all of them. Nimoy appeared in all the 79 original Star Trek episodes. He made a guest appearance as Ambassador Spock in Star Trek: The Next Generation and archival footage of him was used in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Discovery. Nimoy also voiced Spock in Star Trek: The Animated Series and appeared in eight of the franchise films, according to Fandom.

The original series took place in the 23rd century. By that time, not only were humans co-existing with extraterrestrials, some were cohabitating with them. Spock was born in the city of Shi’Kahr on Vulcan on Jan. 6, 2230. Technically, Spock was only half Vulcan; his father was a Vulcan named Sarek and his mother was Sarek’s second wife, a human named Amanda Grayson.

Leonard Nimoy influenced some Vulcan attributes, including the iconic nerve pinch

Being the first Vulcan viewers ever saw gave Spock some latitude in his characterization of the species. While it was T’Pau (Celia Lovsky) who was the first to ever use the Vulcan hand sign while uttering the words “live long and prosper,” it was Nimoy who developed the hand signal in the second year of the series. Nimoy took the sign from the Hebrew letter “shin,” a gesture he learned while attending Jewish synagogue services with his grandfather, and turned it into the Vulcan greeting, according to The Take.

Likewise, Nimoy came up with the Vulcan nerve pinch. In the fifth episode of season 1, Spock was to sneak up on an evil Kirk, who was suffering from a split personality. Spock was to knock Kirk out with the butt of a phase pistol. Sounds pretty violent and not very Vulcan-like.

Nimoy didn’t like the idea. Vulcans have energy flowing through their fingertips, he claimed. Spock, who had attended the Vulcan Institute of Technology, studying human anatomy, was trained in releasing that energy. As such, he could knock someone unconscious when applying the “pinch” to the neck and shoulder. The trial run on set was a hit. It was dubbed the Famous Spock Nerve Pinch (FSNP), according to SyFy Wire, and has been used by Vulcans ever since.

What else did Nimoy act in, aside from ‘Star Trek’?

Nothing Nimoy did before or after Star Trek is as remarkable as his portrayal of Spock. But he portrayed many other significant roles. Born March 26, 1931, Nimoy’s first movie part came in Queen for a Day in 1951, according to IMDb. He made his TV debut in a 1954 episode of Dragnet.

Following the original Star Trek, Nimoy immediately went to work as The Great Paris in Mission Impossible for 49 episodes. He went on to play in an episode here and there for a variety of TV shows. During the ’70s, he was also immersed in theater, appearing in Fiddler on the RoofOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and touring with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Sherlock Holmes. He served as narrator on A&E’s Ancient Mysteries for 91 episodes. 

While nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series three times for his role as Spock, he never won. He turned to his passion for photography in his later years.

In February 2015, Nimoy died as a result of complications of COPD at the age of 83. He had an asteroid, 4864 Nimoy, named in his honor following his death.

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