Nichelle Nichols, the Original Uhura on ‘star Trek,’ Has Died at the Age of 89!

Nichelle Nichols, who became a role model for Black actresses playing the role of Lt. Nyota Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series, died Saturday at the age of 89. Her son announced her death on Facebook Sunday.

“Last night, my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away,” Kyle Johnson wrote on Nichols’ official page. “Her light, however, like the ancient galaxies now being seen for the first time, will remain for us and future generations to enjoy, learn from, and draw inspiration.”

In 1966, she was one of the first Black actresses to be cast in a major TV role. She played the translator and communications officer on the USS Enterprise. During the short series, she kissed her co-star William Shatner in one of the first kisses between two people of different races to be shown on TV in the US.

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In the early 1960s, Nichols began her career by acting in plays and musicals, modelling, and even singing with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. Then, producer Gene Roddenberry came along and gave her a part in his first TV show, The Lieutenant, as a guest star.

A few years later, in 1966, Roddenberry cast her as the Enterprise’s communications officer in Star Trek. This was a groundbreaking role, and it was cast in the middle of the civil rights movement.

Nichelle Nichols

She tried to leave the show after one season to go back to Broadway, but after meeting Martin Luther King Jr., she changed her mind. After King said he was a Trekkie, he made her realise how important it was to have her on that spaceship as a role model for women and people of colour everywhere.

Nichols said of the moment when she realised how important Nyota Uhura was, “I think it was a moment when I really realised not so much who I am but where I was going. It felt very good like I was in a rush to get there.” Nichols stayed on the show until 1969 when it ended.

Nichols helped NASA find women and people of colour to be astronaut candidates after the show was cancelled. She was able to sign up Guion Bluford, the first Black astronaut, and Sally Ride, the first American woman to go into space (among others). Mae Jemison, the first woman of colour to go to space, has said that one of her inspirations was Nichols.

Nichols played Uhura in six Star Trek movies between 1979 and 1991. During that time, she was promoted to commander and worked with Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and George Takei, who were also in the first four movies.

Remembering Nichelle Nichols

Fans, peers and loved ones, as well as former crewmates, remembered Nichols on social media over the weekend. “We lived long and prospered together,” said actor George Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek.

The White House and NASA also put out statements about the famous actress’s life and work.

“In Nichelle Nichols, our nation has lost a trailblazer of stage and screen who redefined what is possible for Black Americans and women,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “Our nation is forever indebted to inspiring artists like Nichelle Nichols, who shows us a future where unity, dignity, and respect are cornerstones of every society.”

NASA said in a tweet that Nichols was a “trailblazer, and role model, who symbolized to so many what was possible.”

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