(Washington) African-American actress Nichelle Nichols, best known for her high-profile role in the cult series Star Trek, died Saturday night at the age of 89, her family said in a statement Sunday.
Posted at 5:09 p.m
“Last night my mother, Nichelle Nichols, passed away of natural causes,” their son, Kyle, told the actress’ official website, uhura.com. “His life was well lived and was a role model for all of us.”
A family spokesman said the actress died in Silver City, New Mexico, where she lived with her son.
This former dancer-singer – who played Lieutenant Nyota Uhura in the 1960s science fiction series, an officer of African descent who is fluent in Swahili – quickly became a civil rights icon.
Her role as a high-ranking black woman had earned her the admiration of the 1968 assassinated Martin Luther King, who had asked her not to leave Star Trek as planned, telling her that it was the only series he would allow his children to watch, she said.
When William Shatner, who played the famous Captain Kirk, and Nichelle Nichols kissed in 1968, it was one of the first kisses between a white person and a person of a different ethnicity on American television.
In the 1970s, Nichelle Nichols made a video to help NASA recruit astronauts, particularly women and minorities.
“My heart is heavy,” tweeted another character on the show, George Takei. “My eyes shine like the stars where you rest now, my dear friend”.
Grace Dell Nichols, born December 28, 1932 in Chicago, began her career at the age of 14 as a dancer and singer with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
Best known for her role in the first Star Trek series, she had also danced with Sammy Davis Jr. in Porgy and Bess, acted in other television series, and recorded two albums.
She also played Uhura, a name derived from the Swahili word “freedom,” in the first six Star Trek films.