Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols Has Died Aged 89

Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols Has Died Aged 89

Nichelle Nichols as Nyoto Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series.

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Nichelle Nichols, the original actor of Star Trek’s Nyota Uhura, passed away on Saturday July 30th. The news was shared on the actor’s Instagram, according to her son, Kyle Johnson.

“I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament does not shine for us as it has for so many years. Last night my mother, Nichelle Nichols, died of natural causes,” Johnson wrote. “However, like the ancient galaxies now being seen for the first time, their light will remain for us and future generations to enjoy, learn from and be inspired by. Her life was well lived and as such a role model for all of us.”

Nichols was born on December 28, 1932, the third of six children. After making her acting debut in Oscar Brown’s 1961 musical Kicks & Co., she worked as an actress and model. She also wrote two articles for Ebony Magazine, for which she was featured on the cover in January 1967. In the years before Star Trek she was a singer in the bands of jazz musicians Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. He has also appeared in James Baldwin’s play Blues for Mister Charlie and Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s The Roar of the Greasepaint—The Smell of the Crowd.

As Uhura, Nichols was one of the first black women to be cast in a major television series, and she was initially tempted to leave the show in its first season to pursue a career on Broadway. But Martin Luther King, Jr. convinced her to stay on the show, both because he was a fan of the series and because he saw Uhura as a role model for black children in the United States. The impact of Nichols’ casting on this show, and on black women in general, simply cannot be overstated: even about her kiss with William Shatner’s James Kirk in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren,” cited as the first interracial kiss on scripted television, Astronaut Mae Jemison and actor Whoopi Goldberg have both said Uhura inspired them in their respective fields. Both women would go on to play characters in the continuing series Star Trek: The Next Generation.

After Star Trek was canceled and subsequently revived, Nichols would continue acting. She played Dorienda in Truck Turner, a 1974 blaxploitation film starring Isaac Hayes, which would be her first and only appearance in the genre. She also did voice acting and played herself in the Futurama episode Where No Fan Has Gone Before, in addition to her role in Gargoyles as Elisa Maza’s mother Diane. During her life she also had a brief solo career in music, releasing two albums in 1967 and 1991, the latter of which was based on Star Trek and space exploration. She sang on two episodes of the show — 1966’s “Charlie X” and “The Conscience of the King.”

During her life, Nichols also created NASA’s Women in Motion program, designed to recruit women and members of minorities. Recruits for this program included Dr. Sally Ride, the first female astronaut, and Air Force Colonel Guion Bluford, the first African American astronaut. She and the rest of the Star Trek cast attended the 1976 christening of the Enterprise, the first space shuttle, and she flew aboard NASA’s SOFIA aircraft in 2015.

Toward the end of her life, Nichols found herself in the midst of a three-way court battle for the conservatorship involving her son Johnson, her manager/caretaker Gilbert Bell, and her friend Angelique Fawcette. Johnson applied for his mother’s conservatory in 2018, saying Bell, her former manager, took control of Nichols’ fortune and embezzled her income as her health continued to deteriorate.

Fawcette, who considered Nichols family, has been working with an attorney for visitation rights since last year. “She’s not getting the life she wanted,” Fawcette told the LA Times. “She gets the life that other people have chosen for her.” Prior to her death, Nichols lived in New Mexico with Johnson, who was her primary caregiver.

Our thoughts are with Nichols’ loved ones and family at this time.

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