Nichelle Nichols dead: Uhura in the original series of ‘Star Trek’ was 89 years old

Nichelle Nicholswho played communications officer Uhura in the original”star trek” series, died Saturday night in Silver City, NM He was 89 years old.

Nichols’ death was confirmed by Gilbert Bell, his talent manager and business partner of 15 years.

Nichols shared one of the first interracial kisses in television history on “Star Trek.” That moment, with his co-star William Shatner, was a brave move on his part, “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry, and NBC considering the climate at the time, but the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren,” which aired in 1968, was written to give everyone involved a way out: Uhura and Captain Kirk did not choose to kiss, but instead were forced to do so involuntarily by aliens with the ability to control the movements of humans. However, it was a historic moment.

Before there had been a couple of interracial kisses on American television. A year earlier, on “Movin’ With Nancy,” Sammy Davis Jr. kissed Nancy Sinatra on her cheek in what appeared to be a spontaneous gesture, but was actually carefully planned. The Uhura-Kirk kiss was probably the first televised white/African-American lip-to-lip kiss.

STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, Nichelle Nichols, wearing her communications headset, 1982. (c) Paramount.  Courtesy: Everett Collection.

But Uhura, whose name comes from a Swahili word meaning “freedom,” was essential beyond the interracial kiss: A capable officer who could man other stations on the bridge when the need arose, she was one of the first African-American women to appear. in a non-supporting role on television.

Nichols played Lt. Uhura in the original series, voiced her in “Star Trek: The Animated Series” and played Uhura in the first six “Star Trek” films. Uhura was promoted to lieutenant commander in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and a full commander in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”

Nichols considered leaving “Star Trek” after the first season to pursue a career on Broadway, but the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was a fan of the series and understood the importance of his character in opening doors for other African-Americans on television, personally convinced her to stay on the show, she told astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in an Archive of American Television interview.

Whoopi Goldberg, who later played Guinan on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” described Uhura as a role model, recalling that she was amazed and excited to see a black woman on television who wasn’t a housemaid.

Nichols and Shatner remembered the filming of the famous kiss very differently. In “Star Trek Memories,” Shatner said that NBC insisted that the actors’ lips never actually touch (although it appears they do). But in Nichols’ 1994 autobiography “Beyond Uhura,” the actress insisted the kiss was real. Nervous about the audience’s reaction, the network insisted that alternate takes be filmed with and without a kiss, but Nichols and Shatner deliberately missed each of the latter so that NBC was forced to broadcast what appeared to be a kiss ( whether their lips touched or not). No).

The “Star Trek” and “Movin’ With Nancy” moments generated some negative reactions, though Nichols recalled that the fan mail was overwhelmingly positive and supportive.

Nichols was later employed by NASA in an effort to encourage women and African-Americans to become astronauts. NASA’s Group 8 of astronauts, selected in 1978, included the first women and ethnic minorities to be recruited, including three who were black. Dr. Mae Jemison, the first black woman to fly aboard the space shuttle, cited “Star Trek” as an influence on her decision to join the space agency.

Nichols remained a supporter of the space program for decades.

In 1991, Nichols became the first African-American woman to have her handprints immortalized at the TCL Chinese Theatre. The ceremony also included other members of the original “Star Trek” cast.

Born Grace Nichols in Robbins, Illinois, on December 28, 1932, Nichols began her show business career at age 16 singing with Duke Ellington in a ballet she created for one of his compositions. Later, she sang with his band.

He studied in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Her break came with an appearance in Oscar Brown’s high-profile but ill-fated 1961 musical “Kicks and Co.”, in which she played campus queen Hazel Sharpe, who is tempted by the devil and Orgy magazine to become in “The Orgy Maid of the Month”. .” The play closed after her brief audition in Chicago, but Nichols attracted the attention of Playboy editor Hugh Hefner, who signed her to her Chicago Playboy Club.

Nichols also appeared in the role of Carmen for a Chicago Stock Company production of “Carmen Jones” and acted in a New York production of “Porgy and Bess,” making her film debut in an uncredited role as a dancer in an adaptation of that work. in 1959. (She would later showcase her singing talents on “Star Trek”).

While working in Chicago, Nichols was twice nominated for that city’s Sarah Siddons Theater Award for Best Actress. The first was for “Kicks and Co.”, while the second was for her performance in Jean Genet’s “The Blacks.”

He had small roles in the movies “Made in Paris”, “Mr. Buddwing” and Sandra Dee’s vehicle “Doctor, you must be kidding me!” before she was cast in “Star Trek.”

In the early ’60s, before “Star Trek,” Nichols had an affair with Gene Roddenberry that lasted several years, according to his autobiography. The affair ended when Roddenberry realized that he was in love with Majel Hudec, whom he married. When Roddenberry’s health began to fail decades later, Nichols co-wrote a song for him, titled “Gene,” which she sang at his funeral.

In January 1967, Nichols appeared on the cover of Ebony magazine, which published two articles about her in five years.

In the early 1970s, the actress made a few guest appearances on television and appeared in the 1974 Blaxploitation film “Truck Turner” starring Isaac Hayes. She appeared in a supporting role in a 1983 television adaptation of “Antony and Cleopatra” that also featured her “Star Trek” co-star Walter Koenig. She starred opposite Maxwell Caulfield and Talia Balsam in the 1986 sci-fi horror film “The Supernaturals.”

Nichols later began doing voice work, lending his talents to the animated series “Gargoyles” and “Spider-Man.” She also voiced herself in “Futurama.”

The actress played the mother of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s title character in 2002’s “Snow Dogs” and Miss Mable in the 2005 Ice Cube comedy “Are We There Yet?”

In 2007, Nichols reappeared in the second season of the NBC drama “Heroes” as Nana Dawson, matriarch of a New Orleans family devastated by Hurricane Katrina who cares for her orphaned grandchildren and her great-nephew, Micah Sanders (Noah Gray). -series regular Cabey). ). The following year she appeared in the movies “Tru Loved” and “The Torturer”.

Nichols suffered a stroke in 2015 and was diagnosed with dementia in 2018, leading to a guardianship dispute between his manager Bell and his son, as well as a friend.

Nichols was married and divorced twice. He is survived by his son, Kyle Johnson.

Leave a Comment