Nichelle Nichols, who became a role model for black actresses playing Lieutenant Nyota Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series, died Saturday at the age of 89. His son announced his death on Facebook on Sunday.
“Last night my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away,” Kyle Johnson wrote on the official Nichols page. “Its light however, like the ancient galaxies now being seen for the first time, will remain for us and future generations to enjoy, learn and be inspired by.”
When she was cast in 1966 to play the translator and communications officer of the USS Enterprise, she was one of the first black actresses to have a prominent role on television. During the brief series, she locked lips with co-star William Shatner in one of the first interracial kisses broadcast in the United States.
Nichols began her career in the early 60s performing in plays and musicals, modeling and even singing with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. Then came producer Gene Roddenberry, offering him a guest role on his first television series, The Lieutenant.
A few years later, in 1966, Roddenberry cast her in Star Trek as the Enterprise’s communications officer, a groundbreaking role played amidst the civil rights movement.
She tried to quit the show after one season to return to Broadway, but reconsidered after meeting civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. After King confessed to being a Trekkie, he made her see the importance of having him in this spaceship as a role. role model for women and people of color everywhere.
“I think it was a moment where I really realized not so much who I am but where I was going, and it felt really good, it felt like I was in a hurry to get there,” said said Nichols, recalling the pivotal moment that made him realize the importance of Nyota Uhura. Nichols remained on the show until the show was canceled in 1969.
After the show was canceled, Nichols helped NASA recruit women and minorities to be astronaut candidates and was able to enroll Guion Bluford, the first black astronaut, and Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut (among others). Mae Jemison, the first woman of color to travel in space, has cited Nichols as one of her inspirations.
Nichols reprized the role of Uhura in six Star Trek films between 1979 and 1991, with promotion to the rank of Commander, along with fellow original cast members Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and George Takei.
Remembering Nichelle Nichols
Fans, peers and loved ones, as well as former teammates, remembered Nichols on social media over the weekend. “We lived a long time and prospered together,” said actor George Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek.
The White House and NASA also released statements celebrating the famous actress’ life and legacy.
“In Nichelle Nichols, our nation has lost a stage and screen pioneer who redefined what is possible for Black Americans and women,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. A declaration. “Our nation is forever indebted to inspiring artists like Nichelle Nichols, who show us a future where unity, dignity and respect are the cornerstones of every society.”
NASA said in a tweet that Nichols was a “pioneer and a role model, who symbolized for so many people what was possible.”