By Lindsey Bahr
Nichelle Nichols, who broke barriers for black women in Hollywood when she starred as communications officer Lt. Uhura in the original ‘Star Trek’ TV series, has died aged 89 .
His son Kyle Johnson said Nichols died Saturday in Silver City, New Mexico.
“Last night my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away. However, her light, like the ancient galaxies seen now for the first time, will remain for us and future generations to enjoy. enjoy, learn and be inspired,” Johnson wrote on his official Facebook page on Sunday. “His was a life well lived and as such a role model for us all.”
His role in the 1966-69 series as Lieutenant Uhura earned Nichols a lifetime position of honor with the series’ rabid fans, known as Trekkers and Trekkies. It also earned her accolades for breaking stereotypes that limited black women to playing servant roles and included an on-screen interracial kiss with co-star William Shatner who was unknown at the time.
“I will have more to say about the pioneering and incomparable Nichelle Nichols, who shared the deck with us as Lieutenant Uhura of the USS Enterprise, and who died today at age 89,” George Takei wrote on Twitter. “For today my heart is heavy, my eyes shine like the stars among which you now rest, my dearest friend.”
Like other members of the original cast, Nichols also appeared in six big-screen spin-offs beginning with 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and attended “Star Trek” fan conventions. She also served for many years as a NASA recruiter, helping integrate minorities and women into the astronaut corps.
More recently, she had a recurring role on the television series “Heroes”, playing the great-aunt of a young boy with mystical powers.
The original “Star Trek” premiered on NBC on September 8, 1966. Its multicultural, multiracial cast was creator Gene Roddenberry’s message to viewers that in the distant future – the 23rd century – human diversity would be fully embraced.
“I think a lot of people took it to their hearts … that what was being said on television at that time was cause for celebration,” Nichols said in 1992 during a “Star Trek” exhibit at the Smithsonian. Institution.
She often recalled how much of a fan Martin Luther King Jr. was on the show and praised her role. She met him at a civil rights rally in 1967, at a time when she had decided not to return for the show’s second season.
“When I told him I was going to miss my co-stars and I was leaving the show, he got real serious and said, ‘You can’t do that,'” she told The Tulsa ( Okla.) World in a 2008 interview.
“‘You changed the face of television forever, and as a result, you changed people’s minds,'” she said, the civil rights leader told her.
“That foresight of Dr. King was a lightning bolt in my life,” Nichols said.
During the show’s third season, Nichols’ character and Shatner’s Captain James Kirk shared what was described as the first interracial kiss to air on an American television series. In the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren”, their characters, who have always enjoyed a platonic relationship, were forced into a kiss by aliens who controlled their actions.
The kiss “suggested there was a future where these issues weren’t so important,” Eric Deggans, television critic for National Public Radio, told The Associated Press in 2018. “The characters themselves didn’t panic because a black woman kissed a white man… In this utopian future, we solved this problem. We are beyond. It was a wonderful message to send.
Worried about the reaction of Southern television stations, the showrunners wanted to film a second take of the scene where the kiss happened off-screen. But Nichols said in her book, “Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories,” that she and Shatner deliberately missed the lines to force the use of the original take.
Despite concerns, the episode aired without blowback. In fact, it received the most “fan mail Paramount has ever received on Star Trek for an episode,” Nichols said in a 2010 interview with the American Television Archive.
Born Grace Dell Nichols in Robbins, Illinois, Nichols hated being called “Gracie,” which everyone insisted on, she said in the 2010 interview. says she had wanted to call her Michelle, but thought she should have alliterative initials like Marilyn Monroe, whom Nichols loved. Hence, “Nichelle”.
Nichols first worked professionally as a singer and dancer in Chicago at the age of 14, then in New York nightclubs and worked for a time with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton’s bands before moving on. coming to Hollywood for her film debut in 1959’s “Porgy and Bess.” The first of several small film and television roles that led her to “Star Trek” stardom.
She was a regular at “Star Trek” conventions and events until she was 80, but her schedule became limited from 2018 when her son announced she had advanced dementia.
Former Associated Press writer Polly Anderson provided biographical material for this report.