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Nichelle Nichols, Original Uhura on ‘Star Trek’, dies at 89

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 Nichols’ official 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 play a television role other than that of a servant. 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 producer Gene Roddenberry arrived, offering him a guest role in his first television series, The Lieutenant.

A few years later, in 1966, Roddenberry cast her in Star Trek as the communications officer of the USS Enterprise, 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 Martin Luther King Jr. After King confessed to being a trekkie, he made her see the importance of having her in this. spaceship as a 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.


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