Legendary Actress Nichelle Nichols, Lt. Uhura on ‘Star Trek,’ Dead at 89

Legendary Actress Nichelle Nichols, Lt. Uhura on ‘Star Trek,’ Dead at 89

On her official Facebook page, her son Kyle Johnson posted the news that Nichelle Nichols, who portrayed Lt. Nyota Uhura on the first “Star Trek,” has passed away at the age of 89.

According to Johnson’s statement, her mother, Nichelle Nichols, “suffered from natural causes and passed away last night.” But like the old galaxies that are now being observed for the first time, her light will endure for us and future generations to appreciate, explore, and be inspired by. She led a good life that should serve as an example for everyone.

Since “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry wanted the crew of the USS Enterprise to represent a wide range of backgrounds, Nichols made history as one of the first Black women to portray a major cast role on a television series as Uhura. The ship’s communications officer and linguist, Uhura, got his last name from the Swahili word for “freedom.”

Despite Roddenberry’s pleadings to stay, Nichols had plans to quit “Star Trek” after the first season ended in 1966 in order to seek opportunities on Broadway. She had a chance encounter with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at an NAACP event that caused her to rethink her decision; he revealed to her that his entire family had watched “Trek” together. He pleaded with Nichols to change her mind when she announced her intention to leave the show.

‘You cannot, you cannot…’ for the first time on television, we will be shown as intellectual, admirable, attractive individuals who can sing, dance, travel to space, and are professors and lawyers,'” Nichols recounted King telling her in a 2013 interview. ‘If you leave, that door may be closed since your part is not a black role, and it is not a female role, he can fill it with anybody, even an alien.’

Nichols participated in all three seasons of “Trek,” and possibly her most well-known performance was in the 1968 episode “Plato’s Stepchildren,” in which the Enterprise crew is held captive by the Platonians, a telekinetic species, and made to engage in demeaning activities through mind control. In one such instance, William Shatner’s Captain Kirk was made to kiss Uhura. It wasn’t the first interracial kiss on American television, but it was at the time the most notable one.

After “Trek” concluded in 1969, Nichols reprised the role of Uhura in 1973 and 1974 for “Star Trek: The Animated Series,” with her most well-known appearance occurring in the episode “The Lorelei Signal,” in which Uhura assumes command of the Enterprise. In addition, she appeared in six feature films with the rest of the “Trek” ensemble, with Uhura getting a promotion to commander in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”

Off-screen, Nichols made use of her “Trek” stardom to urge NASA to include more women and people of color in its astronaut program. In order to diversify the space program, this led to a relationship between NASA and Nichols’ new science charity, Women in Motion. Air Force Col. Guion Bluford became the first Black astronaut in 1983, and Sally Ride became the first woman in space in large part because of this program.

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She was awesome! She was one of my favorite Star Trek characters when I was a kid and I saw her on the show. She was an important member of the squad; she wasn’t just a pretty face. Plato’s Stepchildren, in which Kirk kisses her, was one of my favorite episodes.

Nichelle Nichols, may we never forget your grace and beauty. Many thanks for the amazing memories!

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