Actress and singer Nichelle Nicholsbest known for her groundbreaking portrayal of Lt. Nyota Uhura in “Star Trek: The Original Series,” has died at 89, according to a statement from her son, Kyle Johnson.
“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 said. in a statement shared on Nichols’ official website on Sunday. “His was a life well lived and as such a role model for all of us.”
Nichols died of natural causes, he said.
Nichols portrayed communications officer Lt. Nyota Uhura in the television series “Star Trek” and several of its film offshoots.
When “Star Trek” began in 1966, Nichols was a television rarity: a black woman in a notable role on a prime-time television series. There had been African American women on television before, but they often played servants and had small roles; Uhura de Nichols was an integral part of the multicultural “Star Trek” team.
The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. called it “the first non-stereotypical role played by a black woman in the history of television”.
Nichols is widely known for being part of one of the first interracial kisses on American television when her character kissed James T. Kirk, played by white Canadian actor William Shatner. In an interview with CNN in 2014Nichols said the kiss scene “changed television forever, and it changed the way people watched each other as well.”
After the three seasons of “Trek”, Nichols dedicated herself to the space program. She helped NASA diversify the agency, helping recruit astronauts Sally Ride, Judith Resnik, and Guion Bluford, among others.
George Takei, who played USS Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu, has posted a touching tribute to his co-star.
“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 passed away today at age 89,” Takei wrote on Twitter. “For today my heart is heavy, my eyes shine like the stars among which you now rest, my very dear friend.”
“We have lived long and prospered together,” he added along with a photo of the couple giving the iconic Vulcan salute.
The National Air and Space Museum called Nichols “an inspiration to many, not only for his groundbreaking work on Star Trek, but also through his work with NASA to recruit women and people of color to apply to become astronauts”. on Twitter.
Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for Georgia governor, also posted a tribute to the actress. “Godspeed to Nichelle Nichols, champion, warrior and formidable actress,” Abrams wrote. on Twitter next to a photo of her with Nichols. “His kindness and bravery lit the way for many. May she dwell forever among the stars.
Nichols was born Grace Dell Nichols near Chicago in 1932. (Unhappy with Grace, she took the name Nichelle when she was a teenager.) Her grandfather was a white Southerner who married a black woman, causing a rift in his family.
Gifted with a vocal range of four octaves, Nichols was play in local clubs at the age of 14. Among the artists she met was Duke Ellington, who later took her on tour. She also worked extensively in Chicago clubs and in theater.
She moved to Los Angeles in the early ’60s and landed a role in a Gene Roddenberry series, “The Lieutenant.” A number of “Star Trek” veterans, including Leonard Nimoy, Walter Koenig and Majel Barrett, also worked on the show.
When Roddenberry was creating “Trek”, he remembered Nichols. She was in Europe when she got the call.
“(My agent said), ‘They do ‘Star Trek,’ and I didn’t know what ‘Star Trek’ was,” she said. in an interview with the Television Academy.
Uhura was not in the original script and Nichols was responsible for the name. She was reading a book called “Uhuru” – “freedom” in Swahili – and suggested her character take the name. Roddenberry thought that was too hard.
“I said, ‘Well, why not make an edit of it, sweeten the ending with an ‘A’, and it’ll be Uhura? “, she recalls. “He said, ‘That’s it, that’s your name! You named it; this is yours.’ ”
Nichols is survived by his son, Kyle Johnson.