Nichelle Nickels, the actress who broke down barriers in television with her portrayal as Lt. NyotaUhura on Star Trek has died at the ripe old age of 89.
Kyle Johnson, her son, posted the news on Facebook. Nichols’ longtime manager Zachery McGinnis confirmed the death of the beloved Star Trek actress.
Of his mother’s passing, Johnson wrote, “Last night, my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away. Her light, however, like the ancient galaxies now being seen for the first time, will remain for us and future generations to enjoy, learn from, and draw inspiration. Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all,”Before asking the public to give their family privacy during this time.
Nichols reached a new level of stardom in 1960s Star Trek when she was cast as Nyota Uhura, the first Star Trek series. Uhura was one of the first Black women to be prominently featured on American television.
After being offered a Broadway role, Nichols thought about leaving Star Trek, but Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. convinced her to stay on The Enterprise. She realized she could be an inspiration to countless generations Black children and their families.
William Shatner eventually wrote her role of Uhura to make her a love interest for Captain James T. Kirk. In 1968 they shared a kiss on the show – marking the first time in American television history that an interracial kiss aired.
Shatner sent in a tweet on Sunday afternoon. “I am so sorry to hear about the passing of Nichelle. She was a beautiful woman & played an admirable character that did so much for redefining social issues both here in the US & throughout the world. I will certainly miss her. Sending my love and condolences to her family.”
Nichols played Uhura, the character that was lost in the original Star Trek series in 1969.
Former co-star George Takei posted on Twitter about the death of the legend. “I shall have more to say about the trailblazing, incomparable Nichelle Nichols, who shared the bridge with us as Lt. Uhura of the USS Enterprise, and who passed today at age 89. For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend.”
Nichols’ reach stretched beyond television, especially when she started working with NASA, helping to recruit women of color into the agency. This was possible through collaboration between Women in Motion and the governmental agency.
Nichols was also honoured by the agency, who sent a tweet. “We celebrate the life of Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek actor, trailblazer, and role model, who symbolized to so many what was possible. She partnered with us to recruit some of the first women and minority astronauts, and inspired generations to reach for the stars.”
Nichols took a tweet during a 2012 White House trip with then-President Barack Obama. “Months ago, [President] Obama was quoted as saying that he’d had a crush on me when he was younger. I asked about that and he proudly confirmed it! President Obama also confirmed for me that he was definitely a Trekker! How wonderful is that?!”
Grace Dell Nichols was born in Robbins (Illinois) on December 28, 1932 to factory worker Lishia Parks Nichols. She became chief magistrate and mayor of Robbins. At a young age she discovered the acting bug and got her big break in 1961’s musical Kicks and Co.
Her younger brother, Thomas, was part of the Heaven’s Gate cult and died in the group’s mass suicide in 1997. They believed that they would become aliens if they rejected their human nature and went to heaven. Thomas promoted their message often by referring to his sister.
Nichols suffered from a stroke in 2015. She was later diagnosed with dementia three years later. That diagnosis led to a nasty legal battle and conservatorship between her son and a friend of Nichols, Angelique Fawcett, who at one point lived in Nichols’ guest house.
Nichols was awarded many accolades, including an honorary college degree from Los Angeles Mission College. She was a member Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.