Trailblazer Nichelle Nichols, who played ‘Star Trek’ communications officer Lt. Nyota Uhura in the 1960s TV show and shared one of TV’s first interracial kisses with William Shatner, has died at 89 .
His son, Kyle Johnson, announced his death in a statement posted on his Facebook page. Family friend Sky Conway confirmed to USA TODAY that Nichols died Saturday night in Silver City, New Mexico, calling her “truly transformative” and an “incredible person.”
“I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament no longer shines for us as it has for so many years,” Johnson wrote on Facebook. “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. .
“His was a life well lived and as such a role model for all of us.”
Nichols played Uhura in the original “Star Trek” television series from 1966 to 1969 and reprized her role in six “Star Trek” films, beginning with “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” in 1979. She was widely praised for breaking down barriers at a time when black women were rarely seen in prominent television roles.
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“I I’m so sorry to hear of Nichelle’s passing.“, wrote Shatner on Twitter, who starred alongside Nichols in the original TV series. “She was a beautiful woman and played an admirable character who did so much to redefine social issues here in the United States and around the world. whole world.”
Shatner said she will “definitely be missed” and sent “love and condolences to her family.”
“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,” co-star George Takei wrote on Twitter. “For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shine like the stars among which you now restMy dearest friend.”
Nichols, born Grace Dell Nichols on December 28, 1932 in Robbins, Illinois, began her career as a dancer and singer, and she wanted to be the first black ballerina when she was younger. She first danced ballet at performances by Duke Ellington and his band, and got her break when Ellington asked her to sing one night when the lead performer fell ill.
Once in Hollywood, she made her film debut in “Porgy and Bess” in 1959, the first of a series of film and television roles that led to “Star Trek.”
She planned to leave the show after its first season to explore other acting opportunities, but a fan surprised Nichols at an NAACP event and was disappointed to learn that she was considering quitting. The fan was Martin Luther King Jr., who told her that “Star Trek” was the only television he allowed his children to watch, and convinced her to stay on the show.
In the vision of “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry, “minorities weren’t on the set because we were minorities, we were on the set because, in the future, our diverse world would all work together on an equal footing,” Nichols told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2017 before the Wizard World Philly fan conference. “I understand that everyone needs to see role models who can inspire them, speak to them and represent them, but I believe we need to move on to a future that transcends race, gender or anything else. We are all people. people.”
During the show’s third season, Nichols’ Uhura and Shatner’s Captain 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 were in a platonic relationship, were coerced into kissing by aliens who controlled their actions.
In 1977, Nichols was appointed to the National Space Institute’s board of trustees and later invited to NASA headquarters, just as NASA sought to expand its talent pool and diversify. NASA asked Nichols, who had also started a consulting firm, Women in Motion, to help recruit more women and people of color to apply for the astronaut program. In just four months, Nichols was credited with submitting more than 8,000 applications, including more than 1,600 women and more than 1,000 people of color.
His many film roles ranged from the 1974 Isaac Hayes Blaxploitation film “Truck Turner” to the 2005 Ice Cube comedy “Are We There Yet?”
On television, Nichols had voice roles in the animated series “Futurama”, “The Simpsons”, “Spider-Man” and “Gargoyles”. Nichols also appeared on daytime drama “The Young and the Restless” and NBCs “Heroes.”
She received a lifetime achievement award from the Saturn Awards in 2016, which honor science fiction entertainment.
Johnson said a private service would be held for family members and close friends, and signed his “Live Long and Prosper” statement.
Nichols suffered a stroke in 2015 and her son revealed she had dementia in 2018.
Contributor: Felecia Wellington Radel, USA TODAY, and The Associated Press