Nichelle Nichols, whose role in the original Star Trek television series paved the way for Black women actors and sparked a movement of Black people who became involved in space and aeronautics, passed away at 89.
According to an Instagram post on Sunday (Jul. 31) made by her son, Kyle Johnson, Nichols passed away the night before at her home in Silver City, New Mexico. “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,” he wrote in the post’s caption, which displayed her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Born Grace Dell Nichols on Dec. 28, 1932, outside of Chicago, Illinois, the actress got her start young as an entertainer at the age of 16. She would tour nationally with the iconic jazz musician Duke Ellington as a singer, landing in Los Angeles, California.
After a few minor movie roles, Nichols would get her big break by being cast as communications officer Lt. Nyota Uhura in Star Trek in 1966. She would remain with the show throughout its entire run as one of the first Black women on TV in a non-menial role and star in the franchise’s first six films.
As Uhura, her character broke ground by being involved in the first ever interracial kiss on television in an episode and her calm and assertive presence, which was lauded by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Civil Rights champion also encouraged her not to leave the show as she had planned after the first season.
Nichols would go on to have a lengthy career, acting in movies and TV with 1974’s Truck Turner with Issac Hayes and notably in the second season of NBC’s Heroes, as well as having voice roles in animated series such as Spider-Man, Gargoyles, and Futurama.
Nichelle Nichols Long Lasting Influence
Her rich influence and interest in all things space-related led to her advocacy work to have more minorities and women achieve opportunities in that field, creating a consultant firm, Women In Motion, which would partner with NASA.
This would lead to Sally Ride becoming the first American woman astronaut, Guion Bluford becoming the first Black astronaut & Dr. Mae Jemison becoming the first Black woman astronaut to pilot the Space Shuttle. The actress would receive NASA’s Public Service Award and have an asteroid named after her.
Nichols had suffered a series of health crises in recent years, beginning with a stroke in 2015 and being diagnosed with dementia in 2018 which led to a dispute over conservatorship between her son and her business manager, Gilbert Bell. She made her last public appearance at the Los Angeles Comic-Con in December 2021 as part of a tribute celebration.
Photo: CHRIS DELMAS / Getty
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