Nichelle Nicholsthe star trek actor whose role as an on-screen lieutenant on the deck of a spaceship was a groundbreaking example of black American portrayal in Hollywood, died Saturday, July 30. She was 89 years old.
His death was confirmed on Instagram on Sunday July 31 by the actor’s son, Kyle Johnson.
“Last night my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away,” he wrote. “Its light however, like the ancient galaxies seen now for the first time, will remain for us and future generations to enjoy, learn and be inspired by.”
“His was a life well lived and as such a role model for all of us,” Johnson added.
Nichols shot to fame when she was cast in the 1966 space adventure series star trek as Lt. Nyota Uhura, the ship’s communications officer. The role was significant for many reasons: it was one of the first major roles for a black woman in an American television series, it was one of the first portrayals of a black woman in a style command role military in any format, and it would later culminate in one of the first on-screen kisses between a white actor, William Shatner, and a black co-star.
His time in this role lasted only a few years, with the show being canceled in 1969, but his prominence would last for decades. She was even reportedly persuaded by legendary civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr to stay in the role for the short duration of the series. Nichols would later reprise the role of Lt. Uhura in a number of star trek movies including Spock’s research.
In collaboration with her star trek career, Nichols would partner with NASA, the US space agency, in an effort to recruit more women and people of color into its astronaut and science programs. The effort led to the recruitment of Sally Ride, America’s first female astronaut.
She talked about how her work on star trek had led to the expansion of NASA efforts to recruit women during an interview with StarTrek.com in 2012.
“[My] The legacy lives on in the bodies of modern astronauts, where gender and color no longer matter…as they should,” she said. “I continue to be proud of to have been chosen to make these first women and minorities [in the space program] a reality.”
In her later years, she would go into semi-retirement after attending fan conventions where she and other original cast members were treated like royalty.
She made an appearance at Los Angeles Comic Con as recently as 2021.