Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Nyota Uhura on the Original Star Trek series, has died aged 89. Her son Kyle Johnson broke the news on Nichols’ Facebook page, and it was later confirmed by her manager Gilbert Bell.
“Friends, Fans, Colleagues, World, 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. “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,” the post continued. “I, and the rest of our family, would appreciate your patience and forbearance as we grieve her loss until we can recover sufficiently to speak further. Her services will be for family members and the closest of her friends, and we request that her and our privacy be respected. Live Long and Prosper.”
Nichols’ importance cannot be understated. At the time, it was rare to see a woman, let alone an African American one, on television presented as an equal to her male, white colleagues. As such, Uhura was seen as very important by members of the ’60s civil rights movement.
Martin Luthor King Jr reportedly convinced Nichols – who was considering leaving the sci-fi series – that she needed to stay. “You cannot [leave the series],” he reportedly said [via StarTrek.com]. “For the first time, we are being seen the world over as we should be seen.”
BREAKING: We're sad to report that Nichelle Nichols — STAR TREK's original Lt. Uhura — has passed away at age 89
Read more: https://t.co/hqWCNLPRkn#StarTrek #NichelleNichols pic.twitter.com/XPdvEs4siV
— TrekCore.com 🖖 (@TrekCore) July 31, 2022
Her work made her a role model for several young girls, including a young Whoopi Goldberg, who would eventually star in Star Trek: The Next Generation. “I just saw a Black woman on television, and she ain’t no maid!” she reportedly told her family after seeing Nichols on TV.
The character of Uhura also encouraged a number of African American women to pursue a career in the sciences. NASA actually used Nichols to promote and encourage women and African Americans to come and work at the space agency.
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.
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) July 31, 2022
Nichols will also be remembered for what was supposedly the first interracial kiss ever seen on TV (although several earlier examples have come to light) with her colleague William Shatner. Star Trek execs were reportedly so nervous about airing an interracial kiss that they wanted the scene filmed with and without the kiss so they could work out whether to include it or not.
Shatner and Nichols, however, deliberately flubbed every take, so execs were forced to use the scene with them kissing. Nichols is survived by her son, our thoughts are with her family at this difficult time.