Nichelle Nichols, Pioneering ‘Star Trek’ Actor, Dies At 89

Pioneering “Star Trek” actor and area exploration advocate Nichelle Nichols died Saturday in Silver Metropolis, New Mexico. She was 89.

Her demise was first introduced by her son, Kyle Johnson, on Fb and later confirmed to Selection by her expertise supervisor and enterprise associate, Gilbert Bell.

“Last night, my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away,” Johnson wrote on Nichols’ official Fb and Instagram pages on Sunday. “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,” he added. “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.”

Born Grace Dell Nichols on Dec. 28, 1932, close to Chicago, Nichols was a performer of many abilities.

Her profession in leisure started when she was simply 16, as a singer with Duke Ellington in a ballet she created for one among his compositions. Though she would go on to work as a mannequin and dancer, Nichols toured internationally as a singer with the large bands headed by Ellington and Lionel Hampton.

Nichols made her movie debut reverse Sammy Davis Jr. within the 1959 image “Porgy and Bess” and commenced work in tv a couple of years later. She was then solid within the position of a lifetime, as Lt. Nyota Uhura, communications officer on the Starship Enterprise, within the unique “Star Trek” TV collection.

African-American girls had appeared on tv earlier than, however they’d often been solid as domestics. When “Star Trek” started in 1966, Nichols’ vital position in a prime-time collection marked a TV milestone.

Academy Award-winning actor and comic Whoopi Goldberg credit Nichols for uplifting her personal appearing profession.

“When I was 9 years old, ‘Star Trek’ came on. I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a Black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’” Goldberg stated. “I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.”

Nichols remained with “Star Trek” via its whole unique run, which led to 1969, and made appearances in subsequent “Star Trek” movies.

Nevertheless, she had initially deliberate to resign after her first 12 months on the present. As Nichols defined in a 2011 PBS interview, she modified her thoughts after an opportunity assembly at an NAACP occasion.

“One of the promoters came up and said someone wanted to meet me. He said he’s my greatest fan,” Nichols stated. “I thought it was some Trekker, some kid. I turned in my seat and there was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a big smile on his face. He said, ‘I am a Trekker, I am your biggest fan.’”

King inspired Nichols to stay with the collection.

“He was telling me why I could not [resign],” she recalled. “He said I had the first nonstereotypical role, I had a role with honor, dignity and intelligence. He said, ‘You simply cannot abdicate, this is an important role. This is why we are marching. We never thought we’d see this on TV.’”

In November 1968, Nichols made historical past when her “Star Trek” character kissed Captain James T. Kirk, performed by white actor William Shatner. The scene is usually cited as the primary interracial kiss on American tv.

In her lengthy profession as an actor, Nichols appeared in a number of different productions on the small and silver screens, together with the NBC collection “Heroes” and movies like “The Supernaturals” and “The Bitter Earth.” She additionally lent her voice to animated packages like “Futurama” and “Batman: The Animated Series.”

Nichols as Lt. Nyota Uhura and William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk within the Star Trek episode “Journey to Babel,” initially broadcast on Nov. 17, 1967.

CBS Picture Archive/Getty Photos

Nichols might greatest be remembered for her profession in leisure, however she additionally leaves behind a distinct legacy: as a girl who devoted a long time of her life to advocating for area exploration, significantly amongst girls and minorities.

A lover of all issues area, Nichols served on the Board of Governors of the Nationwide Area Society, a nonprofit area advocacy group, and was reportedly an lively chief within the now-defunct Area Cadets of America. She additionally launched a marketing consultant agency, Girls in Movement, which partnered with NASA to recruit minority and feminine personnel for the area company. Her recruits included Guion Bluford, the primary African-American astronaut in area, and Sally Journey, the primary feminine American astronaut.

Nichols obtained NASA’s distinguished Public Service Award for her efforts on this area. She even had an asteroid named in her honor.

In recent times, Nichols had pulled again on public {and professional} appearances amid a string of well being setbacks. She had reportedly been battling dementia since 2013 and had a gentle stroke two years later. Up till her demise, Nichols was in the midst of a bitter conservatorship battle over her property between her longtime expertise supervisor Bell and her son amid claims of elder abuse; it gained renewed curiosity amid the #FreeBritney motion surrounding Britney Spears.

She made her ultimate public look at Los Angeles Comedian-Con in December 2021 as a part of a three-day farewell celebration honoring her trailblazing profession.