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Nichelle Nichols, Iconic ‘Star Trek’ Actress, Dead at 89
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Nichelle Nichols, the actress known for her groundbreaking role as Lt. Nyota Uhura on Star Trek has died at the age of 89. Nichols’ son, Kyle Johnson, announced the news in a statement.
“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. 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,” the statement on Nichols’ official Facebook page read.
“Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all. 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,” it continued. “Her services will be for family members and the closest of her friends and we request that her and our privacy be respected.”
The statement ended with the show’s iconic send-off, “Live Long and Prosper.”
The official Star Trek Twitter account confirmed the news. "We’re deeply saddened to report the passing of Nichelle Nichols - a trailblazer, an inspiration, and so much more. She will be deeply missed," the tweet accompanied by a picture of Nichols read.
We’re deeply saddened to report the passing of Nichelle Nichols - a trailblazer, an inspiration, and so much more. She will be deeply missed. https://t.co/iBwyOPaxTP
Nichols broke barriers as one of the first Black women to play the lead role in a television series. The actress made her debut on the series in 1966, as one of the bridge crew members on the USS Enterprise, alongside William Shatner, who famously played Captain Kirk. During her time on the series, Nichols made history and inspired other black actors to join the series in future seasons and iterations.
In the episode "Plato's Stepchildren" Nichols and Kirk’s characters kissed, while under mind control, marking the first interracial kiss lip-to-lip on American television.
Nichols famously spoke about how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. convinced her to stay in the role after she shared with him that she did not want to return, as she had dreams of starring on Broadway.
"I turned around straight into the face of Dr. Martin Luther King and nearly fainted," Nichols told ET in 1992. "He admired the show and told me how much he admired my work and how important it was. I said, 'Well, thank you very much, but I'm leaving the show.' And Dr. King said, 'You can not! You have changed the face of television forever!'"
"He said, 'It is more important that people who are not Black see this show, see you in this role, because they see us for the first time as we should be seen, as equals,'" Nichols recalled.
Nichols continued on as Lt. Uhura for three seasons of the series and subsequent films and the animated series. Following her role, in the 70s Nichols was employed by NASA to help encourage women and African Americans to become astronauts.
Nichols began her career at the age of 16 singing with Duke Ellington. The actress went on to study film in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and appeared on stage in productions of Carmen and Kicks & Co. In addition, she appeared on Heroes, Are We There Yet and Snow Dogs.
In 2015, Nichols suffered a mild stroke and recovered less than two weeks later. In the weeks following the health scare, Nichols gave ET an update.
"I am feeling the best that I felt in a very long time," Nichols told Nischelle Turner. Nichols added that there's was no loss of mobility in the wake of her stroke, telling ET, "I am as wild and woolly as I have ever been."