Groundbreaking actress Nichelle Nichols, known for her portrayal of Lt. Nyota Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series, has passed away, reports CNN. She was age 89.
Her son, Kyle Johnson confirmed that Nichols passed in an official statement on her website,
“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 read. “Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all.”
Born Grace Dell Nichols outside Chicago in 1932, she was the granddaughter of a white Southerner who married a Black woman. She changed her name to Nichelle when she was a teenager.
A talented dancer and singer, Nichols had a four-octave vocal range and went on to tour with Duke Ellington. She would work in numerous clubs in the Chicago area.
Nichols was a dancer in Otto Preminger’s 1959 film version of Porgy and Bess. She made her television debut in 1963 in an episode of The Lieutenant. The series was created by Gene Roddenberry, who went on to create Star Trek.
In 1966, she began her iconic run as communications officer Lt. Nyota Uhura in the Star Trek TV series. She predated Diahann Carrol as the first Black woman to be cast in a notable role on a prime-time television series. Although there were Black women on TV in the past, they often played domestic workers or had minor roles. Nichols’ Uhura was an integral part of the multicultural Star Trek crew.
Nichols also made history, along with her co-star William Shatner (who played Captain James T. Kirk on the series), with the first interracial kiss on U.S. television.
At the time, on its 1967 cover, EBONY magazine described her as the “most heavenly body in ‘Star Trek’.”
After Star Trek's three-season run, Nichols became a spokesperson for NASA and pushed for more inclusion in the space program. She helped to recruit astronauts Sally Ride, Judith Resnik and Guion Bluford, among others.
10 years after its original run, Nichols reprised her role in Star Trek: The Motion Picture as Uhura, who by then became a commander. She continued her iconic role in five sequels through 1991.
George Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu in the series, paid tribute to Nichols on Twitter.
“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,” wrote Takei on Twitter. “For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend.”
“We lived long and prospered together,” he added with a photo of the pair making the iconic Vulcan salute.
NASA also released a statement paying tribute to the legendary actress.
“Nichols’s role as one of television’s first Black characters to be more than just a stereotype and one of the first women in a position of authority (she was fourth in command of the Enterprise) inspired thousands of applications from women and minorities,” the release said. “Among them: Ronald McNair, Frederick Gregory, Judith Resnick, first American woman in space Sally Ride and current NASA administrator Charlie Bolden.”
Stacey Abrams, honored Nichols on Twitter saying, "Godspeed to Nichelle Nichols, champion, warrior and tremendous actor,” accompanied with a photo of herself with Nichols. “Her kindness and bravery lit the path for many. May she forever dwell among the stars.”
Along with her son, she is survived by two sisters, Marian Smothers and Diane Robinson.
We at EBONY offer our prayers and deepest condolences to the family and friends of Nichelle Nichols