Today is a sad day for fans with news breaking on the passing of Nichelle Nichols, the trailblazing actress who played Uhura on Star Trek: The Original Series. She was 89. The announcement was made on Nichols’ official website and social media channels.
According to the post from her son Kyle, Nichols passed away on Saturday night, July 30. The post said in part:
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.
Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all.
The family asks fans for their patience as they grieve her loss, and say there will be a private service for Nichols with family members and her closest friends. In the last year, Nichols moved from Los Angeles to Silver City, New Mexico to be closer to her family.
A historic life
Nichelle was born in 1932 in Chicago, Illinois, where she graduated high school and studied dance at the Chicago Ballet Academy. Her dancing caught the attention of legendary composer and bandleader Duke Ellington, and she toured with his orchestra and made her singing debut when the band’s singer fell ill. She eventually moved to Los Angeles, where she danced in movies and began to get guest roles on television shows. She first worked with Gene Roddenberry when she guest-starred on The Lieutenant, the series he produced prior to Star Trek.
She was subsequently cast as Lieutenant Uhura, the Enterprise’s chief communications officer, in 1966 after the show got a series commitment from NBC, and played the role throughout the series’ three-season run. The on-screen kiss she shared with William Shatner in the third season episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” was both groundbreaking and controversial. She continued to play Uhura in The Animated Series and the six TOS feature films.
Nichols’ role as a person of authority and expertise on the bridge of the USS Enterprise on Star Trek was groundbreaking for 1960s television. Seeing a woman of color as part of the future was important to many in the civil rights community, especially Dr. Martin Luther King, who famously encouraged Nichols to stick with the series. Many prominent figures have spoken about being inspired by Nichols, including former president Barack Obama.
One of those who has cited Nichols as an inspiration is Dr. Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space. During the 1970s, Nichelle became a recruiter for NASA, helping to bring women and minorities into the agency. Among her many recruits were Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, and Charles Bolden, who became the NASA Administrator. Her remarkable efforts are chronicled in the 2021 documentary Woman In Motion.
Nichelle was a regular on the Trek convention circuit since its earliest days, and she was beloved by fans everywhere for her warm, caring presence, and devotion to Trek’s ideals. She began to slow down a bit over the past decade, and was diagnosed with dementia a few years ago, after which she began to scale back her work and public appearances. Her final convention appearance was during the Nichelle Nichols Farewell Celebration, a 3-day event held during Los Angeles Comic Con on December 3-5, 2021.
A representative of the family tells TrekMovie that fans can offer their condolences on Nichelle’s official Facebook Page.
The staff of TrekMovie.com offer their deepest condolences to the friends and family of Nichelle Nichols. She will never be forgotten.