The pioneering actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Nyota Uhura in the original Star Trek series, has away at the age of 89. Kyle Johnson, her son, told her followers in a message on Nichols’ Instagram page.
Nichelle Nichols, Johnson’s mother, “suffered from natural causes and passed away this night,” he adds. Her light, however, will continue to exist for us and future generations to enjoy, learn from, and be inspired by, much like the old galaxies now being glimpsed for the first time.
In Robbins, Illinois, Nichols was born on December 28th, 1932. Nichols traveled with jazz musician Duke Ellington as a dancer and vocalist before joining the Star Trek cast. He also acted in the 1959 movie Porgy and Bess and the television series The Lieutenant (1964).
Nichols became the first Black woman to have a prominent position in television when she joined the Star Trek ensemble in 1966 as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura. She nearly quit Star Trek to pursue a career on Broadway, but she finally decided to stay because of her encounter with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Nichols retracted her resignation after Dr. King, a Star Trek enthusiast himself, reminded her of the crucial importance of her position. Nichols remained with Star Trek until the 1969 finale of the first season.
The influence of Nichols goes well beyond Star Trek. In order to promote the hiring of astronauts from underrepresented backgrounds, she collaborated with NASA. Colonel Guion Bluford, the first Black man in space, and the first woman, Sally Ride, were both a result of her efforts. The influence of Nichols’ activism on NASA is the subject of the 2019 movie Woman in Motion. After making a last presentation at the LA Comic Con in December of last year, Nichols made the announcement that she was giving up space activism.
Online comments were made in response to Nichols’ passing by her coworkers and fellow actors. Bernice King, Dr. King’s daughter, tweets: “Representation matters. Even more important is representational excellence… Good night, ancestor.
On Twitter, George Takei, well known for his portrayal of Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek, also paid respect to Nichols. As Lt. Uhura of the USS Enterprise, Nichelle Nichols shared the bridge with us and died away today at the age of 89. I will have more to say about her in the future, Takei promises. My eyes sparkle like the stars you are now resting amid, my darling buddy, yet my heart is sorrowful today.