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Nichelle Nichols, Uhura of TV’s ‘Star Trek,’ dies

by LINDSEY BAHR The Associated Press | August 1, 2022 at 4:01 a.m.
Handout Photo for Style 12/29/00 Star Trek Nichelle Nichols (from left), Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley and William Shatner star in this classic science-fiction series. The Sci-Fi Channel will air a marathon of series episodes beginning at 6 p.m.

Nichelle Nichols, who played communications officer Lt. Nyota Uhura in the original "Star Trek" television series, has died at the age of 89.

Her son, Kyle Johnson, said Nichols died Saturday in Silver City, N.M.

"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," Johnson wrote Sunday on her official Facebook page.

Her role in the 1966-69 series earned Nichols a lifelong position of honor with the series' fans, known as Trekkies. It also earned her accolades for breaking stereotypes that limited Black actresses to roles as servants and included an interracial onscreen kiss with co-star William Shatner that was unheard of at the time.

"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," George Takei wrote on Twitter. "For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend."

Takei played Sulu in the original "Star Trek" series alongside Nichols. But her impact was felt beyond her immediate co-stars.

Like other original cast members, Nichols appeared in six big-screen spinoffs and frequented "Star Trek" fan conventions. She also served for many years as a NASA recruiter, helping bring people of color and women into the astronaut corps.

More recently, she had a recurring role on television's "Heroes," playing the great-aunt of a boy with mystical powers.

The original "Star Trek" premiered Sept. 8, 1966, on NBC. In her 1994 book "Beyond Uhura," Nichols said she met creator Gene Roddenberry when she guest starred on his show "The Lieutenant."

She said they had an affair a couple of years before "Star Trek" began. The two remained lifelong close friends.

Nichols often recalled how Martin Luther King Jr. was a fan of the show. She met him in 1967 at a civil rights gathering, at a time when she had decided not to return for the show's second season.

"When I told him I was going to miss my co-stars and I was leaving the show, he became very serious and said, 'You cannot do that,'" she told The Tulsa World in 2008. "That foresight Dr. King had was a lightning bolt in my life."

When Nichols, born Grace Dell Nichols in Robbins, Ill., was a teen her mother told her she had wanted to name her Michelle. Her mother thought she ought to have alliterative initials like Marilyn Monroe, whom Nichols loved. Hence, "Nichelle."

Nichols first worked professionally as a singer and dancer in Chicago at age 14, moving on to New York nightclubs and working for a time with the Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton bands before coming to Hollywood for her film debut in 1959's "Porgy and Bess," the first of several small film and TV roles that led up to her "Star Trek" stardom.

Nichols was a regular at "Star Trek" conventions and events into her 80s, but her schedule became limited starting in 2018 when her son announced that she had advanced dementia.

Information for this article was contributed by Polly Anderson, formerly of The Associated Press.

  photo  FILE - Actor Nichelle Nichols speaks during the Creation Entertainment's Official Star Trek Convention at The Westin O'Hare in Rosemont, Ill., Sunday, June 8, 2014. Nichols, who gained fame as Lt. Ntoya Uhura on the original "Star Trek" television series, died Saturday, July 30, 2022, her family said. She was 89. (Photo by Barry Brecheisen/Invision/AP, File)

 Gallery: Nichelle Nichols, 1932-2022

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