Nichelle Nichols, ‘Star Trek’s’ Lt. Uhura, Dead at the Age of 89

In the original “Star Trek” TV series, actress Nichelle Nichols, whose groundbreaking portrayal of Lt. Nyota Uhura broke racial barriers, has died. She was 89 years old at the time. “Last night, my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and died away,” her son Kyle Johnson posted on his mother’s Facebook page Sunday.

“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,” he said. “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. Her services will be for family members and the closest of her friends and we request that her and our privacy be respected.”

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Johnson stated that his mother died in Silver City, New Mexico. It was a sad day for William Shatner who played Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek on Sunday when his co-star died. “She was a beautiful woman & played an admirable character that did so much for redefining social issues both here in the US & throughout the world,” Shatner spoke on Twitter.

George Takei, who played Lt. Hikaru Sulu on the show, tweeted that he would “have more to say about the trailblazing, incomparable Nichelle Nichols, who shared the bridge with us as Lt. Uhura of the USS Enterprise.” “For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend,” Takei wrote.

“The importance of Nichelle’s legacy cannot be overemphasized,” tweeted Adam Nimoy, whose late father Leonard portrayed Spock in the series. “She was much loved and will be missed.” President Biden called Nichols a “trailblazer of stage and screen who redefined what is possible for Black Americans and women.”

Nasa said that Nichols “symbolized to so many what was possible. “She partnered with us to recruit some of the first women and minority astronauts, and inspired generations to reach for the stars,” the US space agency said. During the 1970s, Nichols was employed by NASA to help recruit astronauts, and he is credited with helping bring the first American woman into space and the first African American woman into space.

At a time when black actresses were mainly presented as servants rather than leaders, Nichols’ “Star Trek” character defied preconceptions of black actresses. When she told the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967 that she had decided not to return for the show’s second season, he persuaded her to remain with it.

“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 stated in a 2008 interview with the Tulsa World. “‘You’ve changed the face of television forever, and therefore, you’ve changed the minds of people,’ ” she said the civil-rights leader added.

From 1966 through 1969, she was a regular cast member of the show. William Shatner, who played Captain James T. Kirk, exchanged an on-screen interracial kiss with her in a historic television scene, which was unprecedented at the time. On the show, the two characters were always just friends, but in one episode, aliens took over their minds and made them kiss.

Some members of the production team were concerned about the reaction of Southern television stations and wanted to film another take in which the two kissed off-screen. According to Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories, Nichols and Shatner would then purposefully mispronounce their lines in order to require the original sequence to be reworked.

Nichelle Nichols Dead
Nichelle Nichols Dead

For one episode, the program generated the most “fan mail that Paramount has ever received on ‘Star Trek,'” she stated in an interview in 2010. The Vulcan hand signal was used by Nichols and Obama in 2012 when they were photographed in the Oval Office. In high school, Grace Dell Nichols changed her first name to Nichelle so that it sounded like Marilyn Monroe’s alliterative initials.

A singer and dancer in Chicago and New York, she was a member of the ensembles of Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton in her early years. In 1959, she appeared in the film “Porgy and Bess,” in which she starred. Prior to her role on “Star Trek,” she had been in a number of modest film and television roles. Along with the rest of the original cast, she participated in the first of six spinoff movies beginning in 1979.

She has also appeared in the television series “Heroes.” In the last few years, Nichols has had health concerns. In 2018, it was reported that she had been given a dementia diagnosis. She had a stroke in 2015. Nichols continued to participate in “Star Trek” conventions and gatherings even after she was diagnosed with dementia.

As her mental state deteriorated and she was no longer able to take care of herself or make public appearances, she was eventually placed under the custody of her son, who was in charge of the conservatorship proceedings. But Nichols’ managers and her friend Angelique Fawcett disagreed and fought for more access to the aging actress and Johnson’s financial records.

A judge almost always sided with Johnson. Nichols’ name was sometimes brought up at rallies where people wanted Britney Spears to be freed from her guardianship. Stay tuned with us only on Lee Daily

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