Original Uhura on Star Trek, Nichelle Nicholas, dies at 89. The actress helped to break new grounds for black actresses back in the 1960s.
Original Uhura on Star Trek, Nichelle Nicholas, Dies At 89
Nichelle Nicholas who became a role model for black actresses playing the role of Lt. Nyota Uhura on Star Trek: The Original Series, on Saturday died aged 89. Her death was announced by her son on Facebook on Sunday.
“Last night, my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away,” Kyle Johnson wrote on her official Facebook page. “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.”
Nichelle Was One of the First Black Actresses Cast In A Prominent TV Role
At the time she was cast in 1966 to play the USS Enterprise’s translator and communications officer, Nichelle was one of the first Black actresses cast in a prominent TV role. And during the brief series, she famously locked lips with co-star William Shatner in one of the first interracial kisses broadcast in the United States.
Nichols however started her career in the early ’60s performing in plays and musicals, modeling, and even at the time singing with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. Then, producer Gene Roddenberry came along, thus offering her a guest role in his first television series, titled, The Lieutenant.
A couple of years later, in 1966 to be precise, Roddenberry cast her in Star Trek as the Enterprise’s comms officer, which is a groundbreaking role cast in the then middle of the civil rights movement.
She however tried to quit the show after just one season in order to return to Broadway, but she then reconsidered after meeting Martin Luther King Jr. And after King confessed to being a Trekkie, he made her see the importance of having her in that spaceship as a role model for not just women but also for people of color everywhere.
“I think it was a moment in which I really realized not so much who I am but where I was going, and it felt very good, it felt like in a rush kinda to get there,” she said while recalling the punch moment that made her realize the importance of Nyota Uhura. She, therefore, stayed on the show till it was canceled in 1969.
Nichelle Helped In the Recruitment of Women and Minorities by NASA
After the cancelation of the show, she helped in the recruitment of women and minorities by NASA to be astronaut candidates and was, therefore, able to sign up Guion Bluford who is the first black astronaut, and also Sally Ride who is the first female American astronaut amongst many others. The first woman of color to travel in space, Mae Jemison has earmarked Nichols as one of her inspirations.
She went on to reprise the role of Uhura in other six Star Trek movies between 1979 and 1991 with a promotion to commander alongside other fellow original cast members Shatner, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, and Leonard Nimoy.