Photo by: Albert L. Ortega/Getty Image
Actress and singer Nichelle Nichols, has passed away at the age of 89. She was best known for her ground-breaking performance as Lt. Nyota Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series.
According to the actress’ son, Kyle Johnson, Nichols died from natural causes.
“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 stated in an official statement. “Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all.”
Born Grace Dell Nichols on December 28th, 1932, in Robbins, Illinois to Samuel Earl Nichols and his wife, Lishia Nichols, she spent her formative years performing musical theater, singing, and dancing.
During her run on Star Trek: The Original Series in 1966, she instantly became a television phenomenon, because she was a Black woman in a significant role on a prime-time television program.
Prior to Nichols’ portrayal of the character Uhura, there had been African-American women on television, but they mostly portrayed domestic helpers or had minor roles. And the character Uhura was a crucial member of the multicultural Star Trek crew.
It was “the first non-stereotypical role portrayed by a Black woman in television history,” according to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In one of the first inter-racial kisses on US television, Nichols’ character kissed James T. Kirk, who was played by White Canadian actor William Shatner.
This incident made Nichols a household name. The kiss scene “changed television forever, and it also transformed the way people looked at one another,” Nichols claimed in a 2014 interview with CNN.
Following the three-season run of the popular show, the actress committed her time to the space industry. She aided in the recruitment of astronauts Sally Ride, Judith Resnik, and Guion Bluford, among others, to diversify NASA.
Nichols was hailed as “an inspiration to many, not just for her groundbreaking work on Star Trek but also through her work with NASA to recruit women and people of color to apply to become astronauts” according to a tweet from the National Air and Space Museum.
She is survived by her son.
Our deepest condolences are with her family, friends, and everyone that her incredible work, on and off the screen, has impacted.