Iconic Actress Nichelle Nichols Passed Away at the Age of 89 on Saturday Night

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Star Trek alumni and singer Nichelle Nichols passed away, aged 89, on Saturday night
Star Trek alumni and singer Nichelle Nichols passed away, aged 89, on Saturday night

The world lost one of the bravest women in entertainment on Saturday night Nichelle Nichols passed away, aged 89.

The announcement

Nichelle Nichols is survived by her son, Kyle Johnson, who wrote on Facebook:

“I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament no longer shines for us as it has for so many years.”

He also made the announcement on Nichols’ official site on Sunday.:

“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.”

Who was Nichelle Nichols?

Modern entertainment would not have been the same today if not for Nichelle Nichols, who took on an extraordinary role in Star Trek.

Taking the role of Lt. Nyota Uhura, Nichols broke stereotypes in the sci-fi TV series and its movie series, playing a competent and balanced communications officer.

The character steered away from the stereotypical domestic helper roles, completing the multicultural crew on Star Trek.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. praised her role as “the first non-stereotypical role portrayed by a Black woman in television history.”

At the time of their meeting, Nichols had initially considered leaving the show. 

However, Luther King Jr.’s comments made her reconsider.

“Gene Rodenberry opened a door for the world to see,” he told her.

“If you leave, that door can be closed because your role is not a Black role and it’s not a female role – he can fill it with anyone, including an alien.”

Nichelle Nichols also made waves for sharing one of the first interracial kisses on American entertainment when she kissed white actor William Shatner as Lt. Uhura and Lt. James T. Kirk.

The kissing scene “changed television forever,” said Nichols in a 2014 interview. 

“It also changed the way people looked at one another.”

Early life & career

Born in 1932 as Grace Dell Nichols, when she was a teenager, Nichols adopted the name Nichelle as she disliked the name Grace.

She was also blessed with a four-octave vocal range, and when she grew older, performed in local clubs at the age of 14.

Back then, Nichols met several artists, including Duke Ellington. He would later take her on tour.

During the early 1960s, Nichelle Nichols followed her entertainment dreams to Los Angeles, landing a role for Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s “The Lieutenant,” which featured other Star Trek veterans.

While developing the iconic sci-fi series, Roddenberry remembered Nichols and called her.

Initially, Uhara was not part of the original script, but Nichols played an important role in bringing her to the screen.

Having read a book titled “Uhuru,” which is Swahili for freedom, the actress pitched the name to Roddenberry, who noted it sounded too harsh.

“I said, “Well, why don’t you do an alteration of it,” she recalled.

“Soften the end with an ‘A,’ and it’ll be Uhura? He said, “That’s it, that’s your name. You named it – it’s yours.”

Tributes

Nichelle Nichols’ death was felt worldwide, and millions mourned, including US President Joe Biden, who paid a tribute and said:

“In Nichelle Nichols, our nation has lost a trailblazer of stage and screen who redefined what is possible for Black Americans and women.”

Star Trek co-star George Takei who played USS Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu posted a tribute on Twitter.

“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, and who passed today at age 89,” he wrote.

“For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend.”

“We lived long and prospered together.”

The National Air and Space Museum also honored Nichols on Twitter, saying she was “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.”

References:

Trailblazing Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols dies at 89

Nichelle Nichols, trailblazing ‘Star Trek’ actress, dies at 89


Opinions expressed by Portland News contributors are their own.

Jamal Murphy

Hi, I'm Jamal. I am a traveler and food vlogger. I am currently working as a media specialist in a media firm and I also love writing and reading.

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