Nichelle Nichols, trail-blazing Star Trek actress, dead at 89

Nichelle Nichols, who broke barriers for Black women in Hollywood when she played communications officer Lieutenant Uhura in the original Star Trek TV series, dead. She is 89 years old.

Her son Kyle Johnson said Nichols passed away Saturday in Silver City, NM

“Last night, my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away. However, her light, like those of ancient galaxies seen for the first time, will remain for us. and future generations enjoy, learn and be inspired,” Johnson wrote on his mother’s official Facebook page Sunday.

“Her life was a good life and a role model for all of us.”

Her portrayal of lieutenant Uhura in the 1966-69 series earned Nichols a lifelong honorable place with die-hard fans of the series, known as Trekkers and Trekkies. It also earned her plaudits for breaking down stereotypes that limited Black women to playing servants and included an interracial on-screen kiss with co-star William Shatner that she hadn’t yet. heard at the time.

“I would have to say more about the incomparable, forerunner Nichelle Nichols, who shared the bridge with us as Lieutenant Uhura of the USS Enterprise, and who passed away today at the age of 89.” , George Takei wrote on Twitter.

“For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes are as bright as the stars that you rest in the middle, my dearest friend.”

Like the other original cast members, Nichols also appeared in six extravaganzas on the big screen starting in 1979 with Star Trek: The Motion Picture and often Star Trek fan conventions. She also spent many years as a NASA recruiter, helping to bring minorities and women into the crew.

More recently, she had a recurring role on television Heroplays the great-aunt of a boy with mystical powers.

VIEW | Nichols discuss Star TrekCBC News legacy:

Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary on CBC News Network

Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary on CBC News Network

Original Star Trek premiered on NBC on September 8, 1966. The multicultural, multiracial cast is creator Gene Roddenberry’s message to viewers that in the distant future – the 23rd century – the diversity of people will be fully accepted.

“I think many people have in mind … that what was said on TV at the time was cause for celebration,” Nichols said in 1992 when Star Trek Exhibits were viewed at the Smithsonian Institution.

She often recalls Father Martin Luther King Jr. being a fan of the show and praising her performance and personally encouraging her to stay with the series.

A photo of former US presidents Barack Obama and Nichols is seen at a Star Trek exhibit in Seattle, Wash., in May 2016. (Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press)

“When I told him I was going to miss my co-stars and I was leaving the show, he got very serious and said, ‘You can’t do that,” she told The Tulsa (Okla.) World in a 2008 interview.

“” You changed the face of television forever, and so you changed people’s minds,” she said, the civil rights leader told her.

“The foresight that Dr. King had was a lightning bolt in my life,” Nichols said.

Iconic kiss

During the show’s third season, Nichols’ character and Shatner’s Captain James Kirk shared what has been described as the first interracial kiss to air on a US television series. In the episode, Plato’s StepchildrenTheir characters, who have always maintained a platonic relationship, are forcibly kissed by aliens who are controlling their actions.

Eric Deggans, a television critic for National Public Radio, told The Associated Press in 2018. The kiss “suggests that there’s a future where these problems aren’t as big of a deal.” kissing a white man… In this utopian future, we’ve solved this problem. We overcame it. That’s a great message to send. “

Nichols’s Uhura and Captain James T. Kirk, played by William Shatner, are seen in the first televised interracial kiss. (Paramount Studios)

Worried about the reaction from southern broadcasters, the showrunners wanted to film a second scene where the kiss took place off-screen. But Nichols said in his book, Go beyond Uhura: Star Trek and other memoriesthat she and Shatner intentionally misspelled the line to force the use of the original footage.

Despite the concerns, the episode aired without response. In fact, it gets the most fan mail Paramount has ever received Star Trek for an episode,” Nichols said in a 2010 interview with the Archive of American Television.

Singer and dancer

Born Grace Dell Nichols in Robbins, Ill., Nichols hates being called “Gracie,” which everyone insists, she said in a 2010 interview. When she was a teenager, her mother told She said that she wanted to name her Michelle, but thought she should have alluding initials like Marilyn Monroe, who Nichols loved. Hence, “Nichelle.”

Nichols first became active as a singer and dancer in Chicago at the age of 14, moving to New York nightclubs and working for a time with the band Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton before heading to Hollywood. to star in his film debut in 1959 Porgy and Bessthe first of several small film and television roles that led to her Star Trek star cast.

She is often in Star Trek conferences and events in her 80s, but her schedule became limited starting in 2018 when her son announced that she was suffering from severe dementia.

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