She Lived Long And Many Prospered: ‘Star Trek’ Actor Nichelle Nichols Has Passed Away
"Her light, 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."
Over the weekend. Star Trek actor and history maker Nichelle Nichols died at age 89.
Nichols’ son, Kyle Johnson wrote on his mother’s official site, “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”.
The term trailblazer tends to be thrown around, often applied to those who do not deserve it. But as one of the first Black women to star in a non-stereotypical leading role on a primetime TV show, Nichols’ work was groundbreaking. In her role as Lt. Uhura in Star Trek‘s original series, and as the first African-American woman to play a lead role on television, Nichols pioneered many firsts for Black women in television. In 1968, she made history with television’s first interracial kiss between Uhura and Captain Kirk in the Star Trek episode, ‘Plato’s Stepchildren’.
A lifelong singer and dancer, Nichols almost left her role on Star Trek to pursue opportunities on Broadway. She was convinced to stay by none other than DR. Martin Luther King JR.
As she recalled in her memoir Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories, Dr King was an ardent Trekie. When they met, Nichols told Dr King of her plans to leave. recalling his emotional response, “for the first time, we are being seen the world over as we should be seen. He says, do you understand that this is the only show that my wife Coretta and I will allow our little children to stay up and watch”.
Nichols recalled her reply, “and I said, ‘If you still want me to stay, I’ll stay. I have to’.”
Paving the way for women and POC both on and off the screen, Nichelle Nichols became a spokesperson for NASA to help recruit women and minorities in 1977. 1978’s NASA astronaut candidates were the first to include women and members of minority groups. Nichols continued to appear on both TV and stage long after her Star Trek days. Sadly, she was more recently known for the struggle against a conservatorship placed on her by her son after being diagnosed with dementia in 2018.
Her Star Trek co-star George Takei wrote on Twitter, “today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend. We lived long and prospered together”.
Rest in power, Nichelle Nichols.