Star Trek Actor Nichelle Nichols Has Died, Aged 89

Nichelle Nichols
News of her death was shared today (July 31) by Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry, the son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and an executive producer of several franchise series.

“It is with great sorrow that we report the passing on the legendary icon Nichelle Nichols,” Roddenberry tweeted. “No words.”

Nichols’ cause of death was not shared. She had been previously treated for dementia.

The actor was a beloved icon of the science fiction franchise, playing the trailblazing Lt. Uhura on the original series of the show, plus several spin-off movies.

Born Grace Nichols in Illinois in 1932, she initially began her career as a singer and had sung alongside Duke Ellington, both in his band and in a ballet she created for one of his compositions.

She later moved into acting and it was her part in Star Trek that proved to be a defining role. As communications officer aboard USS Enterprise, she was one of the first Black actors in a high-profile, authoritative role on television.

After one year, Nichols initially considered leaving Star Trek to focus on her Broadway career, but was convinced to stay by Martin Luther King Jr.

She recalled in a 2013 interview how he said to her: “You cannot, you cannot… for the first time on television, we will be seen as we should be seen every day, as intelligent, quality, beautiful, people who can sing dance, and can go to space, who are professors, lawyers. If you leave, that door can be closed because your role is not a Black role, and is not a female role, he can fill it with anybody even an alien.’”

In her 1994 autobiography, Nichols recalled her time on the show fondly.

“Every time I sat down at my console on the bridge of the Enterprise, I felt that I was in the twenty-third century, that I was Uhura. The promise of that imaginary universe was real to me,” she wrote in the book, titled Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories.

“I am still very proud of Uhura: proud of who she was (or will be) and what she represented, not only in her time but in ours, and in those of people who will discover Star Trek decades from now.”

Stars from the entertainment world have been paying tribute to Nichols. Author Stephen King said the actor “broke new ground” while Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander said she was “a glorious ambassador for her show, her role and science all her life. And a truly lovely person.”

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