News broke Sunday of the passing of Nichelle Nichols, who played communications officer Uhura in ‘Star Trek’. According to Variety, the actress died Saturday night in Silver City, New Mexico. Nichols was 89.
The singer’s death was confirmed by Gilbert Bell, her talent manager and business partner for 15 years.
Nichols suffered a stroke in 2015 and was diagnosed with dementia in 2018, prompting a guardianship dispute between his manager Bell and his son, as well as a friend. Nichols married and divorced twice. He is survived by his son, Kyle Johnson.
Nichelle Nichols and her role in American history
Nichols was part of some pivotal moments in the entertainment industry in the United States. The actress shared one of the first interracial kisses in the history of television in ‘Star Trek’. That moment, with his co-star William Shatner.
Nonetheless, her character of Uhura, whose name comes from a Swahili word meaning “freedom,” was essential beyond that, as she was one of the first African-American women to appear in a non-supporting role on television. Nichols played Lieutenant Uhura in the original series, in ‘Star Trek: The Animated Series’ and played Uhura in the first six ‘Star Trek’ films.
Nichols considered leaving “Star Trek” after the first season to pursue a career on Broadway, but Martin Luther King Jr., who understood the importance of her character in opening doors to other African Americans on television, personally convinced her to stay on the show, the actress told Neil deGrasse Tyson in an interview with Archive of American Television. according to Variety.
On the other hand, NASA employed Nichols in an effort to encourage women and African Americans to become astronauts. NASA’s Astronaut Group 8, selected in 1978, included the first women and ethnic minorities to be recruited, including three who were black. In fact, Dr. Mae Jemison, the first black woman to fly aboard the space shuttle, cited “Star Trek” as an influence on her decision to join the space agency.
But Nichols didn’t stop there to make history, as in 1991, she became the first African-American woman to immortalize her handprints at the TCL Chinese Theater.