Star Trek actor Nichelle Nichols has died, aged 89.
News of her death was shared today (July 31) by 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 ❤ 𝚘𝚏 𝚂𝚝𝚊𝚛 𝚃𝚛𝚎𝚔 (@roddenberry) July 31, 2022
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.”
You can some of the many tributes to Nichols below:
We’re deeply saddened to report the passing of Nichelle Nichols – a trailblazer, an inspiration, and so much more. She will be deeply missed. https://t.co/iBwyOPaxTP
— Star Trek (@StarTrek) July 31, 2022
Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura on the original STAR TREK series–and broke new ground–has passed away at 89.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) July 31, 2022
We honored Nichelle Nichols' and that of the character she created with Uhura with this plaque seen in the premiere of Season 2 of Star Trek Picard. Farewell Captain Noyta Uhura, You embodied everything that Starfleet stood for. pic.twitter.com/abrmH6lWfx
— Dave Blass (@DaveBlass) July 31, 2022
My love for the original Star Trek is profound. Nichelle Nichols was a ground-breaker and a glorious ambassador for her show, her role and science all her life. And a truly lovely person. May she have a wonderful adventure to the final frontier.#ripnichellenichols
— jason alexander (@IJasonAlexander) July 31, 2022
Many actors become stars, but few stars can move a nation. Nichelle Nichols showed us the extraordinary power of Black women and paved the way for a better future for all women in media. Thank you, Nichelle. We will miss you. pic.twitter.com/KhUf4YM6pX
— Lynda Carter (@RealLyndaCarter) July 31, 2022
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. For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend.
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) July 31, 2022
One of my most treasured photos – Godspeed to Nichelle Nichols, champion, warrior and tremendous actor. Her kindness and bravery lit the path for many. May she forever dwell among the stars. #RIPNichelle #Uhura pic.twitter.com/nFXHif8HEC
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) July 31, 2022
We celebrate the life of Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek actor, trailblazer, and role model, who symbolized to so many what was possible. She partnered with us to recruit some of the first women and minority astronauts, and inspired generations to reach for the stars. pic.twitter.com/pmQaKDb5zw
— NASA (@NASA) July 31, 2022
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