Nichelle Nichols, Trailblazing Uhura on ‘Star Trek,’ Dies @ 89

The actress who effected positive change with her portrayal of Nyota Uhura on TV's Star Trek — Nichelle Nichols — died on July 30, 2022, in Silver City, New Mexico.

An enterprising young woman (Image via NBC)

She was 89.

ExtraTV confirmed her death, citing her manager/business partner, Gilbert Bell. Bell had been among the parties fighting a conservatorship battle over Nichols, who had a debilitating stroke in 2015 and who was then diagnosed with dementia three years later.

As Uhura, Nichols had plenty of room to make an impression, having been hired as a young Black actress to portray a skilled starship employee — a far cry from the maids and nannies played by most Black women on TV at the time.

On the 1968 Star Trek episode "Plato's Children," Uhura and Captain Kirk (William Shatner) kissed. While their kiss was compelled by an alien, the fact remained that never before had an interracial, lip-to-lip kiss been seen on American TV.

The kiss, though controversial, led to an outpouring of mostly positive support. Luckily for us all, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had previously advised Nichols not to quit Star Trek after Season 1; she'd desired a Broadway career, but he told her she was too positive a role model for the Black community to lose.

She stayed for the show's 1966-1969 run, reviving Uhura on Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1974); in the films Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Star Trek VI: The Voyage Home (1986), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991); and via voice-over for numerous videos and video games.

She was immediately mourned on Twitter by her Star Trek co-star George Takei:

Nicholas, who was born December 28, 1932, in Robbins, Illinois, acted and modeled from her teen years. Part of her modeling portfolio included fetish photography. When the racy images emerged years later, they were met with a shrug from Nichols.

Leg show — Nichols as a young fetish model (Image via Worthpoint)

In Chicago, she appeared in Kicks and Co., a risqué 1961 satire of Playboy magazine that flopped, but not before impressing Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, who booked her to appear at his notorious Playboy Club.

She continued acting on the stage and modeling, making her TV debut in the telefilm Great Gettin' Up Mornin' (1964).

She guested on the series The Lieutenant that same year, and decades later confessed in her memoir that she'd had a years-long affair with its creator — Gene Roddenberry, who later cast her on his instant classic Star Trek. When they parted, it was on good terms, and they remained close friends until his death in 1991.

Scorching in Truck Turner (Image via AIP)

Nichols made her credited feature-film debut in Mister Buddwing (1966), and over the years also appeared in Doctor, You've Got to Be Kidding! (1967), Truck Turner (1974), The Supernaturals (1986), Snow Dogs (2002), Surge of Power: The Stuff of Heroes (2004), Are We There Yet? (2005), Lady Magdalene's (2008), Tru Loved (2008), The Torturer (2008), The Bitter Earth (2012), Surge of Power: Revenge of the Sequel (2016), White Orchid (2018), American Nightmares (2018), Surge of Dawn (2019), Unbelievable!!!!! (2020), Surge of Power: Doctor Who Tribute (2020), and apparently completed filming on the as-yet-unreleased Renegades: Ominara as the title character.

With Ron Ely and his loin cloth on Tarzan (Image via NBC)

Surprisingly, considering her household-name status, Nichols acted only sporadically outside of Star Trek, even on TV. Appearances included Peyton Place (1966), Tarzan (1966), the 1984 TV movie Antony and Cleopatra, Good vs. Evil (2000), and recurring roles on both Heroes (2007) and The Young and the Restless (2016).

She leant her voice to TV's Gargoyles (1994-1996), Futurama (2000-2002), and The Simpsons (2004).

Nichols was also well-known for her advocacy on behalf of NASA and space exploration.

She published her autobiography, Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories, which became a best seller, in 1994.

Nichols is survived by her son, Kyle Johnson.

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