Nichelle Nichols, Trailblazing Star Trek Icon, Dead at 89

Nichelle Nichols, best known for playing Lt. Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series, has died. She was 89 years old. Nichols' son, Kyle Johnson, confirmed the news with a message posted to Nichols' Facebook page. It read, "Friends, Fans, Colleagues, World I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament no longer shines for us as it has for so many years. 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. Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all. I, and the rest of our family, would appreciate your patience and forbearance as we grieve her loss until we can recover sufficiently to speak further. Her services will be for family members and the closest of her friends and we request that her and our privacy be respected. Live Long and Prosper."

Nichols' role as Uhura, a Black woman serving on the bridge crew of the USS Enterprise, in Star Trek inspired many to follow in her footsteps, including future Star Trek actors like LeVar Burton. Her kiss with William Shatner's Capt. Kirk in the episode "Plato's Stepchildren" is also widely recognized as the first interracial kiss on American television. She became iconic enough through Star Trek that NASA later turned to her for help in recruiting women and minorities into its space program, the subject of the recent documentary film Woman in Motion.

Sunday, 31 July 2022 Friends, Fans, Colleagues, World I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament no...

Posted by Nichelle Nichols on Sunday, July 31, 2022

At one point, Nichols had considered leaving her role as Uhura on Star Trek. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself convinced her of the role's importance and that she should stay aboard the Enterprise. She had already told Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry that she'd be leaving the series and remained firm despite Roddenberry's requests that she stay. Then she told that story to King at an NAACP fundraiser.

"I told him. He said, 'You cannot,' and so help me, this man practically repeated verbatim what Gene said," Nichols recalled in a 2011 interview with "He said, 'Don't you see what this man is doing, who has written this? This is the future. He has established us as we should be seen. Three hundred years from now, we are here. We are marching. And this is the first step. When we see you, we see ourselves, and we see ourselves as intelligent and beautiful and proud.' He goes on and I'm looking at him and my knees are buckling. I said, 'I..., I...' And he said, 'You turn on your television and the news comes on and you see us marching and peaceful, you see the peaceful civil disobedience, and you see the dogs and see the fire hoses, and we all know they cannot destroy us because we are there in the 23rd century.'"

"That's all it took," Nichols continued. "I went back on Monday morning and told Gene what had happened. He sat there behind that desk and a tear came down his face, and he looked up at me. I said, 'Gene, if you want me to stay, I will stay. There's nothing I can do but stay.' He looked at me and said, 'God bless Dr. Martin Luther King. Somebody truly knows what I am trying to do.' [Roddenberry] opened his drawer, took out my resignation and handed it to me. He had torn it to pieces. He handed me the 100 pieces and said, 'Welcome back.'"