Nichelle Nichols, whose portrayal of Lt. Nyota Uhura on TV’s “Star Trek” was one of the landmark roles for a Black actor on television, has died at the age of 89, her son announced Sunday.
“I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament no longer shines for us as it has for so many years,” Kyle Johnson posted on Facebook.
“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.”
Nichols died at a hospital in Silver City, New Mexico, according to the Los Angeles Times, which cited a family friend. She had suffered a stroke in 2015 in Woodland Hills and had been embroiled in a conservatorship battle with her family and a former manager, the newspaper added.
President Joe Biden weighed in with a statement, saying, “In Nichelle Nichols, our nation has lost a trailblazer of stage and screen who redefined what is possible for Black Americans and women.
“A daughter of a working-class family from Illinois, she first honed her craft as an actor and singer in Chicago before touring the country and the world performing with the likes of Duke Ellington and giving life to the words of James Baldwin,” Biden said. “During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, she shattered stereotypes to become the first Black woman to act in a major role on a primetime television show with her groundbreaking portrayal of Lt. Uhura in the original Star Trek. With a defining dignity and authority, she helped tell a central story that reimagined scientific pursuits and discoveries. And she continued this legacy by going on to work with NASA to empower generations of Americans from every background to reach for the stars and beyond.
“Our nation is forever indebted to inspiring artists like Nichelle Nichols, who show us a future where unity, dignity, and respect are cornerstones of every society,” the president concluded.
Nichols was a successful stage actress and had toured as a singer with jazz legends Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton when she was cast as Lt. Uhura in “Star Trek,” which debuted on NBC in 1966. It was one of the first examples of a prominent role for a Black woman on American television.
Nichols has said that she wanted to quit the show in its first season to pursue a career on Broadway, but a conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. about her importance as a role model to Black children changed her mind.
Her interracial kiss with white “Star Trek” star William Shatner on the Nov. 22, 1968 episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” was considered another TV landmark of the civil rights era, and drew some viewer protest at the time.
She reprised her role as Uhura in six “Star Trek” feature films.
In the years after “Star Trek” went off the air in 1969, Nichols worked with NASA to recruit females and minorities into the space program.
George Takei, who played Lt. Hikaru Sulu on “Star Trek,” tweeted: “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 … at age 89. For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend.”
Former “Wonder Woman” star Lynda Carter tweeted: “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.”
A private service will be held for family members and close friends, Johnson added.
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce said flowers would be placed on Nichols’ star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1 p.m. Monday. The star, which Nichols received in 1992, is located at 6635 Hollywood Blvd.
Statement of President Joe Biden on the Passing of Nichelle Nichols