Nichelle Nichols, Trailblazer Who Played 'Star Trek's' Uhura, Dies at 89
Nichelle Nichols, the actress who blazed trails as Nyota Uhura on "Star Trek," has died at 89.
Variety reports the star died Saturday evening in Silver City, New Mexico. Her death was confirmed by her talent manager and business partner, Gilbert Bell. Bell was among several parties embroiled in a conservatorship battle over Nichols, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2018.
As Uhura, Nichols notched several memorable achievements.
She played a Black woman on series TV who was portrayed displaying a command of a non-menial job — communications officer on the USS Enterprise — almost unheard of on television, which Black women were often shown as maids and nannies.
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.
A definite first — on the 1968 episode "Plato's Children," Uhura and Captain Kirk (William Shatner) were shown kissing. Never before had an interracial, lip-to-lip kiss been shown on American television, representing another way in which the series, as well as its fictional crew, boldly went where none had gone before.
The kiss led to an outpouring of mostly positive support, but never would have happened had the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. not advised Nichols to stick with the series. A fan, he told her leaving after one season to pursue a Broadway career would rob the country of a much-needed positive role model.
She not only stayed for the entire 1966-1969 run, becoming an icon in the process, she revived her portrayal of 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.
Born December 28, 1932, in Robbins, Illinois, Nichols pursued acting as teenager, including in "Kicks and Co.," a risqué 1961 satire of Playboy magazine that flopped, but not before impressing Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.
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.
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.
Outside of "Star Trek," her TV appearances were limited, but 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 did voice work on such shows as "Gargoyles" (1994-1996), "Futurama" (2000-2002), and "The Simpsons" (2004).
Later in her life, embracing her legacy, Nichols became an advocate for NASA and space exploration.
In 1994, she published her autobiography, "Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories," which became a best seller.