Nichelle Nichols, best known for her portrayal of Nyota Uhura in the original Star Trek series and its film sequels, died Saturday, July 30th, 2022 at the age of 89. The announcement was made via her official website.
Nichelle Nichols, born on December 28th, 1932, was an American actress, singer, and icon. She is best known for her portrayal of Nyota Uhura in the original Star Trek series and its film sequels. Her performance as Uhura broke barriers for women of color in television, paving the way for future black women in entertainment like Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey.
Nichols was also an icon for the Civil Rights movement, as her appearance on the show greatly changed how African Americans were portrayed on television. In fact, it was Martin Luther King jr who convinced Nichelle to stay on Star Trek, helping to humanize the civil rights movement for millions of Americans.
“I thought it was a Trekkie, and so I said, ‘Sure.’ I looked across the room and whoever the fan was had to wait because there was Dr. Martin Luther King walking towards me with this big grin on his face. He reached out to me and said, ‘Yes, Ms. Nichols, I am your greatest fan.’ He said that Star Trek was the only show that he, and his wife Coretta, would allow their three little children to stay up and watch. [She told King about her plans to leave the series because she wanted to take a role that was tied to Broadway.]
I never got to tell him why, because he said, ‘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.” Dr. King Jr went further stating “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”
Nichelle Nichols was also deeply important to NASA and African Americans in space. Nichelle Nichols first became involved in promoting NASA’s programs in 1977, and she recruited diverse astronauts, including women and ethnic minorities, for many years thereafter until suffering a stroke in 2015. In 2018, Nichelle Nichols was diagnosed with Dementia, and in recent years, Nichols had been experiencing a health decline, which ultimately led to her retirement from public appearances.
We were fortunate enough to witness the legend at her final public appearance in Los Angeles, and she remained radiant as ever up until the very end. Her death on Saturday is a hard one to take, and we know many Trekkies will be heartbroken upon hearing this news.
The loss of Nichelle Nichols will be mourned by many around the world. She was an incredible woman whose contributions to society were immense. Her legacy will live on through the many people she inspired during her lifetime.
Her son’s full statement is below:
“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,