Nichelle Nichols, best known for her groundbreaking role as Nyota Uhura in the original Star Trek series, died at the age of 89. Her son, Kyle Johnson, informed her fans in a post on Nichols’ Instagram account.
“Last night my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and died,” Johnson writes. “However, her light, like the ancient galaxies now seen for the first time, will remain for us and future generations to enjoy, learn and be inspired by.”
Nichols was born on December 28, 1932 in Robbins, Illinois. Before joining the cast of Star Trek, Nichols toured with jazz artist Duke Ellington as a dancer and singer, and later starred in the 1959 film Porgy and Bess, as well as in the television series The Lieutenant (1964).
Nichols joined the Star Trek cast in 1966 as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, making history as the first black woman to star on TV. She almost left Star Trek for a Broadway career, but eventually a meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. her to stay on the show. dr. King, herself a Star Trek fan, reminded Nichols of the monumental significance of her role, leading her to resign. Nichols stayed on Star Trek until the original series ended in 1969.
Nichols’ legacy extends far beyond Star Trek. She worked with NASA to encourage the recruitment of astronauts from underrepresented backgrounds. Her work helped carry the first woman, Sally Ride, and the first black man, Colonel Guion Bluford, to space. The 2019 film Woman in Motion is devoted to the impact of Nichols’ advocacy on NASA. Last December, Nichols announced that she’d stopped advocating for space after a final appearance at LA Comic Con.
Nichols’ colleagues and castmates reacted online to the news of her death. dr. King’s daughter, Bernice, writes on Twitter: “Representation is important. Excellence in representation is even more important… Rest in peace, ancestor.’
George Takei, best known for his role as Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek, also posted a tribute to Nichols on Twitter. “I will have more to say about the pioneering, incomparable Nichelle Nichols, who shared the bridge with us as Lieutenant Uhura of the USS Enterprise, and who passed today at the age of 89,” said Takei. “For today my heart is heavy, my eyes shine like the stars you rest now among, my dear friend.”