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Star Trek Icon Nichelle Nichols Passes Away

July 31, 2022 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Nichelle Nichols Image Credit: Paramount

One of science fiction’s icons has left us, as Nichelle Nichols, best known as Lt. Uhura from Star Trek has passed away. Deadline reports that Nichols’ talent manager and business partner confirmed the news that the legendary actress passed away on Saturday night at the age of 89.

Nichols will forever be known to fans as Nyota Uhura, the communications officer on the original Star Trek and the first six Star Trek movies. Nichols also voiced the character in Star Trek: The Animated Series and reprised the role on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in 1996. When she was cast in the role in 1963 she became one of the first Black women featured in a major role on a broadcast network television series.

The role famously broke down barriers, not only in terms of playing a prominent role on TV but also famously for one of the first (and easily the most well-known) interracial kisses on TV. That kiss came in the November 22, 1968 episode “Plato’s Stepchildren.” The network, which was nervous about the idea of portraying a interracial kiss, demanded alternate takes without it but Shatner and Nicholes deliberately flubbed every such take so that they would have to air the moment.

Nichols at one point considered leaving Star Trek early on after the first season for a role on Broadway, but was talked out of it by Dr. Martin Luther King. Nichols recalled how King met with her at an NAACP luncheon and he encouraged her to stay on, noting how important her role was for Black children in terms of representation and paving the way for other Black actors to appear on TV.

While Nichols was most well-known for Uhura, she had several other acting roles throughout her career. She appeared in 2002’s Snow Dogs with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ice Cube’s 2005 comedy Are We There Yet? as well as the 1986 horror film The Supernaturals. On TV, she played Nana Dawson in NBC’s superhero series Heroes. She also did a lot of voice acting; among her more memorable voice roles were Diane Maza in Gargoyles, Miriam in Spider-Man: The Animated Series, and appearing as her self in episodes of Futurama and The Simpsons.

Nichols’ influence also extended beyond the screen. Following the original Star Trek series’ cancellation, she worked with NASA in helping recruit people of color and women into the agency’s ranks. Among those recruited by Nichols’ organization Women in Motion were Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut, as well as the first African-American astronaut Guion Bluford. In 2016, she became the first woman to win the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films’ The Life Career Award and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992.

On behalf of 411, our condolences to the family, friends, and many fans of Nichols. She will most certainly be missed, and the world would not have been the same without her.