On Saturday night, the world lost another gem when singer & actress Nichelle Nichols died at the age of 89.
Kyle Johnson, Nichols’ son, wrote on Facebook:
“I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament no longer shines for us as it has for so many years.”
He also wrote a statement on her official site on Sunday.:
“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.”
Who was Nichelle Nichols?
The modern entertainment landscape would not have existed without Nichelle Nichols.
Venturing where no Black woman had ever gone before, she broke stereotypes as the Lt. Nyota Uhura in the Star Trek TV series and movies.
As Lieutenant Uhura, Nichols played a competent and balanced communications officer.
The character was known for moving away from domestic helpers and minor roles as Nichols’ Uhura was integral to completing Star Trek’s multicultural crew.
Nichols also caught the attention of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, who called her role “the first non-stereotypical role portrayed by a Black woman in television history.”
Luther King Jr.’s comments helped the actress reconsider her decision to leave the show.
“Gene Rodenberry opened a door for the world to see,” he told her.
“If you leave, that door can be closed because your role is not a Black role and it’s not a female role – he can fill it with anyone, including an alien.”
Nichelle Nichols also caused a stir when she starred in one of the first interracial kisses on American television when she and William Shatner’s Lt. James T. kissed.
The kissing scene “changed television forever,” according to Nichols in a 2014 interview.
“It also changed the way people looked at one another.”
Early life & career
Born Grace Dell Nichols in 1932, she would later change her name Nichelle as a teenager, displeased with Grace.
Nichols was blessed with a four octave vocal range and would perform in local clubs at the age of 14.
During that time, she met several artists, including Duke Ellington, who took her on tour.
In the early 1960s, Nichelle Nichols moved to Los Angeles, where she landed a part in a series called “The Lieutenant” by Gene Roddenberry, which also included other Star Trek veterans.
During the development of Star Trek, Roddenberry remembered Nichols and called her. Although Uhura was not part of the original script, Nichols came up with the name.
Inspired by a book she read called “Uhuru”, which translates to freedom in Swahili, Nichols pitched the name to Roddenberry, which he thought was too harsh.
“I said, “Well, why don’t you do an alteration of it,” she recalled.
“Soften the end with an ‘A,’ and it’ll be Uhura? He said, “That’s it, that’s your name. You named it – it’s yours.”
The death of Nichelle Nichols has caused waves around the world.
US President Joe Biden was among many to pay tribute to the legendary actress, saying:
“In Nichelle Nichols, our nation has lost a trailblazer of stage and screen who redefined what is possible for Black Americans and women.”
George Takei, Nichols’ co-star and known as USS Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu, has also posted a touching tribute online.
“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,” he wrote on Twitter.
“For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend.”
“We lived long and prospered together.”
The National Air and Space Museum also paid tribute on Twitter, saying she was “an inspiration to many, not just for her groundbreaking work on Star Trek but also through her work with NASA to recruit women and people of color to apply to become astronauts.”