Nichelle Nichols, who was Lieutenant Nyota Uhura in the original “Star Trek” series, has died at the age of 89.
Nichols passed away on Saturday in Silver City, New Mexico, from heart failure, according to Sky Conway, a writer and film producer serving as family spokesman at the behest of Kyle Johnson, Nichols’s son, according to The New York Times.
BREAKING: Nichelle Nichols, who broke ground for Black women with her role as communications officer Lt. Ntoya Uhura on the original “Star Trek” TV series, has died, her family says. She was 89. https://t.co/ke9jtAx9QN pic.twitter.com/LYvIJD9W1n
— ABC News (@ABC) July 31, 2022
Nichols carried her connection with outer space beyond acting.
In 1977, Nichols worked with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to recruit potential female and minority astronauts.
“Nichols’s role as one of television’s first Black characters to be more than just a stereotype and one of the first women in a position of authority (she was fourth in command of the Enterprise) inspired thousands of applications from women and minorities,” a 2012 NASA release said. “Among them: Ronald McNair, Frederick Gregory, Judith Resnick, first American woman in space Sally Ride and current NASA administrator Charlie Bolden.”
— Star Trek Discovery Pod (@startrekpod) July 31, 2022
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In addition to playing Uhura in the original series, Nichols was the voice of Uhura on “Star Trek: The Animated Series” and reprised her role in the first six “Star Trek” movies, according to Variety.
Her Times obituary included an anecdote in which she was approached by a fan while pondering leaving the show for a Broadway career.
As the story is told, she was told a man wanted to see her who called himself “your biggest fan.”
“He’s desperate to meet you,” she remembered being told. The fan was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“He said, ‘We admire you greatly, you know,’” Nichols said. She told him she was leaving the show.
“He said, ‘You cannot. You cannot.’”
King said the role was important not only for her, but to open the door for other black actors and actresses.
“For the first time, we will be seen on television the way we should be seen every day,” she recalled King saying.
She then said what took place when she spoke to series creator Gene Roddenberry, to whom she had already given her resignation.
“And I said, ‘If you still want me to stay, I’ll stay. I have to.’”