Nichelle Nichols, who broke barriers for black women in Hollywood when she played communications officer Uhura in the original Star Trek TV series, has died at the age of 89.
Her son Kyle Johnson said Nichols died Saturday in Silver City, New Mexico.
“Last night my mother, Nichelle Nichols, passed away of natural causes. Her light, like the ancient galaxies now being seen for the first time, will remain for us and generations to come to enjoy, learn from and be inspired by.” Johnson wrote. on her official Facebook page on Sunday. “Her life was well lived and as such an example to us all.”
Her role in the series 1966-69 as Lt. Uhura earned Nichols lifelong honors with the show’s rabid fans. It also earned her accolades for breaking stereotypes that had limited black women to playing servant roles and featured an on-screen interracial kiss with co-star William Shatner that was unheard of at the time.
“I will 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 died today at the age of 89,” wrote George Takei on Twitter. “For today my heart is heavy, my eyes shine like the stars you rest among, my dear best friend.”
Like the rest of the original cast, Nichols also appeared in six blockbuster episodes beginning in 1979 with “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and frequented “Star Trek” fan conventions. She also worked for many years as a NASA recruiter, helping to bring minorities and women into the astronaut corps.
She recently had a recurring role on TV’s ‘Heroes’, playing the grandmother of a young boy with mystical powers.
The original “Star Trek” premiered on NBC on September 8, 1966. Its multicultural, multiracial cast was creator Gene Roddenberry’s message to viewers that in the distant future – the 23rd century – human diversity would be fully accepted.
“I think a lot of people took it to heart … that what was being said on television at that time was cause for celebration,” Nichols said in 1992 when a “Star Trek” exhibit was on display at the Smithsonian Institution.
She often recalled how Martin Luther King Jr. was a fan of the show and praised her role. She met him at a civil rights rally in 1967, at a time when she had decided not to return for a second season of the show.
“When I told him I was going to miss my co-stars and I was leaving the show, he got really serious and said, ‘You can’t do it,'” she told The Tulsa (Okla.) World in 2008.
“You’ve changed the face of television forever, and because of that, you’ve changed people’s minds,” she said the civil rights leader told her.
“The foresight that Dr. King was a lightning bolt in my life,” Nichols said.
During the show’s third season, Nichols and Shatner’s character Capt. James Kirk in what was described as the first interracial kiss shown on American television. In the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren”, their characters, who always maintained a platonic relationship, were forced to kiss by aliens who controlled their actions.
The kiss “suggested that there was a future where these issues weren’t such a big deal,” National Public Radio television critic Eric Deggans told The Associated Press in 2018. “The characters themselves weren’t freaking out because a black woman was kissing a white man … In this utopian future, we solve this issue. We are beyond that. It was a wonderful message to send.”
Worried about the reaction from southern television stations, the show’s hosts wanted to shoot another shot of the scene where the kiss took place off-screen. But Nichols said in her book, “Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories,” that she and Shatner deliberately flubbed lines to force the use of the original film.
Despite concerns, the show aired without backlash. In fact, it received the most “fan mail Paramount had ever received on Star Trek for a single episode,” Nichols said in a 2010 interview with the Archive of American Television.
Born Grace Dell Nichols in Robbins, Illinois, Nichols hated being called “Gracie,” which everyone insisted on, she said in the 2010 interview. When she was a teenager, her mother told her she wanted to name her Michelle, but she thought she should have multiple initials like Marilyn Monroe, whom Nichols loved. Hence, “Nichelle.”
Nichols first worked as a singer and dancer in Chicago at the age of 14, hit New York nightclubs and worked briefly with the Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton bands before coming to Hollywood for her film debut in 1959’s “Porgy and Bess.” the first of several small film and television roles that led to her “Star Trek” stardom.
Nichols was known for not being afraid to stand up to Shatner on set when others complained that he was stealing scenes and camera time. They later found out that she had a strong supporter of the show.
In her 1994 book, she said she met Roddenberry while starring in his show “The Lieutenant” and the two had an affair several years before “Star Trek” began. The two were lifelong close friends.
Another fan of Nichols and the show was future astronaut Mae Jemison, who became the first black woman in space when she flew aboard the space shuttle Endeavor in 1992.
Nichelle Nichols, Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek, dies at the age of 89
Source link Nichelle Nichols, Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek, dies at the age of 89