One of the most legendary figures in the ‘Star Trek’ franchise, best known for her groundbreaking portrayal of Lietenant Nyota Uhura in “Star Trek: The Original Series,” has passed away at age 89 according to a statement from her son, Kyle Johnson.
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,” Johnson said in a statement shared to Nichols’ official site on Sunday. “Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all.”
Nichols died from natural causes, he said.
Nichols played communications officer Lt. Uhura in the “Star Trek” TV Series and many other major motion pictures as well.
When the franchise began in 1966, Nichols was a rare beauty. A Black woman in a major role on a prime-time television series. It was truly groundbreaking. There had been Black women on television before, but they were not in major roles like Nichols.
The late great Martin Luther King Jr. called it “the first non-stereotypical role portrayed by a Black woman in television history.”
Nichols broke even more history when she participated in one of the first ever interacial kisses on national television when her character kissed Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner).
In a 2014 interview with CNN, Nichols said that kiss scene “changed television forever” and that it also changed the way Americans looked at each other.
Nichols even worked for NASA after three seasons on Star-Trek, working to make the agency more diverse, and hiring and recruiting astronauts like Sally Ride, Judith Resnik, and Guion Bluford, among many others.
George Takei, who portrayed the USS Enterprise’s helmsman Hikaru Sulu, posted a touching tribute to his co-star.
“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,” wrote Takei 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,” he added with a photo of the pair making the iconic Vulcan salute.
“(My agent said), ‘They’re doing ‘Star Trek,’ and I didn’t know what a ‘Star Trek’ was,” she said in an interview with the Television Academy.
Uhura wasn’t in the original script, and Nichols was responsible for the name. She was reading a book called “Uhuru” — “freedom” in Swahili — and suggested her character take the name. Roddenberry thought it was too harsh.
“I said, ‘Well, why don’t you do an alteration of it, soften the end with an ‘A,’ and it’ll be Uhura?’ ” she recalled. “He said, ‘That’s it, that’s your name! You named it; it’s yours.’ ”
Nichols is survived by her son, Kyle Johnson.
Thanks to CNN and the AP for contributing to this article.
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