The much beloved actress Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek’s Lieutenant Uhura, has passed on at the age of 89.
Nichelle Nichols was born December 28, 1932 in Robbins, Illinois. She died of heart failure in Silver City, New Mexico last night, July 30, 2022.
Her son, Kyle Johnson, issued the following statement on Facebook:
Sunday, 31 July 2022
Friends, Fans, Colleagues, World
I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament no longer shines for us as it has for so many years.
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.
Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all.
I, and the rest of our family, would appreciate your patience and forbearance as we grieve her loss until we can recover sufficiently to speak further. Her services will be for family members and the closest of her friends and we request that her and our privacy be respected.
Live Long and Prosper,
This is a woman who would leave her mark on not just science fiction, but history itself. Thought of by many as the First Lady of Science Fiction, as Uhura, Nichols broke barriers as not only one half of the first interracial kiss on broadcast television, but as the first person of color to portray a leading role on TV in a role that was not delegated to servant or slave. So great was her impact, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. personally commended her work, and offered her guidance when she considered leaving the show. By encouraging her to continue, he helped cement her legacy as a pioneer in the entertainment industry.
Her show business career began when she was only 16, singing with Duke Ellington’s band. In 1966, she was cast as Lt. Uhura on Star Trek: the Original Series; Whoopi Goldberg, who would later play Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation reported she ran at once to inform her family that there was a Black woman on TV who wasn’t a maid. In her role as Uhura she was an inspiration to astronaut Mae Jemison. On the CBS TV show All Rise, Judge Lola Carmichael (Simone Missick, Misty Knight on Luke Cage and Iron Fist) keeps a photograph of Nicholls as Uhura, as her character’s inspiration.
Indirectly, she helped the cause of equal pay for women; when Leonard Nimoy found out that she was being paid less for her on-screen work on Star Trek than her bridge mates, he took the matter to the front office and had it out with them, and got the matter fixed.
She eventually did make it to the edge of space.
In 2015, Nichols flew with five educators as part of NASA’s Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program, a professional-development program primarily for sixth- through 12th-grade teachers and science-center educators who fly along with scientists. On their return home, the educators shared the scientific research and teamwork they experienced with students and the public at large, encouraging others to pursue science, technology, engineering and math careers.
“Flying on SOFIA has many parallels to the starship Enterprise,” Nichols said in a statement. “We went where no man or woman has gone before, and I think that’s what SOFIA gives us — a tool to study where we want to go in the future,” she added. “It’s magnificent.”
Nichelle Nichols has been in poor health in recent years; she suffered a minor stroke in 2015. Her son, actor Kyle Johnson, had her placed in a conservatorship to protect her interests from “friends and fans” whom he feared would take advantage of her after she was diagnosed with dementia.
She was a working actress, even into her later years. Her final roles included many that played on her fame as Lt. Nyota Uhura, including her role as Admiral Jamison in 2017’s Renegades, the role of Octavia Butler in a 2020 episode of Marc Scott Zicree’s Space Command, and a spoof of pretty much every sci-fi tv and movie trope ever, which starred a remarkable number of Star Trek alumni, called Unbelievable!, released in 2020. Her last released role was in the TV series 12 to Midnight, playing the part of Sevorah.
Awards: NASA’s distinguished Public Service Award. First African-American to have her handprints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. She received a stat on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992.
Survivors: She was married and divorced twice, and had one son, Kyle Johnson.
Other Roles: Senator Dobson in Drones, Clones, and Pheromones, Ruana in Tarzan, Athena in The Order.
The First Lady of Science Fiction has passed. We honor her. We cherish her memory. And, we thank her for the glorious, wonderful life she shared with us all.
Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as short stories in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, “Supernatural Colorado”, “Barbarian Crowns”, “Cat Tails””Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions, Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.
I only had the privilege of seeing and hearing her once in person. But I’ve admired her work many, many times. And her encounter with Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of my favorite stories in all of entertainment. When I think if Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, I think of her.