Star Trek icon Nichelle Nichols dies at 89

Celebrities pay tribute to the late Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols

Nichelle Nichols as Nyota Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series

Nichelle Nichols, one of the cast members of Star Trek: The Original Series, has passed away.

Is Nichelle Nichols still alive?

Nichols died of heart failure on July 30th, 2022 in Silver City, New Mexico. She was 89.

Nichols’ son, Kyle Johnson, confirmed the news of her death the following day with a message posted on the actress’ Facebook page.

“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,” wrote Johnson. “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.”

Johnson continued: “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.”

Nichelle Nichols’ dementia

In early 2018, four years before her death, Nichols was diagnosed with dementia and subsequently announced her retirement from convention appearances. Three years prior to her dementia diagnosis, in 2015, Nichols suffered a mild stroke at her Los Angeles home and was admitted to a Los Angeles-area hospital.

Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek

Nichelle Nichols as Nyota Uhura in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Nichelle Nichols as Nyota Uhura in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Nichols originated the role of Nyota Uhura in the Star Trek franchise. She made her debut appearance as Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969) and reprised the role in Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973), and in the first six Star Trek movies, namely, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991),

Nichol’s Uhura served as the communications officer aboard the USS Enterprise. Though she specialized in linguistics, cryptography, and philology, the character was also depicted as a capable bridge officer and readily assumed control of the helm, navigation and science stations on the bridge when the need arose.

Nichols’ portrayal of Uhura was groundbreaking as it was one of the first times that an African-American actress portrayed a non-stereotypical role on television. Previously, most African-American female characters on U.S. TV were depicted as maids or housekeepers, and Nichols’ Uhura helped break that barrier.

Nichols’ kiss with William Shatner’s James T. Kirk in the episode Plato’s Stepchildren in the Star Trek: The Original Series is also widely recognized as the first interracial kiss on American television.

Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and James T. Kirk (William Shatner) sharing a kiss on the lips in Star Trek: The Original Series
The kiss between Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and James T. Kirk (William Shatner) in Star Trek: The Original Series

Nichols’ Uhura became so iconic that she became a part of a special project in 1977 to recruit minority and female personnel for NASA. That space program is covered in the 2019 documentary film Woman in Motion. Among those Nichols directly recruited through the program were Dr. Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut, and U.S. Air Force Colonel Guion Bluford, the first African-American astronaut. In 1979, Nichols was named as NASA’s Woman of the Year for her efforts.

Woman in Motion: Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek and the Remaking of NASA: Official Trailer (2021)

Star Trek mourns the loss of Nichelle Nichols

Since the news of Nichols’ passing made headlines, several members of the Star Trek family, both old and new, have taken to social media to pay tribute to the actress. Among those who have remembered Nichols on Twitter are current Star Trek universe head Alex Kurtzman, Star Trek Kelvin timeline head  J.J. Abrams, Nichols’ former Star Trek: The Original Series co-star George Takei, and several stars of Paramount+’s Star Trek streaming franchise. Check out their tweets and other posts from other celebrities below:

Click here to find out about other Star Trek actors that have passed away.

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