Nichelle Nichols Dies: ‘Star Trek’ Icon Was 89

Nichelle Nichols in Star Trek (Credit: CBS)

Nichelle Nichols, an actress who broke barriers as one of the first African-American women with a lead role on a television series when she was cast on Star Trek, has died. She was 89.

Nichols’ son, Kyle Johnson, shared the news of her passing Sunday on her official Facebook page.

“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,” Johnson wrote.

He added, “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.”

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Nichelle Nichols at the 44th Daytime Emmy Awards - Arrivals, Pasadena Civic Auditorium, Pasadena, CA 04-30-17. (Credit: S. Bukley/Deposit Photos)
Nichelle Nichols at the 44th Daytime Emmy Awards in Pasadena, CA. 04-30-17. (Credit: S. Bukley/Deposit Photos)

Nichols was best known for playing Lt. Uhura on Star Trek in the 1960s. She reprised the role in six Star Trek films.

It was widely reported that she wanted to quit the show in the first season to pursue a career on Broadway, but a conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. about her importance of being a role model for Black children changed her mind.

As news of her death spread, tributes poured in on Twitter.

The official Star Trek account tweeted: “A trailblazer, an inspiration, and so much more. She will be deeply missed.”

Star Trek alum George Takei wrote, “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… For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend.”

Wonder Woman
star Lynda Carter added: “Many actors become stars, but few stars can move a nation. Nichelle Nichols showed us the extraordinary power of Black women and paved the way for a better future for all women in media. Thank you, Nichelle. We will miss you.”

Born Grace Nichols in Robbins, Illinois. on Dec. 28, 1932, Nichols began her show business career at age 16 singing with Duke Ellington and touring with his band.

Among her other acting credits were roles in the television series Heroes, Futurama, Renegades, and on The Young and the Restless. She also had small roles in the films Made in Paris, Mr. Buddwing and Doctor, You’ve Got to Be Kidding!, and Are We There Yet?.

In addition to her acting career, Nichols worked with NASA to recruit women and minorities into the space program.

In recent years, she was diagnosed with “moderate progressive dementia,” and had been the subject of a lengthy conservatorship battle.

Nichols’ son filed for legal guardianship over the actress and her estate, although some of her friends claimed he may have had ill intentions.