She’s joined the great starship now.
Star Trek icon Nichelle Nichols has joined the ancestors, NPR reports.
Born Grace Dell Nichols in a suburb of Chicago where her father served as mayor, she always had big dreams. As a child, she sang and danced, aspiring to be an actress in musical theater one day. She got her first break in the 1961 musical Kicks and Co., before going on to star in a production of Carmen Jones and then Porgy and Bess in New York.
“To me, the highlight and the epitome of my life as a singer and actor and a dancer/choreographer was to star on Broadway,” Nichols told reporters in 2011. In 1966, Nichols got her big break in the original Star Trek television series as communications officer Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, a name derived from the Swahili word Uhuru which means “freedom.”
The role was groundbreaking, Nichols becoming one of the first representations of Black women in mainstream television. Nichols’ character skyrocketed in popularity, breaking barriers with the character, her kiss with Captain James T. Kirk in a 1968 episode, becoming one of the first interracial moments on TV. Nichols spoke previously with reporters about the viewers’ fascination with her character and how it contributed to a sense of equality in the real world.
“Here I was projecting in the 23rd century what should have been quite simple. We’re on a starship. I was head communications officer. Fourth in command on a starship. They didn’t see this as being, oh, it doesn’t happen till the 23rd century. Young people and adults saw it as now,” Nichols previously recalled.
But Nichols didn’t always see it that way. At one point, she wanted to leave to pursue better and more lucrative opportunities. When she went to creator Gene Roddenberry, he urged her to reconsider her decision and think about the larger goals of representation on the show. That same weekend she ran into Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who echoed Roddenberry’s sentiments.
“[Dr. King] complimented me on the manner in which I’d created the character. I thanked him, and I think I said something like, “Dr. King, I wish I could be out there marching with you.” He said, ‘no, no, no. No, you don’t understand. We don’t need you…to march. You are marching. You are reflecting what we are fighting for.’ So, I said to him, ‘thank you so much. And I’m going to miss my co-stars,'” Nichols recalled.
At that moment, Nichols said Dr. King got serious, inquiring what she was talking about as she began explaining to him that she was going to quit.
“He stopped me and said: ‘You cannot do that.’ I was stunned. He said, ‘don’t you understand what this man has achieved? For the first time, we are being seen the world over as we should be seen. He says, do you understand that this is the only show that my wife Coretta and I will allow our little children to stay up and watch.’ I was speechless,” said Nichols.
It was then that she decided to stay, continuing on the series until its end in 1969. Nichols would reprise her role several times over the years, in six different feature films including Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan where Lt. Uhura was finally promoted to commander. While she was making strides on television, Nichols also championed diversity in real life, working with NASA to recruit women and minorities like astronauts Sally Ride, Judith Resnik, and Guion Bluford. She was also the founder of Women in Motion, a science foundation.
Nichols also became a regular in the comic scene, regularly making appearances at Comic Con. Last December, just before her 89th birthday, she made her final appearance at Los Angeles’ Comic Con, being honored with a special three-day farewell that culminated with a dinner. The celebration was attended by Nichols’ younger sister Marian Michaels, actresses Judy Pace and Beverly Todd, Star Trek: Discovery actress Sonequa Martin-Green and former NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, who made history as the first Black woman to travel into space in 1992.
The veteran actress spent her time posing with fans, signing autographs, and dancing the night away at her celebration dinner after hearing loved ones share personal stories and behind-the-scenes moments from her career and life.
Now Nichols has joined the great beyond, passing away Saturday, July 30 at the age of 89.
“I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament no longer shines for us as it has for so many years. 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,” her son Kyle Johnson wrote via statement.
Jemison and fellow actors took to social media to share their condolences and share how important Nichols was to them, including LeVar Burton who played the iconic role of Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
@NichelleIsUhura is forever for me the embodiment of grace, daring, intelligence, fun, inspiration, beauty, talent & the future.
Today I am heart-sad at her passing.
I consider our dearest friendship a great treasure & privilege in my life. pic.twitter.com/1U1PpWSryyadvertisement
— Dr. Mae Jemison (@maejemison) July 31, 2022
Heartbroken at the news of her passing, however, I am comforted in the knowledge that she illuminated the way for so of us many with her grace, beauty, talent, intelligence and her commitment to humanity going boldly to the stars! #godess #queen
— LeVar Burton (@levarburton) July 31, 2022advertisement
“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,” tweeted actress Lynda Carter who played 1970s Wonder Woman on TV.
Costar George Takei, who played Star Trek helmsman Hikaru Sulu also posted a photo of him and Nichols holding up the signature Vulcan greeting with the caption: “We lived long and prospered together.”
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. For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend.
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) July 31, 2022advertisement
“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,” Takei wrote.
Now you are soaring with the stars, Ms. Nichols! Thank you for everything.
Photo Courtesy of CBS/Getty Images