Nichelle Nichols, a well-known actress who played Nyota Uhura in the original Star Trek series and in numerous subsequent films, died Saturday night at the age of 89. The news was confirmed by her longtime manager Gilbert Bell.
Nichols was born in Robbins, Illinois, in 1932, and began her entertainment career as a vocalist with the Duke Ellingtons orchestra. She then began performing musical theatre in New York and Los Angeles before becoming the star in Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek in 1966, featuring Nichols in one of the first major roles for a Black woman in network television history.
Nichols decided to leave the show at the end of the first season after receiving an invitation to perform in a Broadway musical. Fortunately, she was convinced by an unlikely Trekkie: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at an NAACP conference, where he explained why he loved seeing Star Trek with his wife and kids.
Nichols remained a cast member of the show for the whole three-season run, ending with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, beginning with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and finishing with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. She went on to star in six Star Trek films, including one of the first televised interracial kisses with co-star William Shatner in 1968.
She continued to use the platform that Star Trek gave her for good causes, often volunteering her time to promote the NASA space program. Her activism was often focused on increasing diversity in NASA, inspiring young Black people and women to pursue careers in the space program, and promoting the work of those who already had.
Kyle Johnson, Nichols' son, is also a family member.