Nichelle Nichols, who is best known for her role as communications officer Lieutenant Nyota Uhura on Star Trek has passed away at the age of 89.
The groundbreaking actress was a trailblazer for Black representation in television, starring in the cult classic series alongside Willian Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and George Takei.
Her death was announced in a statement on social media by her son Kyle Johnson who confirmed she had died from natural causes.
Tributes have poured in from former co-stars to US President Joe Biden, who said that Nichols had “shattered stereotypes.”
Here’s everything you need to know about Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols.
Who was Nichelle Nichols?
Nichols was a trailblazing actress who was best known for her role in Star Trek as communications officer Lieutenant Uhura.
The first Black Woman to play a leading role on TV, she broke down barriers and helped inspire the next generation of actors and scientists alike.
The 89-year-old had started off her career as a dancer and nightclub singer, taking the role of Uhura as a “nice stepping stone” to Broadway, but had no idea how influential the part would be.
Her fans even included civil rights leader Martin Luther King Junior, who met Nichols at a civil rights event in 1967 and convinced her to stay on in the series.
Nichols went on to partner with NASA, volunteering with the space agency to help improve their representation.
It was this effort that helped inspire Sally Ride to become the first female American astronaut.
How did Nichelle Nichols die?
Nichols son took to social media to share the news that his mother had “passed away” on 31 July from natural causes.
The actress was diagnosed with dementia in 2013 and had suffered from a stroke in 2015.
The full statement said: “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.
“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.”
Nichols had been in a conservatorship managed by Johnson since 2018 after her former manager Gilbert Bell was accused of financial abuse.
After news of Britney Spears conservatorship made headlines, there was also support for Nichols, with claims that she wanted to be released from the arrangement.
Speaking to BuzzFeed Free Britney campaigner Kevin Wu told the publication: “We’re going to do whatever we can make sure that there’s lasting change for not just Britney, not just Nichelle but everyone who is trapped in this corrupt system.”
What happened in the onscreen kiss with William Shatner?
Nichols and Shatner shared one of the first onscreen kisses between a Black actress and white actor in 1968.
To put the scene into context, the US Supreme Court had only struck down laws banning interracial marriage the year previous.
The episode in which the kiss happened was called Plato’s Stepchildren and saw Uhura and Captain Kirk being made to kiss by aliens.
In an interview with the Archive of American Television in 2010 Nichols said the episode got the most “fan mail that Paramount had ever gotten on Star Trek.”
What were some of Lieutenant Uhura’s best lines?
Nichols played the role of Lieutenant Uhura in the original Star Trek series.
Uhura was in charge of communications, working as the ship’s translator.
She was known for her intelligence, witty remarks and dry humour.
Here are some of Uhura’s best lines:
“Oh, beyond belief, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.”
“Assuming you’re right, Mr. Spock, why would they fire on their own president?”
“And how do you expect us to rescue them when we’re surrounded by Klingons, Captain?”
“Thanks but no thanks.”
“At that volcano, you didn’t give a thought to us. What it would do to me if you died, Spock. You didn’t feel anything. You didn’t care. And I’m not the only one who’s upset with you. The Captain is, too.”
What did William Shatner say?
Tributes for Nichols have poured in from around the world.
Former co-star William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk, took to Twitter.
The Canadian actor said: “I am so sorry to hear about the passing of Nichelle. She was a beautiful woman & played an admirable character that did so much for redefining social issues both here in the US & throughout the world. I will certainly miss her. Sending my love and condolences to her family.”
Other co-stars including George Takei also shared a heartfelt tribute.
In a statement on Twitter Takei said: “For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend.”
Tributes also poured in from actors including William Cruz, who wrote that Nichols “shone a light on who we as people of color are & inspired us to reach for our potential.”
And from US President Joe Biden, who said in a statement: “Our nation has lost a trailblazer of stage and screen who redefined what is possible for Black Americans and women.
“Our nation is forever indebted to inspiring artists like Nichelle Nichols, who show us a future where unity, dignity, and respect are cornerstones of every society.”