Image source: CNN
On Saturday night, the world lost another gem as Nichelle Nichols passed away at the age of 89.
In a statement on Facebook, Kyle Johnson, Nichols’ son, wrote:
“I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament no longer shines for us as it has for so many years.”
Johnson also wrote a statement on her official site on Sunday, writing:
“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.”
Who was Nichelle Nichols?
The modern film landscape would not have existed had it not been for Nichelle Nichols.
Venturing where no woman of color had gone before – breaking stereotypes as Lt. Nyota Uhura in the Star Trek TV series and films.
As Lt. Uhura, Nichols portrayed a competent and level-headed communications officer.
The character was a notable one that strayed from the domestic workers and minor roles as Nichols’ Uhura was an integral piece that completed the multicultural Star Trek crew.
Nichols also earned praise from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, who called it “the first non-stereotypical role portrayed by a Black woman in television history.”
His comments helped the actress change her mind as she considered leaving the show.
“Gene Rodenberry opened a door for the world to see,” he told her.
“If you leave, that door can be closed because your role is not a Black role and it’s not a female role – he can fill it with anyone, including an alien.”
Nichelle Nichols also made waves when she participated in one of the first interracial kisses on US television when Lt. Uhura kissed William Shatner’s James T. Kirk.
The kiss scene “changed television forever,” according to Nichols in a 2014 interview. “It also changed the way people looked at one another.”
Early life & career
Born Grace Dell Nichols in 1932, she would later adapt the name Nichelle as a teenager – unhappy with Grace.
Nichols was blessed with a four-octave vocal range, and she would perform in local clubs at 14.
During that time, she met with several performers, including Duke Ellington, who took her on tour.
During the early 1960s, Nichelle Nichols moved to Los Angeles, where she landed a role in a series called “The Lieutenant” by Gene Roddenberry, which also included other Star Trek veterans.
While developing Star Trek, Roddenberry remembered Nichols and called her.
Although Uhura wasn’t part of the original script, Nichols came up with the name.
Inspired by a book she read called “Uhuru,” which translated to freedom in Swahili, Nichols pitched the name to Roddenberry, who felt it was too harsh.
“I said, “Well, why don’t you do an alteration of it,” she recalled.
“Soften the end with an ‘A,’ and it’ll be Uhura? He said, “That’s it, that’s your name. You named it – it’s yours.”
Nichelle Nichols’ passing away made waves across the globe.
US President Joe Biden was among the many who paid tribute to the legendary actress, saying:
“In Nichelle Nichols, our nation has lost a trailblazer of stage and screen who redefined what is possible for Black Americans and women.”
George Takei, Nichols’ co-star and renowned as the USS Enterprise helmsman Hikaru Sulu, also posted a touching tribute online.
“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,” he wrote on Twitter.
“For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend.”
“We lived long and prospered together.”
The National Air and Space Museum also paid tribute on Twitter, describing her as “an inspiration to many, not just for her groundbreaking work on Star Trek but also through her work with NASA to recruit women and people of color to apply to become astronauts.”
Opinions expressed by NY Weekly contributors are their own.