Nichelle Nichols, the pioneering Uhura from Star Trek, passed away at age 89

Nichelle Nichols, who helped redefine roles for Black performers by playing starship communications officer Lieutenant Uhura in the 1960s science fiction TV series “Star Trek” and related motion pictures, has passed away at age 89, according to her family.

Martin Luther King Jr. and a young Barack Obama were among Nichols’ admirers. Her son Kyle Johnson posted on Facebook that she “succumbed to natural causes and passed away” on Saturday night.

However, Johnson added, “Her light will stay for us and future generations to appreciate, learn from, and draw inspiration from, like the old galaxies now being glimpsed for the first time.” By featuring Black and minority actors in prominent roles, the series, which went on to become a pop cultural phenomenon, broke down preconceptions that were prevalent in American television at the time.

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When she and “Star Trek” actor William Shatner shared the first interracial kiss on American television in 1968, they broke down a social barrier.

She had intended to leave “Star Trek” after just one season, but King, a prominent civil rights activist of the 1960s, persuaded her to stay because it was so groundbreaking to have a Black woman portray a senior member of the crew at a time when Black people were battling for equality in American society.

Nichols also contributed to breaking down colour boundaries at NASA, whose administrators were “Star Trek” devotees. In the 1970s, the space agency hired Nichols to assist in recruiting after she criticised it for failing to choose suitable women and people of colour as astronauts.

The first Black woman astronaut, Mae Jemison, the first female U.S. astronaut, Sally Ride, and the first Black NASA administrator, Charlie Bolden, were all attracted thanks in part to her efforts.

NASA wrote on Twitter that Nichols “symbolised to so many what was possible” and “motivated generations to aim for the heavens.”

Future Black actors, such as Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg, were influenced by Nichols’ portrayal of the capable, level-headed Uhura. Nichols remembered that Goldberg had told her about viewing “Star Trek” at the age of nine, recognising her as Uhura, and crying to her mother, “Come quickly! A black woman is on television, and she is not a maid!”

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Only three seasons of the original “Star Trek” television series, which followed the adventures of the crew of the spaceship USS Enterprise in the year 2369, were shown on the NBC network. However, it experienced tremendous popularity in syndication in the 1970s, inspiring a number of feature films and television programmes after first reuniting the ensemble in an animated series from 1973 to 1975.

The last “Star Trek” movie Nichols starred in was “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” in 1991.

While engaging with Captain James T. Kirk (Shatner), Vulcan first officer Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and the vessel’s helmsman, Sulu, Uhura skillfully handled the communications of the starship Enterprise with allies and alien cultures (George Takei).

Takei described Nichols as a trailblazer and an inspiration on Twitter, writing that they “lived long and succeeded together.” “(My) eyes shine like the stars you are currently resting among, but (my) heart is heavy.”

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The first written interracial kiss to air on American television was in Nichols’ most well-known scene, though it wasn’t a romantic one. In the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren,” aliens playing with the weak humans forced Uhura and Kirk to telekinetically kiss. Nichols disliked Shatner because she thought he was haughty in real life.

Shatner praised her on Twitter, writing, “She was a lovely woman and played an honourable character that did so much for redefining social concerns both here in the US & throughout the world.”

She had a different opinion of “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry who hired her after she appeared in another of his produced shows. He and Nichols had a relationship in the 1960s, and at his death in 1991, Nichols performed a song titled “Gene.”

In June 2015, Nichols, who had one child and had been married twice, experienced a small stroke.

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