Nichelle Nichols, trailblazing Star Trek actress, dies at 89

Posted Sunday, July 31, 2022 6:09:57 PM
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Nichelle Nichols, a groundbreaking actress, singer, and dancer, has died. The actress' career also included a role on The Young and the Restless.

Iconic. Groundbreaking. Trailblazer. There are many words that can be used to describe actress Nichelle Nichols, yet none seems adequate. It's perhaps most accurate to say that Nichols chose to boldly go where no one had gone before.

Nichols, best known for her portrayal of Lt. Nyota Uhura in the original Star Trek series, has died at age 89, according to a statement from her son, Kyle Johnson.

"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," Johnson said in a statement shared to Nichols' official site on Sunday. "Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all."

Nichols was born Grace Dell Nichols near Chicago in 1932. Unhappy with the name "Grace," Nichols took the name Nichelle when she was a teenager.

Blessed with a four-octave vocal range, Nichols was performing in local clubs by the time she was 14. Among the performers she met was Duke Ellington, who later took her on tour. She also worked extensively in Chicago clubs and in theater.

In the early 1960s, Nichols moved to Los Angeles and landed a role in a Gene Roddenberry series, The Lieutenant, where she worked along Leonard Nimoy, Walter Koenig, and Majel Barrett, who would also go on to appear in Star Trek roles.

When Star Trek launched in 1966, Nichols broke ground in more than one way. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., called Nichols' role "the first non-stereotypical role by a Black woman in television history." An on-screen kiss between Nichols' Uhura and William Shatner's James T. Kirk is widely known as one of the first interracial kisses on American television.

George Takei, who portrayed Hikaru Sulu on the original Star Trek series, posted a touching tribute to his co-star. "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," wrote Takei on Twitter. "For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend."

While Star Trek was a fictional program about outer space, Nichols helped the very real NASA become more diverse. She helped recruit astronauts Sally Ride, Judith Resnick, and Guion Bluford.

While Nichols' legendary career transcends genres, the daytime world was lucky enough to welcome her into the family during a brief stint on The Young and the Restless in September 2016. Nichols played Lucinda Winters, the mother of Kristoff St. John's Neil Winters.

"I'm thrilled and honored to be a member of the cast of this historic moment in daytime television," Nichols said of her new role. "I've been a huge fan of The Young and the Restless for decades. I'm equally honored to be from Chicago like the Bell Family who created this incredible TV show."

Nichols earned a Daytime Emmy nomination as Outstanding Guest Performer.

"Our thoughts are with the family of the legendary Nichelle Nichols," The Young and the Restless said in a statement. "We are honored she blessed Y&R with her extraordinary talents."

Other honors Nichols has received include a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Life Career Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, and having Asteroid 68410 Nichols named in her honor.

Nichols is survived by her son, Kyle Johnson.

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