The One And Only Nichelle Nichols Has Died At 89

August 1, 2022 / Posted by:

Every synonym for legend, trailblazer, pioneer, and icon could be easily used to describe Nichelle Nichols. So the world suffered a great loss over the weekend when the legendary trailblazing pioneer icon died. Nichelle was 89.

The sad news was announced yesterday by Nichelle’s only child, Kyle Johnson. Kyle wrote on Nichelle’s website that she died of natural causes on Saturday night. Nichelle had been suffering from dementia for some time. And Kyle led the many, many tributes that honored Nichelle for being the light and groundbreaker she was.

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.

Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all.

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,

Kyle Johnson

Nichelle Nichols was born Grace Dell Nichols on December 28, 1932 in Robbins, Illinois. Nichelle’s journey to becoming a legend started in the theater. She played the title role in a Chicago production of Carmen Jones, was in a New York production of Porgy and Bess, and was in the musical Kicks and Co., which closed on the road before making it to Broadway. Nichelle was also a model and got the cover of Ebony in 1967. When she wasn’t throwing jazz hands in musicals or striking poses for magazines, she toured as a singer with jazz bands like Duke Ellington’s big band. Nichelle was in TV episodes of The Lieutenant and Tarzan before she landed the role that made her a STAH. Nichelle was part of the original cast of Star Trek when the show made its debut in 1966. I don’t have to tell anyone this, but she played Lieutenant Nyota Uhura and became the first Black woman to have a regular role on TV. The show delivered another groundbreaking moment during the season 3 episode titled Plato’s Stepchildren, which aired in 1968. One year after the Supreme Court of the United States made interracial marriage legal, Nichelle and William Shatner shared one of TV’s first interracial kisses. But Nichelle was almost not a part of that moment.

After Star Trek’s first season, Nichelle gave her resignation letter to the show’s creator Gene Roddenberry. Nichelle was offered roles on Broadway and since musical theater had her heart, starring on Broadway was always one of her biggest dreams. But that changed when she attended an NAACP event and was told that one of her fans wanted to meet her. She thought the fan was a Trekkie, and the fan was a Trekkie, but was also Martin Luther King, Jr.! Dr. King let Nichelle know that he was her biggest fan and then asked her to stay on the show. Dr. King explained to her that Uhura wasn’t just a role on a TV show, but a symbol of representation and hope. Those words changed her mind.

“He told me that he was my biggest fan and he asked me to please stay on the show, that I was a role model to Black children and women all across America. He said it was one of the only shows that he and his wife, Coretta, would allow their children to stay up late at night to watch. He told me that I couldn’t leave, that I was part of history. I understood right then and there what it meant to be a role model. I went to Gene Roddenberry’s office that next Monday and I told him I wanted to take back my resignation. I told Gene what Dr. King had said and Gene literally cried. He opened up his desk drawer and pulled out the letter I gave him and tore it up right then and there before me.”

Here’s Nichelle telling the story and bringing tears to my usually dried-out tear ducts:

Nichelle stayed on Star Trek until the show’s cancelation in 1969. She went on to voice Uhura in 1973’s Star Trek: The Animated Series, and also played Uhura in several Star Trek movies and shows throughout the years. And she worked with NASA to help recruit women and people of color:

Beyond Star Trek, Nichelle had an uncredited role in the Porgy and Bess movie, and was also in Snow Dogs, Are We There Yet?, and Sharknado 5, as well as episodes of The Simpsons, Heroes, Futurama, and The Young and the Restless. And then there was the blaxploitation movie Truck Turner where Nichelle played pimp queen Dorinda and stole every single scene she was in. Shit, she even steals she’s not in because when she’s not onscreen, you’ll ask yourself, “Where’s Dorinda?!” I once went to a talent show at a gay bar and someone dared to do Dorinda’s “we are a family” monologue. I nearly grabbed a hook and pulled them offstage. Because nobody can do it like Nichelle Nichols and shouldn’t even try it!

Nichelle released her memoir Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories in 1994, and made two albums. Behold, Nichelle Nichols breathlessly singing about the dark side of the moon:

The tributes have been coming in from Nichelle’s fellow Star Trek castmates and beyond:

Sadly, Nichelle Nichols never got to fulfill her dream of starring on Broadway. But I’m sure that right now, Heaven’s Great White Way is getting a real dazzling show from THEE Nichelle Nichols.

Rest in peace, Nichelle Nichols.

Pic: Vince Flores/startraksphoto.com

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