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Star Trek star Nichelle Nichols has died aged 89

Nichelle Nichols at Lt Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series season 2.
Nichelle Nichols as Communications Officer Lt Uhura in Star Trek. (Image credit: CBS via Getty Images)

American actress Nichelle Nichols has passed away aged 89, it has been confirmed. 

Nichols is best known for starring alongside William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura on the original Star Trek series and its subsequent movie spin-offs. Her casting saw her become one of the first Black actresses in the United States to play a figure of authority on TV. 

Later, Nichelle went on to volunteer her time with NASA in a successful scheme that sought to recruit more women and people from minority backgrounds to join the space agency. 

Nichelle's son, Kyle Johnson, announced that she had died of natural causes on Sunday, July 31 in a statement posted on Facebook. It read: "Friends, Fans, Colleagues, World. 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. Her life 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."

According to the Washington Post (opens in new tab), Nichelle thought joining Star Trek would be a "nice stepping stone" to Broadway stage fame (she originally trained as a dancer and nightclub singer, not realizing at the time that her character would become an enduring favorite at the time).

Star Trek's casting saw Nichelle and multiple other actors from minority backgrounds elevated to significant roles of authority and importance and helped to redefine the TV landscape for the future. 

On-screen, one of her prominent moments came when Uhura shared one of TV's first interracial kisses with Captain Kirk (William Shatner) in the episode titled "Plato's Stepchildren". 

Outside of Star Trek, Nichelle also had notable roles in Heroes and The Young and the Restless. Like many other members of the cast, Nichelle was also a regular face at Trekkie conventions, too.

Tributes began to pour in for Nichelle shortly after her passing was confirmed. Her co-star, George Takei, wrote: "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. For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend."

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US President Joe Biden also released a statement regarding Nichelle's passing, saying in part: "In Nichelle Nichols, 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."

Martin Shore
Martin Shore

Martin is a Staff Writer with WhatToWatch.com, where he produces a variety of articles focused on the latest and greatest films and TV shows. 

Some of his favorite shows are What We Do In The Shadows, Bridgerton, Gangs of London, The Witcher, Doctor Who, and Ghosts. When he’s not watching TV or at the movies, Martin’s probably still in front of a screen playing the latest video games, reading, or watching the NFL.