Star Trek co-stars mourn 'trailblazing' Nichelle Nichols

Monday, 1 August 2022 (12:35 IST)
American actress Nichelle Nichols, best known for playing Lieutenant Nyota Uhura on Star Trek, died at age 89, her family said on Sunday.

Nichols, "succumbed to natural causes and passed away" on Saturday night, her son, Kyle Johnson, wrote on Facebook.

News of her death was greeted by sadness by those who hailed her role in breaking barriers and helping redefine roles for Black actors.

William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk in the series and with whom she shared one of television's first interracial kisses, said she "did so much for redefining social issues both here in the US & throughout the world."

Another Star Trek co-star George Takei called Nichols a trailblazer and said he would have more to say about her in the coming days.

"For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend," he wrote on Twitter.

From Star Trek to NASA

She had planned to quit Star Trek after one season, but Martin Luther King Jr. convinced her to stay because it was so revolutionary to have a Black woman playing an important senior crew member at a time when Black people were fighting for equality in American society.

She went on to feature in the first six Star Trek movies following the series' end in 1969.

Nichols also helped break color barriers at NASA, whose leaders were Star Trek fans.

After she criticized the space agency for failing to pick qualified women and minorities as astronauts, it hired Nichols in the 1970s to help in recruiting.

On Sunday, the agency said she "inspired generations to reach for the stars."

We celebrate the life of Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek actor, trailblazer, and role model, who symbolized to so many what was possible. She partnered with us to recruit some of the first women and minority astronauts, and inspired generations to reach for the stars.

— NASA (@NASA) July 31, 2022

Among them was astronaut Mae Jemison, who became the first Black woman in space when she flew aboard the shuttle Endeavour in 1992.

In an interview before her flight, Jemison said she watched Nichols on Star Trek all the time, adding she loved the show. Jemison eventually got to meet Nichols.

More tributes for Nichols

Nichols was a regular at Star Trek conventions and events into her 80s, but her schedule became limited starting in 2018 when her son announced that she was suffering from advanced dementia.

"She made room for so many of us. She was the reminder that not only can we reach the stars, but our influence is essential to their survival. Forget shaking the table, she built it," Celia Rose Gooding, who currently plays Uhura on "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds," wrote on Twitter.

"Star Trek: Discovery" actor Wilson Cruz posted, "Before we understood how much #RepresentationMatters #NichelleNichols modeled it for us. With her very presence & her grace she shone a light on who we as people of color are & inspired us to reach for our potential."

Its a sentiment shared by the politician Stacey Abrams who posted a photograph of her and Nichols and said the bravery of the actress lit the path for many.

One of my most treasured photos - Godspeed to Nichelle Nichols, champion, warrior and tremendous actor. Her kindness and bravery lit the path for many. May she forever dwell among the stars. #RIPNichelle #Uhura

— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) July 31, 2022

Alex Kurtzman, the executive producer in charge of the ongoing Star Trek series said, "I can't tell you how many people have told me she's the reason they became an astronaut, a scientist, a writer, a linguist, an engineer, it goes on and on...Thank you, dear Nichelle, for leading the way."

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