Nichelle Nichols' best-known role was that of Lt. But Uhura - Nichols was also of fundamental importance in recruiting women and African Americans for NASA. The American actress Nichelle Nichols is dead. As her son Kyle Johnson announced on Facebook on July 31, 2022, Nichols died of natural causes on July 30 at the age of 89. Nichols' career spanned over 50 years, her best-known role being that of Lt. Nyota Uhura aboard the Starship Enterprise.
From 1966 to 1969, Nichols played the role, which is considered a breakthrough for African American actresses. At a time when most of them only played domestic help and other small roles, Nichols took on the role of bridge officer Uhura.
At first, Nichols didn't seem to realize how important the role was: After the first season of Starship Enterprise, the actress, who had started her career as a singer, dancer, and stage actress in various musicals wanted to return to Broadway.
Martin Luther King convinced Nichols to continue
As Nichols herself explained in an interview, it was civil rights activist Martin Luther King who made her understand the importance of her role. At an NAACP banquet, King told her that Starship Enterprise was the only TV show his kids were allowed to stay up late for. The reason is the fact that Nichols' role as Lt. Uhura showed that African Americans can be anything - even astronauts.
According to Nichols, meeting King changed her mind. The following Monday, she rescinded her resignation from Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek. Roddenberry reportedly tore up the resignation letter prior to Nichols' withdrawal.
Roddenberry, a lifelong advocate for equality, also had Nichols kiss William Shatner in an episode of the series. Although the actual kiss cannot be seen and, according to Nichols, the actors' lips never touched, the scene is considered a milestone in US television history. In the late 1960s, relationships between white Americans and African Americans were socially proscribed in large parts of the United States.
After Star Trek ended, Nichols continued to have minor roles, playing the role of Uhura in the first six Star Trek films. In addition to her acting and singing career, Nichols used her notoriety to recruit astronauts for NASA. The focus was on female and Afro-American people.
Nichols recruited numerous NASA astronauts
Astronauts recruited by Nichols include Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, Guion Bluford, the first African American man in space, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, and Charles Bolden. Former shuttle astronaut Bolden was NASA's administrator between 2009 and 2017.
Nichols has been married twice and claims to have been in a relationship with Gene Roddenberry prior to the launch of Starship Enterprise. Nichols is survived by her son Kyle, her brother Thomas died in 1997 in the wake of the Heavens Gate sect mass suicide.