Home Movies Nichelle Nichols, Lieutenant Uhura on ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 89

Nichelle Nichols, Lieutenant Uhura on ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 89

by Jersey Lady

Actress Nichelle Nichols, revered by “Star Trek” fans for her role as Lieutenant Uhura, a communications officer on the Starship USS Enterprise, died Saturday in Silver City, New Mexico. She was 89 years old.

Heart failure was the cause, said author and film producer Skye Conway, who was asked to speak on behalf of Nichols’ son, Kyle Johnson, on behalf of the family.

Nichols had a long career as an entertainer, starting as a teenage supper club singer and dancer in her hometown of Chicago and later on television.

But she is forever best known for her work in the cult-inspiring space adventure series Star Trek, which aired from 1966 to 1969 and starred William Shatner as Captain Kirk, the heroic leader of the Starship crew. It will be well remembered. Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, his science officer and advisor, a hyperlogical humanoid from the planet Vulcan. and DeForest Kelly as the ship’s doctor, Dr. McCoy, aka Bones.

Strikingly beautiful, Ms. Nichols was sexy on the bridge of the Enterprise. She usually wore a tight-fitting red doublet and black tights. Ebony magazine called her “the most heavenly body in Star Trek” on its 1967 cover. But her role was both substantial and historically significant.

Uhura was an officer, a highly educated and well-trained technician who maintained a businesslike demeanor while performing a noble duty. Ms. Nichols was one of the first black women to play a lead role in her series on the network, and until then had rarely portrayed black women outside of submissive roles.

In the November 1968 episode, in the show’s third and final season, Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura are forced to embrace the inhabitants of an unknown planet, in what is widely believed to be the first interracial kiss in television history. It is

Mr. Nichols’ first appearance on “Star Trek” predates the 1968 sitcom “Julia.” Diane Carol played a widowed mother who works as a nurse, becoming the first black woman to play an atypical role on a network her series. .

(The series, also known as The Beulah Show, starring Ethel Waters and later Louise Beavers and Hattie McDaniel as the maids of a white family, was broadcast on ABC in the early 1950s and was later cited by the civil rights movement. Activists against demeaning portraits of black people.)

But Uhura’s influence went far beyond television. In 1977, Ms. Nichols began a relationship with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, contracted as a representative and speaker, and assisted in recruiting female and ethnic minority candidates for space flight training. The next year’s class of astronaut candidates was the first to include women and members of minority groups.

After that, Mr. Nichols went out in public and recorded. public service announcement on behalf of the agency. After serving as the Goddard Space Center keynote speaker at the 2012 African American History Month celebrations, her release of NASA news about the event acknowledged her support for the cause of diversity in space exploration. praised.

“Nichols’ role as one of television’s first black characters was more than just a stereotype, she was one of the first women to hold a position of authority (she was the fourth in command of the Enterprise). We had thousands of applications from women and minorities.” “Among them are Ronald McNair, Frederick Gregory, Judith Resnick, Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, and her current NASA administrator, Charlie Bolden.”

Grace Del Nichols was born in Robbins, Illinois on December 28, 1932 (some sources indicate a later year) and was raised in Chicago. Her father, a chemist, served as Mayor of Robbins. When she was 13 or 14, tired of being called Gracie by her friends, she demanded a different name from her mother, who liked her Michelle, but she insisted on Nichelle. Suggested her alliteration.

Nichols was a ballet dancer as a child and had a naturally wide vocal range of over four octaves, she later said. She landed her first professional gig when she attended Englewood High School in Chicago. It was a review at College Her Inn, a famous nightspot in the city.

There she was found by Duke Ellington, who hired her a year or two later as a dancer in his jazz suite with his touring orchestra.

Nichols performed in several musical theaters around the country in the 1950s. In her television interview with The Archives of America, she recalled playing in New York City’s Playboy clubs while standing in for Ms. Carroll in her Broadway musical “No Strings.” (although it never happened).

In 1959, she appeared as a dancer in the Otto Preminger film adaptation of Porgy and Bess. She made her television debut in 1963 in an episode of her series “The Lieutenant”, a short-lived drama created by Gene Roddenberry about the Marines at Camp Pendleton. Mr. Roddenberry created “Star Trek”.

Nichols has also appeared in other television shows, including Peyton Place (1966), Class President (1988) and Heroes (2007). She also appeared on the Los Angeles stage, including the One Woman Show, which paid tribute to her, making impressions of black female entertainers who preceded her, including Lena Horne, Pearl Bailey, and Eartha Kitt.

But Uhura was to become her legacy. A decade after “Star Trek” aired, Nicholls reprized the role in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and by 1991 had appeared as Uhura in five subsequent film sequels. , was the commander at the time.

Besides her son, her survivors have two sisters, Marian Smothers and Diane Robinson.

Nichols has been married and divorced twice. In her 1995 autobiography, Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories, she revealed that she was romantically involved with Mr. Roddenberry, who died in 1991. In a 2010 Archive of American television interview, she said she had little to do with her casting in “Star Trek,” but defended her when studio executives called for her replacement. said.

When she accepted the role of Uhura, Nicholls said at the time she thought it was just a job and worth adding to her resume. She wanted a career on Broadway, so she intended to return to the stage. In fact, she threatened to leave the show after her first season and handed in her resignation letter to Mr. Roddenberry. He told her to reconsider her few days.

In a story she often told, she was a guest at an event that Saturday night in Beverly Hills, California. I expressed it.

“He wants to see you,” she recalled the host saying.

A fan, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., introduced himself.

“He said, ‘We have so much respect for you,'” Nichols said, and she thanked him and told him she was leaving the show. said, ‘You can’t do that.'”

Dr. King told her that her role as a dignified and authoritative figure on the popular show was too important to the civil rights cause for her to give up. remembered and said:

On Monday morning she returned to Mr. Roddenberry’s office and told him what had happened.

“And I said, ‘If you still want me to stay, I will. I must.'”

Eduardo Medina contributed to the report.

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