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Nichelle Nichols, Who Played Uhura in ‘star Trek,’ Died at the Age of 89!

Saturday night in Silver City, New Mexico, Nichelle Nichols, who portrayed communications officer Uhura in the original “Star Trek” series, passed away. She had reached age 89.

Gilbert Bell, her talent manager and business partner of 15 years, confirmed Nichols’ passing. On “Star Trek,” Nichols shared one of the first interracial kisses in television history.

The 1968 episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” was written to provide all parties involved an out: Uhura and Captain Kirk were forced to kiss by aliens with the ability to control human movement. Nonetheless, it was a significant event.

There have previously been a few interracial kisses on American television. On “Movin’ With Nancy” a year earlier, Sammy Davis Jr. kissed Nancy Sinatra on the cheek in what appeared to be an impromptu moment but was actually carefully orchestrated.

The Uhura-Kirk kiss was perhaps the first televised kiss between a white and an African-American.

Nichelle Nichols, Who Played Uhura in 'star Trek,' Died at the Age of 89!

However, Uhura, whose name is derived from the Swahili word for “freedom,” was vital beyond the interracial kiss: She was one of the first African-American women to play a non-menial role on television.

She was a capable officer who could man different stations on the bridge when the need arose.

Nichols portrayed Lieutenant Uhura in the original series, voiced her on “Star Trek: The Animated Series,” and portrayed the character in the first six “Star Trek” films.

In “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” Uhura was promoted to lieutenant commander and full commander, respectively.

Nichols considered leaving “Star Trek” after the first season to pursue a career on Broadway, but the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was a fan of the series and understood the significance of her character in opening doors for other African Americans on television, personally persuaded her to remain on the show, she said in an interview for the Archive of American Television with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Whoopi Goldberg, who subsequently portrayed Guinan on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” has characterized Uhura as a role model, recalling her surprise and delight at seeing a black female television character who was not a maid.

Nichols and Shatner had completely different memories of the filming of the famous kiss. Shatner stated in “Star Trek Memories” that NBC insisted the performers’ lips never actually touch (though they appear to).

However, in her 1994 autobiography “Beyond Uhura,” Nichols maintains that the kiss was genuine.

Nervous about audience reaction, the network requested that alternate versions be filmed with and without a kiss, but Nichols and Shatner purposely botched every attempt without a kiss so that NBC was compelled to screen what seemed to be a kiss.

The “Star Trek” and “Movin’ With Nancy” scenes elicited some harsh responses, but Nichols recalls that the fan correspondence was overwhelmingly friendly and encouraging.

Later, NASA hired Nichols to promote more women and African Americans to become astronauts. 1978’s NASA Astronaut Group 8 was the first to recruit women and ethnic minorities, including three Black astronauts.

Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to pilot the Space Shuttle, credited “Star Trek” as a factor in her choice to join the space agency.

For decades, Nichols continued to support the space program. Nichols was the first African-American female to have her handprints memorialized at the TCL Chinese Theatre in 1991. The celebration also included other early “Star Trek” cast members.

Grace Nichols was born in Robbins, Illinois on December 28, 1932. At age 16, she began her career in show business by singing alongside Duke Ellington in a dance she developed for one of his tunes. She later performed with his band.

She attended universities in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Campus queen Hazel Sharpe, who is enticed by the devil and Orgy Magazine to become “Orgy Maiden of the Month,” had her breakout role in Oscar Brown’s high-profile but unsuccessful 1961 musical “Kicks and Co.”

After a brief Chicago run, the play closed, but Nichols caught the attention of Playboy editor Hugh Hefner, who booked her at his Chicago Playboy Club.

Nichols also portrayed Carmen in a Chicago stock company production of “Carmen Jones” and danced in a New York production of “Porgy and Bess,” making her film debut in an uncredited part as a dancer in a 1959 adaptation of that piece.

Later, she would occasionally demonstrate her singing abilities on “Star Trek.” During her time in Chicago, Nichols was nominated twice for the city’s Sarah Siddons Award for the finest actress. The first was for “Kicks and Company,” while the second was for “The Blacks” by Jean Genet.

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Nichelle Nichols, trailblazing Star Trek actress

Before being cast on “Star Trek,” she had brief roles in the films “Made in Paris,” “Mr. Buddwing,” and “Doctor, You’ve Got to Be Kidding!” with Sandra Dee.

According to her autobiography, Nichols had a multiyear affair with Gene Roddenberry in the early 1960s, before “Star Trek.”

Roddenberry halted the affair when he realized he was in love with Majel Hudec, whom he later married. Decades later, when Roddenberry’s health was deteriorating, Nichols co-wrote a song for him named “Gene,” which she sang at his funeral.

Nichols was featured on the cover of Ebony magazine in January 1967, and the publication ran two feature articles about her within five years.

In the early 1970s, the actress starred on a few episodes of television and in the 1974 Blaxploitation film “Truck Turner,” starring Isaac Hayes. In a 1983 television rendition of “Antony and Cleopatra,” she played a supporting part alongside her “Star Trek” co-star Walter Koenig.

Together with Maxwell Caulfield and Talia Balsam, she acted in the 1986 horror science-fiction film “The Supernaturals.”

Nichelle Nichols, Who Played Uhura in 'star Trek,' Died at the Age of 89!

Later, Nichols lent her voice to the animated shows “Gargoyles” and “Spider-Man.” She also lent her voice to “Futurama.”

The actress portrayed the mother of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s protagonist in “Snow Dogs” (2002) and Miss Mable in “Are We There Yet?” (2005).

In 2007, Nichols guest-starred on the second season of the NBC drama “Heroes” as Nana Dawson, the matriarch of a Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans family who cares for her orphaned grandchildren and great-nephew, Micah Sanders (series regular Noah Gray-Cabey). She appeared in the films “Tru Loved” and “The Torturer” the following year.

Nichols’ stroke in 2015 and dementia diagnosis in 2018 sparked a conservatorship dispute between her manager Bell, her son, and a friend. Nichols was twice married and twice divorced. Kyle Johnson is her only surviving child.

Terry Regan
Terry Regan
Terry Regan is a very experienced Writer. He works in a regular manner and analyzes the content and then he publishes it. After completing his engineering degree, Terry works in this field.


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