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Actress Nichelle Nichols, ‘Star Trek’s’ trail-blazing Uhura, dies at 89 By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Actor Nichelle Nichols, who performed the character Uhura within the unique “Star Trek” TV sequence, poses at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calfiornia August 5, 2012. REUTERS/Fred Prouser/File Picture

By Will Dunham

(Reuters) -Nichelle Nichols, whose portrayal of starship communications officer Lieutenant Uhura on the Nineteen Sixties sci-fi TV sequence “Star Trek” and subsequent films broke coloration obstacles and helped redefine roles for Black actors, has died at age 89, her household mentioned.

Nichols, whose followers included Martin Luther King Jr. and a younger Barack Obama, “succumbed to pure causes and handed away” on Saturday night time, her son, Kyle Johnson, wrote on Fb (NASDAQ:).

“Her mild nonetheless, like the traditional galaxies now being seen for the primary time, will stay for us and future generations to take pleasure in, be taught from and draw inspiration,” Johnson wrote.

The sequence, which turned a popular culture phenomenon, shattered stereotypes frequent on U.S. tv on the time by casting Black and minority actors in high-profile roles on the present.

In 1968 she and “Star Trek” star William Shatner broke a cultural barrier after they engaged in U.S. tv’s first interracial kiss.

She had deliberate to stop “Star Trek” after one season, however King, the Nineteen Sixties civil rights chief, satisfied her to remain as a result of it was so revolutionary to have a Black girl enjoying an necessary senior crew member at a time when Black folks have been preventing for equality in American society.

Nichols additionally helped break coloration obstacles at NASA, whose leaders have been “Star Trek” followers. After she criticized the house company for failing to select certified ladies and minorities as astronauts, it employed Nichols within the Seventies to assist in recruiting.

Her efforts helped entice, amongst others, the primary girl U.S. astronaut, Sally Trip; the primary Black girl astronaut, Mae Jemison; and the primary Black NASA chief, Charlie Bolden.

Nichols’ portrayal of the competent, level-headed Uhura additionally helped encourage future Black actors, together with Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg. Nichols recalled Goldberg telling her of watching “Star Trek” as a 9-year-old, seeing her enjoying Uhura, and yelling out to her mom: “Come fast! There is a Black girl on tv and she or he ain’t no maid!'”

The unique “Star Trek” sequence, monitoring the adventures of the crew of the starship USS Enterprise within the twenty third century, ran for less than three seasons on the NBC community from 1966 to 1969. Nevertheless it turned massively well-liked in syndication within the Seventies, inspiring first an animated sequence that reunited the solid from 1973 to 1975 after which a succession of characteristic movies and exhibits.

Nichols appeared in six “Star Trek” movies ending with “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Nation” in 1991.

Uhura deftly dealt with the starship Enterprise’s communications with allied spaceships and alien races whereas interacting with Captain James T. Kirk (Shatner) and Vulcan first officer Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy).

Her best-known scene featured the primary scripted interracial kiss on U.S. tv, though it was not a romantic one. In an episode referred to as “Plato’s Stepchildren,” Uhura and Kirk have been compelled telekinetically to smooch by aliens toying with the feeble people. In actual life, Nichols disliked Shatner, who she thought of smug.

She felt in another way about “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry, who solid her after she had acted in a earlier present he produced. Nichols had a romance with him within the Nineteen Sixties and sang a tune referred to as “Gene” at his 1991 funeral.


Obama, the primary Black U.S. president, who was 5 years outdated when the “Star Trek” sequence made its debut, additionally was a fan. Nichols visited him on the White Home in 2012 and posed for a photograph within the Oval Workplace, with the president smiling and placing his hand on her shoulder whereas each made a “Star Trek” Vulcan hand gesture that means “reside lengthy and prosper.”

In a 2011 interview with Smithsonian journal, Nichols recalled assembly King at a civil rights group’s fundraiser.

Nichols mentioned she was approached by one of many occasion’s promoters, who instructed her, “There’s somebody who needs to fulfill you and he says he is your greatest fan, so I am considering of a younger child. I flip round and standing throughout the room, strolling in direction of me, was Dr. Martin Luther King with this massive smile on his face.”

After Nichols instructed King she deliberate to stop “Star Trek,” she mentioned he implored her to remain.

She mentioned King instructed her: “This can be a God-given alternative to alter the face of tv, change the way in which we predict. We’re now not second-class, third-class residents. He (Roddenberry) needed to do it within the twenty third century but it surely’s the twentieth century that is watching.'” She rescinded her resignation.

Like different “Star Trek” solid members, she had a tough time discovering work resulting from typecasting after the unique sequence ended. It was throughout this time when she performed a foul-mouthed madam within the movie “Truck Turner” (1974) starring Isaac Hayes. She was a recurring character on the tv present “Heroes” in 2007.

Grace Nichols was born on Dec. 28, 1932 in Robbins, Illinois, educated as a singer and dancer and toured with jazz greats Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton earlier than her performing profession took off.

Nichols, who was married twice and had one baby, suffered a light stroke in June 2015.

(Reporting and writing by Will Dunham; Further reporting by Rami Ayyub; Enhancing by Invoice Trott and Diane Craft)

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