American actress, singer and dancer Nichelle Nichols has died at the age of 89.
News of her passing was announced on Facebook by her son Kyle Johnson.
Nichols was best known for her portrayal of Nyota Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series, and its film sequels.
Nichols’ portrayal of Uhura was ground-breaking, she was one of the first black women featured in a major television series.
Her prominent supporting role as a bridge officer was unprecedented. During the first year of the series, Nichols was tempted to leave the series, because she wanted to pursue a Broadway career; however, a conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. changed her mind.
She has said that King personally encouraged her to stay on the series, telling her that he was a big fan of Star Trek. He said she “could not give up” because she was playing a vital role model for black children and young women across the country, as well as for other children who would see black people appearing as equals, going so far as to favorably compare her work on the series to the marches of the ongoing Civil Rights movement.
Despite the cancellation of the series in 1969, Star Trek lived on in other ways, and continued to play a part in Nichols’ life. She again provided the voice of Uhura in Star Trek: The Animated Series; in one episode, “The Lorelei Signal”, Uhura assumes command of the Enterprise.
Nichols noted in her autobiography her frustration that this never happened on the original series. Nichols has co-starred in six Star Trek films, the last one being Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
From 1977 until 2015, Nichols volunteered her time to promote NASA’s programs, and to recruit diverse astronauts, including women and ethnic minorities.
In recent years with her health declining, she was determined to continue working and recently completed her final engagements before her retirement but still maintained a presence via her website, signing and dedicating autographs until earlier this year, a lady of grace and determination until the end.