R.I.P. Nichelle Nichols, Nyota Uhura on Star Trek: The Original Series

The Trek legend was a television pioneer, civil rights advocate, dancer, NASA employee and jazz singer.

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Nichelle Nichols, the ground-breaking woman who blazed a trail in sci-fi during her time in the Star Trek franchise, has passed away.

Even when she was a teenager, Nichols was already destined for stardom. At sixteen years old, Nichols was travelling with Duke Ellington's band as a dancer when the jazz legend pulled her aside one day and asked her to sing. She crooned some Duke tunes. He told her she would have to go on and front the band. Nichols was "wonderful," according to Ellington, but he kidded her about nervously gripping the microphone the entire time.

Her first credited TV role came from a pre-Trek Gene Roddenberry series, The Lieutenant. She appeared as a guest star in 1964's episode "To Set It Right". Boldly ahead of it's time, the episode dealt with racism head on and went unaired at the time to avoid controversy.

Not only did she play Uhura on the legendary 1966 Star Trek series, she created the character. When Nichols auditioned for Trek, she walked in to meet Roddenberry carrying the novel Uhuru, which is Swahili for "freedom." As she told the Wall Street Journal, "Gene said he really liked the name of that book and wanted to use the title as a first name. I said, 'Why don’t you do an alliteration of the name Uhuru and soften the end and make it Uhura?' He said, 'You are Uhura and that belongs to you.'"

While now we can't imagine the classic crew without the communications officer, she nearly left the series after the first season. Fellow actress Grace Lee Whitney (Janice Rand) left Trek after the first season, and Nichols was afraid her character was being pushed aside in storylines as well, so she made the choice to leave the series. 

However, as we all know, she decided to stay and became one of the core tenants of the Enterprise crew. What convinced her to stay? Nobody other than Martin Luther King, Jr.

The weekend after she decided to leave, she met Dr. King at an NAACP fundraiser. When Nichols told Dr. King she wanted to leave the show, he protested her decision. According to Dr. King, Nichols played an integral role in the representation of African Americans on television. Her character, Lieutenant Uhura, was one of the only black characters on television in a leading role. After their meeting, Nichols decided to stay with Star Trek and put her other professional goals on hold.

She continued to use her influence as a groundbreaking icon for good. In the 1970s and 1980s, NASA employed Nichols as a recruiter, as she helped to diversify the astronaut corps. She roped both Buford, the first African-American in space, and Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, for the space agency.

Nichols got her turn in space as well — On September 15 of 2015, at 82 years old, she took a trip with NASA's SOFIA telescope into the upper stratosphere. She documented the whole incredible experience on social media.

While she may be gone here on Earth, Nichols will live on in the stars — literally. Discovered in August 2001, an asteroid in the main belt of the solar system was dubbed 68410 Nichols in honor of the actress. It takes 4.39 years to orbit the sun.

Nichol's son shared news of her passing on her official Facebook page, writing "Last night, my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away. Her light however, like the ancient galaxies now being seen for the first time, will remain for us and future generations to enjoy, learn from, and draw inspiration. Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all."

The television pioneer was 89 years old.

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Marvnel 18 months ago
She was a pioneer in so many ways. Her Star Trek name - Nyota Uhura - means Star of Freedom. RIP
jacko3 22 months ago
A most attractive person, artistic woman and popular personality .. we pray and remember Nichelle Nichols in the Heavenly Kingdom of the Risen LORD ~ Amen - Alleluia!
Willie 22 months ago
Is there going to be a tribute to Nichele Nichols on MeTv like they did with Tony Dow? I haven't heard anything about there being one scheduled. And why aren't there anymore black TV shows from the seventies and eighties on MeTv? Shows like Good Times, Sanford and Son or What's Happening.
327053 Willie 22 months ago
All great shows! Grew up with these 😁
TheSentinel Willie 22 months ago
AFAIK, Antenna TV probably has the rights to the shows you mentioned.
Mirramanee 22 months ago
I was greatly saddened by the news of her passing. It is one more member gone from the fabled crew of the original Star Trek series. This is a show that I came to view as a second "family" of mine (a show even my mom enjoyed watching almost as much as me). I credit that program (which I did not see until it was in syndication) with my love of science fiction and with showing me what we as humans could achieve if we could only see past our petty differences. Though I am Caucasian, I too identified with her total confidence, intelligence and sense of self worth on that imaginary bridge of the Enterprise. She belonged there! She was just as important as anyone else there and she was recognized by her fellow officers as someone to be trusted, to be relied upon and to have the skills to do whatever it took to get things done. Ms. Nichols played her part brilliantly and with great dignity and grace and I am so glad Dr. King convinced her to continue in the role. Star Trek would just not have been the same without her (I especially loved her in "Mirror, Mirror" and "The Naked Time"). She now has taken her place in the firmament of the stars with her fellow ST travelers Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Majel Barrett and, of course, the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself, Gene Roddenberry. May her star always shine brightly in the sky, guiding the next generation of space explorers onward and outward.
KJExpress Mirramanee 22 months ago
Well said, Mirramanee. I am not really a Sci-fi devotee, but somehow I have always enjoyed ST-TOS. I think it could have been any type of show and I still would have liked it. Nichelle and the rest of the cast certainly had a lot to do with that. 🖖
Greg 22 months ago
Nichelle left this world a better place for having been here.
Sway 22 months ago
RIP Nichelle Nichols. Talented woman, integral part of Star Trek.
MichaelSkaggs 22 months ago
Goodby, Nichelle. To say another famous line, "May The Force Be With You."
JERRY6 22 months ago
sad i have her last ST movie renegades RIP
justjeff 22 months ago
I found this image on http://stereocandies.blogspot.com/

"Nichelle Nichols at fifteen, appearing in 'The College Inn Story' show, portraying one of Katherine Dunham's dancers circa 1947-48"
grogan81 22 months ago
Saddened when I learned of her passing. Definitely a trailblazer. She was an indispensable part of the crew. Of course everyone remembers the kiss with Kirk . In those days, that was taboo. Surprised that made it past the censors. Even my sister who didn’t really didn’t watch the show much told me last night she is an icon.
wanderer2575 grogan81 22 months ago
There supposedly is quite a story behind the kiss. The overtime racked up with the cast and crew standing around while the producers argued with the network about it (highly unusual since the show was always on a shoestring budget). Finally, Shatner said: Let's shoot it both ways, with the kiss and without, and you can figure it out later. He insisted they film it with the kiss first. And then he and Nichelle deliberately screwed up every subsequent take without the kiss. They essentially forced the network to use the one good shot with the kiss; that's how it made it past the censors.
Pacificsun wanderer2575 22 months ago
To add to your accurate reposting of the trivia, perhaps not as widely remembered. Even though the kiss was used, they were careful about using a particular angle in doing so.

And weren't there still a few refusals to first-run that episode in certain marketplaces.
Mirramanee Pacificsun 22 months ago
There were indeed a few network affiliates in the South that refused to run it at first (just like some affiliates also refused to run the "Maude" episode that dealt with abortion years later). The affiliates were more afraid of their advertisers pulling out of sponsoring episodes they considered controversial. Not an issue nowadays, but society still has a long, long way to go...
Czarpaul 22 months ago
Except for the white hair she never seemed to age.
cperrynaples 22 months ago
Well, the crew is down to Chekov, Sulu & Kirk!
Rick 22 months ago
What a testament to how much good one can do in a life.

RIP, Ms. Nichols.
JHP 22 months ago
that line before the gate of heaven is getting long:(
maxh22 22 months ago
R.I.P Nichelle. You will always live long and prosper in our hearts 🖖🏻
paulat0805 22 months ago
RIP Nichelle Nichols. She was intelligent, courageous and beautiful
tootsieg 22 months ago
RIP Nichelle Nicols. You were always a class act.
texasluva 22 months ago
I found this photo of when the space shuttle Enterprise rolled out of the Palmdale manufacturing facilities on September 17, 1976.. Looking at the photo which they did not give names of who's in it. I think I have found the following.

Nichelle Nichols- Uhura
DeForest Kelley- Dr. McCoy
Walter Koenig-Chekov
Leonard Nimoy-Mr Spock
George Takei- Sulu
Gene Roddenberry

With help from others maybe there are more in this picture that I have not located.

R.I.P. Nichelle Nichols
Here is also a documentary for Nichelle Nichols- https://screenrant.com/star-trek-nichelle-nichols-documentary-every-reveal/

Pacificsun texasluva 22 months ago
Here's the link to the photo:

But these are the names of those standing by:
From left to right they are: Dr. James D. Fletcher, NASA Administrator, DeForest Kelley (Dr. "Bones" McCoy), George Takei (Mr. Sulu), James Doohan (Mr. Scott), Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura), Leonard Nimoy (the indefatigable Mr. Spock), Gene Rodenberry (The Great Bird of the Galaxy), and Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov).
Pacificsun texasluva 22 months ago
Over 5 years ago they were flying the last shuttle from a military hanger in NorCal down to SoCal for its permanent location for viewers and fans to enjoy. Because the transport was announced as a flyover, took video of it flying over our skies for the last time. So cool to see a piece of history in person! Took awhile to cross our skies, as well.
texasluva Pacificsun 22 months ago
I did not notice James Doohan (Mr. Scott) until just awhile ago. Found the other photos just as I was coming back on to see your awesome posts. I was attempting to find her best episodes and found the story. I also think but not sure I found the Star Trek series somewhere on IA months ago but did not mark it or put into a file. I will look for it tomorrow. I also just located Leave It To Beaver series the other day (every episode in order on one upload file).
CaptainDunsel 22 months ago
Yet another great loss for the entertainment world. The really groundbreaking thing about her role as Lt. Uhura was how her stature among the crew was treated (in universe) as unremarkable. That's just the way that world worked.
JHP CaptainDunsel 22 months ago
"world worked" - how very true:)

well said
Pacificsun CaptainDunsel 22 months ago
Perhaps that's one of the most subtle contributions ST:TOS made. It would've been "easy" to fill that "Sci Fi" series, focusing on "exotic" alien creatures. Am not saying, they didn't. But usually with an authentic purpose. By contrast they featured a crew versed in extensive specialties as if it came so naturally. Viewers (not living in that era) probably can't understand the impact of GR's statement. That and (as reported in his interviews) going beyond the concept (or limitation) of specific ideologies. He created an ideal, going beyond boundaries, but never allowed it to be obvious. I would argue, as Star Wars did.
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