‘Star Trek’ Actress Nichelle Nichols Dead at 89

(Photo by Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images)

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Nichelle Nichols, an actress who broke through racial barriers in the 1960s with her portrayal of Nyota Uhura in the original “Star Trek” series, died Saturday at the age of 89.

“I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament no longer shines for us as it has for so many years. Last night, my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away,” her son, Kyle Johnson, announced on Facebook Sunday.
“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,” he continued.

Nichols was born in 1932 just outside of Chicago, Illinois where she later studied classical dance at the Chicago Ballet Academy, according to The Hollywood Reporter.  As a teenager, she toured with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton as a singer and dancer and in 1959, she danced with Sammy Davis Jr. in “Porgy and Bess,” the Reporter continued.

Her most memorable role was that of Nyota Uhura, an officer on the starship Enterprise, a role she would reprise in six films for the “Star Trek” franchise, according to the Washington Post. In the 1970s, NASA used her influence to reach out to women and minorities for the space program, The Hollywood Reporter stated.

“I went everywhere. I went to universities that had strong science and engineering programs. I was a guest at NORAD [the North American Aerospace Defense Command], where no civilian had gone before,” Nichols recalled, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “At the end of the recruitment, NASA had so many highly qualified people. They took six women, they took three African-American men … it was a very fulfilling accomplishment for me.”

Among those recruited by her efforts were famed astronauts Sally Ride, Ellison Onizuka, and Ronald McNair, the Reporter stated.

“Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all,” her son concluded.