Actress Nichelle Nichols passed away at the age of 89. According to the Los Angeles Times, Nichols died of heart failure on the evening of July 30 in Silver City, N.M.
Nichols was born in Robbins, Ill. on Dec. 28, 1932. At the age of 16, she sang with Duke Ellington before going on to play the role of Carmen in a Chicago production of Carmen Jones. She also performed in Porgy and Bess in New York as an uncredited dancer before going on to play Lt. Uhura on Star Trek, where she shared television’s first interracial kiss with William Shatner as Capt. James Kirk in 1968. Interracial marriage was illegal until 1967. During an interview with the Archive of American Television, Nichols said that the kiss made people think of the world differently.
“The first thing people want to talk about is the first interracial kiss and what it did for them,” she said. “And they thought of the world differently — they thought of people differently.”
Nichols starred in the television series for three seasons and appeared in 66 episodes. She also appeared in six Star Trek films. She once said that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. convinced her to remain on the show after she yearned for Broadway by noting her role on the show defied Black women’s stereotypes.
“The world sees us for the first time as we should be seen,” King reportedly said. “Gene Roddenberry has opened a door. If you leave, that door can be closed… For the first time, the world sees us as we should be seen. This is what we’re marching for.”
Excellence in representation matters even more.
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) July 31, 2022
Nichols, who had already handed in her resignation letter, recalled feeling that King had been right.
“I could say nothing. I just stood there, realizing that every word he said was the truth.”
After she told the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, that she’d changed her mind a few days later, he gave her back the resignation letter, which had already been torn to shreds. “He took out my resignation letter, which was torn into a hundred pieces, and handed me the pile. I said, ‘Thank you, Gene.’ ”
Nichols was also the first Black woman to have her handprints cemented at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood in 1991. The actress also starred in Snow Dogs, Are We There Yet? and the NBC drama Heroes during her long career in show business. Nichols was married twice. She was married to tap dancer Foster Johnson in 1951, but the marriage ended in a divorce. In 1968, she married songwriter Duke Mondy, whom she also divorced. In 1977, she helped NASA to recruit 2,600 women and minority astronaut applicants, including the first woman to go to space, Sally Ride. Nichols was diagnosed with dementia in 2018 and is survived by her son, Kyle Johnson.