Trail-blazing black actress Nichelle Nichols, Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek, dies at 89, Latest TV News - The New Paper

Trail-blazing black actress Nichelle Nichols, Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek, dies at 89

NEW MEXICO (NYTIMES) - Nichelle Nichols, the American actress revered by Star Trek fans everywhere for her role as Lieutenant Uhura, communications officer on the starship USS Enterprise, died on Saturday (July 31) in Silver City, New Mexico. She was 89.

The cause was heart failure, said a representative for the family. Besides a son, her survivors include two sisters, Marian Smothers and Diane Robinson.

Born Grace Dell Nichols, the actress was born in Illinois on Dec 28, 1932 - though some sources give a later year - and grew up in Chicago. She had a long career as an entertainer, beginning as a teenage supper-club singer and dancer in Chicago, and later appearing on television.

She will forever be best remembered for her work on Star Trek, the cult-inspiring space adventure series that aired from 1966 to 1969 and starred William Shatner as Captain Kirk, the heroic leader of the starship crew, and Leonard Nimoy (who died in 2015) as his science officer and adviser, Mr Spock, an ultra-logical humanoid from the planet Vulcan.

The role of Uhura was both substantial and historically significant: she was an officer and a highly educated and well-trained technician who maintained a business-like demeanour while performing her high-minded duties.

Nichols was among the first black women to have a leading role on a network television series, making her an anomaly on the small screen, which until that time had rarely depicted black women in anything other than subservient roles.

In a November 1968 episode, during the show's third and final season, Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura are forced to embrace by the inhabitants of a strange planet, resulting in what is widely thought to be the first interracial kiss in television history.

A decade after Star Trek went off the air, Nichols reprised the role in 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and she appeared as Uhura, by then a commander, in five subsequent movie sequels through 1991.

At the time she took the role of Uhura, Nichols said, she thought of it as a mere job, valuable as a resume enhancer, but she fully intended to return to the stage; she wanted a career on Broadway.

Indeed, she threatened to leave the show after its first season and gave series creator Gene Roddenberry her resignation. He told her to think it over for a few days.

In a story she often told, that Saturday night, she was a guest at an event in Beverly Hills, where the organiser introduced her to someone he described as "your biggest fan".

"He's desperate to meet you," she recalled the organiser saying.

The fan, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, introduced himself.

"He said, 'We admire you greatly, you know,'" Nichols said, and she thanked him and told him that she was about to leave the show.

"He said, 'You cannot. You cannot.'" King told her that her role as a dignified, authoritative figure in a popular show was too important to the cause of civil rights for her to forgo.

As Nichols recalled it, he said, "For the first time, we will be seen on television the way we should be seen every day."

On Monday morning, she returned to Roddenberry's office and told him what had happened. "And I said, 'If you still want me to stay, I'll stay. I have to.'"