Nichelle Nichols, immortal forever as the original Nyota Uhura of Star Trek, has died at the age of 89. The actress was renowned not just for her decades playing the character in the original television series as well as subsequent feature films, but also for her activism and volunteer work. Her legacy includes encouraging entire generations of diverse candidates, including women and people of color, to explore careers in STEM.
Nichols was originally cast as the groundbreaking crew member of the U.S.S. Enterprise in 1966, and infamously considered leaving the show in its first year, before being talked into staying on the show by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
King had told her that Uhura was an invaluable role model for young Black women, a fact which might be considered anecdotal — except for how Whoopi Goldberg has repeatedly acknowledged how seeing Uhura on Star Trek as a young girl inspired her to pursue her own career in entertainment (including a recurring role of her own in multiple Trek projects.)
As Uhura, Nichols was also part of what is often considered to be the first interracial kiss on television, as she and Kirk are forced to embrace by aliens in the 1968 episode “Plato’s Stepchildren.” As she told EMusic.com in 2001, “Not many people know this, but it was originally written as being between Uhura and Spock. But Bill Shatner said ‘Oh no! If anyone is going to get to kiss Nichelle, it’s going to be me!’ And so they rewrote it, and we all laughed about it.”
In addition, Nichols volunteered from 1977 to 2015 with a special NASA program to recruit diverse candidates for the agency, and among other honors had an asteroid, 68410 Nichols, officially named after her.
Outside of Star Trek, Nichols made appearances in Heroes, The Young and the Restless, and Downward Dog. She also contributed voice work for the shows Gargoyles, Batman: The Animated Series, Futurama, and The Simpsons. She is survived by her son, Kyle Johnson.