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Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek's Lieutenant Uhura, Dies at 89

Nichols was a singer, dancer, and groundbreaking TV actor.

Nichelle Nichols, iconic Star Trek actor, has died at 89.
(© Gage Skidmore)

Nichelle Nichols, best known for her groundbreaking role as Lieutenant Uhura on the original Star Trek series, died Saturday, July 30 at the age of 89. Heart failure is the reported cause.

Nichols appeared on the iconic science fiction program from 1966-69, and is remembered as one of the first Black women to have a leading role on a network television series. She contemplated leaving the show after its first season, hoping to pursue a career on Broadway, but she was famously convinced to stay by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who emphasized the cultural significance of her onscreen representation. Nichols went on to partner with NASA in its efforts to recruit female and minority candidates for the space program, and Dr. Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to fly aboard the Space Shuttle, cites Star Trek as a major influence.

Nichols began her career onstage, performing in Chicago productions of the musical Kicks and Co., Jean Genet's The Blacks, and Carmen Jones, in which she played the title role. She also toured with Duke Ellington's orchestra as a dancer in one of his jazz suites, and in 1959, had an uncredited role as a dancer in Otto Preminger's film version of Porgy and Bess.

She continued to work in television and film for many decades, taking on recurring roles on Heroes and The Young and the Restless, and doing voice work on shows such as Gargoyles, Spider-Man, and Futurama.

Nichols is survived by her son, Kyle Johnson, as well as two sisters, Marian Smothers and Diane Robinson.

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