Nichelle Nichols, who portrayed Lt. Nyota Uhura on the original “Star Trek” television series, died Saturday night, her son announced. She was 89.
Nichols’ death was confirmed by Gilbert Bell, her talent manager and business partner of 15 years. Her son, Kyle Johnson, also confirmed the actress’ death on her official Facebook account. She died of natural causes, her son said.
“ Last night, my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away,” Johnson wrote “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.
“Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all.”
Nichols shared one of the first interracial kisses in television history on “Star Trek.” That moment was shared with her co-star William Shatner, Variety reported.
The episode, “Plato’s Stepchildren,” which aired in 1968, was written to give all involved an out, the entertainment outlet reported. Uhura and Capt. James Kirk (Shatner) did not choose to kiss but were instead made to do so involuntarily by aliens with the ability to control the movements of humans.
It was still a landmark moment on television but not the first, Variety reported.
“Star Trek” actor George Takei tweeted his condolences, tweeting that “my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend.”
A year before the “Star Trek” episode, NBC had aired Nancy Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. kissing on the lips during a television special, The Washington Post reported.
Nichols was cast as Uhura by “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry after she guest-starred as the fiancee of a Black U.S. Marine who is a victim of racism in the 1964 episode “The Lieutenant,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. That show was also created by Roddenberry.
As Uhura, Nichols sat on the bridge of the starship Enterprise in a red mini-dress. She was the ship’s fourth in command, according to the Post.
Nichols reprised her role as Uhura in all six of the “Star Trek” films from 1979 through 1991, on animated series and several videogames, according to the entertainment news website. She also appeared on a 2002 episode of “Futurama.”
In the two recent “Star Trek” films, Uhura is portrayed by Zoe Saldana.
NASA employed Nichols to encourage women and Blacks to become astronauts, Variety reported.
Nichelle Nichols was born Grace Nichols in the Chicago suburb of Robbins, Illinois, on Dec. 28, 1932, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She began her show business career at age 16 singing with Duke Ellington in a ballet and later sang with his band.
Her break came in 1961 when she appeared in the musical “Kicks and Co., according to Variety.
She danced with Sammy Davis Jr. in “Porgy and Bess” (1959) and played the profane head of a prostitution ring in 1974′s “Truck Turner,” which starred Isaac Hayes.
In 1968, she recorded an album, “Down to Earth,” according to Variety.
Nichols also appeared as the grandmother of an avenging angel in the NBC television series “Heroes,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Some of her recent film roles came in “Snow Dogs” (2002), “Are We There Yet?” (2005) and “This Bitter Earth” (2012).
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