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Film

'Star Trek' actor Nichelle Nichols has died aged 89

Nichelle Nichols, the legendary actor who portrayed Lt. Uhura in the original Star Trek series alongside the likes of William Shatner and George Takei, has passed away aged 89.

The news was confirmed by her son, Kyle Johnson, who wrote a heartfelt message posted on Nichols’s official website, revealing that she had died from natural causes. 

“Last night, my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away,” Johnson wrote in the message. “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’s work as Lt. Uhura is regarded as majorly significant in the development of the film and television industry as it broke barriers, with her being one of the first Black American actors to play a figure with authority, helping to fight back against the widespread racism in the country at the time. 

As a whole, Star Trek dismantled many racial and gender stereotypes in the 1960s, with Nichols being the most prominent example of this, with Uhura being noted as one of the most level-headed and collected of all the main characters, a status that was largely unheard of for Black characters.

Added to this legendary status was the game-changing on-screen kiss she shared on Star Trek with William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk, which was one of television’s first interracial kisses, even though the story itself was not a romantic one, rather forced by alien telekinesis. 

Famously, at one point, Nichols had toyed with the idea of leaving the show but was convinced to carry on by none other than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who described Lt. Uhura as the “first non-stereotypical role portrayed by a black woman in television history”.

Outside of her work as an actress, Nichols was also one of the most prominent ambassadors for NASA, helping to recruit women and minorities to the US Space Programme. She helped celebrated astronauts Dr. Sally Ride and Guion Bluford realise their dreams and go into space. 

Following the news breaking, George Takei tweeted: “My heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend.”

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