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‘Star Trek’ Legend Nichelle Nichols Dead at 89

The actress famously shared one of the first significant interracial kisses on American television with William Shatner in 1968.

Nichelle Nichols

Nichelle Nichols

Barry Brecheisen/Invision/AP

Nichelle Nichols, who famously played communications officer Nyota Uhura on the original “Star Trek” series and in many subsequent films, died Saturday night at the age of 89. The news was confirmed by her longtime manager Gilbert Bell.

Nichols was born in Robbins, Illinois in 1932 and began her entertainment career as a singer with Duke Ellington’s band. She eventually began pursuing musical theatre work in New York and Los Angeles before being cast in her most iconic role. Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek” debuted in 1966, featuring Nichols in one of the first major roles for a Black woman in the history of network television.

Near the end of the first season, Nichols contemplated leaving the show after receiving an offer to star in a Broadway musical. Fortunately, she was convinced to remain on the U.S.S. Enterprise by an unlikely Trekkie: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The civil rights icon introduced himself to her at an NAACP banquet, where he told her that he loved watching “Star Trek” with his wife and children. When she mentioned her plans to leave, Dr. King told her how important it was to have a smart, competent Black woman in a leadership role on a major television show. He argued that she could have a much bigger impact on American culture if she stayed on “Star Trek,” advice that Nichols ultimately took.

Nichols remained a cast member on the show for its entire three season run, and also starred in six “Star Trek” films, beginning with “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and ending with “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.” She continued to push racial boundaries on the show, famously sharing one of the earliest televised interracial kisses with co-star William Shatner in 1968.

She continued to use the platform that “Star Trek” gave her for good causes, frequently volunteering her time to promote the NASA space program. Her activism was often focused on increasing diversity in NASA, inspiring young Black people and women to pursue careers in the space program and promoting the work of those who already had.

Nichols is survived by her son, Kyle Johnson.

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