Nichelle Nichols, 'Star Trek' Icon, Dead at 89

Star Trek actress and television icon Nichelle Nichols has died at 89. The original series star would return for the animated series and the first six films, but her impact on the franchise and television history enhances her impact beyond the comms seat on the Enterprise.

The actress' passing was announced on Facebook by her son, Kyle Johnson, confirming she passed surrounded by family. "Last night, my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away. 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," the Facebook statement reads. "I, and the rest of our family, would appreciate your patience and forbearance as we grieve her loss until we can recover sufficiently to speak further. Her services will be for family members and the closest of her friends and we request that her and our privacy be respected."

Sunday, 31 July 2022 Friends, Fans, Colleagues, World I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament no...

Posted by Nichelle Nichols on Sunday, July 31, 2022

Nichols helped make history with one of the first interracial kisses in television history, called a "courageous move" in Variety's obituary for the actress. The Star Trek episode titled "Plato's Stepchildren" aired in 1968 and actually had an out if the reaction was too negative. It ended up being iconic, with Captain Kirk and Uhura locking lips in a utopian future that people in the late sixties likely couldn't comprehend.

While there were others, like Sammy Davis Jr. kissing Nancy Sinatra on the cheek during an episode of Movin' With Nancy. According to Variety, both this and the Uhura kiss were carefully planned, with the Star Trek addition to TV history standing as the first lip-to-lip kiss.

Nichols almost left Star Trek after its first season to join Broadway, but was persuaded by Trek fan Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. due to her influence for other black actors and actresses on television. According to Variety, Nichols was personally persuaded by King to stay on the Enterprise.

The actress would later join NASA as a PR effort to encourage women and African American people to join up as astronauts. Dr. Mae Jemison, the first black woman to fly on the space shuttle, called Star Trek a big motivator in her decision to join.

Outside of Star Trek, Nichols had many roles on the stage in New York and Chicago. She would also appear in films not set in space, like 1974's Truck Turner opposite Isaac Hayes. Still, her influence through her role in Star Trek was enough to cement her career and its meaning to fans. Rest in peace.