Actress and space icon Nichelle Nichols from her groundbreaking role on the long-running TV show, Star Trek, has passed away at age 89.
Nichols broke barriers in her role as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura in the series, becoming one of the first black actresses in the US to play a figure in authority.
She was later employed by Nasa in an effort to encourage more women and African-Americans to become astronauts.
In a statement posted on Facebook, her son Kyle Johnson wrote: “I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament no longer shines for us as it has for so many years. 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.”
President Joe Biden paid tribute, saying: “In Nichelle Nichols, our nation has lost a trailblazer of stage and screen who redefined what is possible for Black Americans and women.”
Nichols also voiced her character on “Star Trek: The Animated Series” and played Uhura in the first six “Star Trek” films. Uhura was promoted to lieutenant commander in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and to full commander in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”
Nichols thought about leaving “Star Trek” after the first season to pursue a career on Broadway, but the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was a fan of the series and understood the importance of her character in opening doors for other African Americans on television, personally persuaded her to stay on the show, she told astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in an interview for the Archive of American Television.
Dr. King continued: “Gene Rodenberry opened a door for the world to see us. If you leave, that door can be closed because your role is not a black role and it’s not a female role, he can fill it with anyone, including an alien!”
Nichols later said: “At that moment, the world tilted for me and I knew then… that I was something else. The world was not the same. And I remember being angry – why me? Why should I have to?”
But she went back to Rodenberry the following week and told him what happened and said she would stay.
Rodenberry responded: “Thank god for Martin Luther King, somebody knows where I am coming from.”
Nichols was born Grace Dell Nichols near Chicago in 1932. Unhappy with the name Grace, she