Star Trek Icon Nichelle Nichols Is Dead At 89

Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in Star Trek
(Image credit: Paramount+)

Another icon who contributed to the success of Star Trek has left this world. Nichelle Nichols, best known for her role as Nyota Uhura on the original Trek series, has died at the age of 89. News of Nichols passing came via social media, and fans across the web are mourning the loss of the actress who broke barriers with her portrayal. 

News of Nichelle Nichols passing came via her Facebook page via a message posted by her son, Kyle Johnson. He shared a heartfelt note about his mother's passing and asked fans to respect their privacy during this time: 

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. Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all. 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. Live Long and Prosper.

As Lieutenant Uhura, the actress broke barriers as one of the first Black women featured in a major television series. After the series cancellation, she went on to reprise her role in the animated series and starred alongside William Shatner and others in six Trek movies (Paramount+ subscribers can check out most of her work as Uhura there). 

Nichelle Nichols famously almost left Star Trek early on but was stopped by a famous figure that some may not know was a fan. After Gene Roddenberry asked Nichols to take the weekend to consider leaving the role of Uhura after one season in favor of doing a Broadway show, she ran into Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at an NAACP meeting (via Foundation Interviews). Dr. King was a big fan of the show and stressed to Nichols just how impactful her role on television was during the Civil Rights movement. His words ultimately convinced her to return to the program, and they serve as a shining example of the importance of the diversity that's preent in shows like Discovery today

The character of Nyota Uhura would continue on after the icon's time in the franchise. Actress Zoe Saldana plays the role in the Kelvin universe Trek movies (Saldana spoke months ago about returning to Trek). Strange New Worlds features a young Uhura, and she's played by Celia Gooding. After learning of her passing, Gooding post a sweet message and photo to social media:

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Many Star Trek fans will remember Nichelle Nichols as an actress who was very supportive of the franchise as well as the modern direction in which it’s heading. In 2017, Nichols said she was happy to see a new generation of actors and actresses leading the charge and appreciated the fan participation. 

The late actress went on to have many recurring live-action and voiceover roles in television, with shows like Futurama and The Young and the Restless being some of her most notable credits. Nichols also had a recent appearance as Uhura in the animated Star Trek: Prodigy tribute episode "Kobayashi," though the team constructed the dialogue using archival recordings. 

Nichelle Nichols also served as a part of the Women In Motion project, which sought to help NASA recruit more women and people belonging to minorities, like Dr. Sally Ride. Much of her work with the cosmos is detailed in the documentary about her life, Woman In Motion.

CinemaBlend offers its deepest condolences to the family and friends of Nichelle Nichols and wishes them well during this sad time. Nichols' work will no doubt resonate with many for a long time, and she'll be a shining face that's deeply missed by the Star Trek fandom. 

Mick Joest
Content Producer

Mick contains multitudes and balances his time reporting on big happenings in the world of Star Trek, the WWE, reality television, and other sci-fi shows.