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Actor Nichelle Nichols Dies July 30, 2022

Published by: Carolyn Brooks Fleming on Jul 31, 2022.

Actor Nichelle Nichols, best known for her role as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura in “Star Trek,” died on July 30, 2022. She was 89.

She was born in Chicago in 1932 as Grace Dell Nichols, but she changed her name to Nichelle as a teenager.

Also as a teen, while she was performing in Chicago clubs, Nichols was discovered by musician Duke Ellington. About that experience, she said, “Duke Ellington and his band were so kind to me and they treated me like a daughter. They had to pay somebody from my family to escort me because I was so young!” She famously had a four-octave vocal range.

Nichols’ grandfather, a white Southerner, had married a black woman. The marriage caused discord in her family but also may have helped prepare Nichols for her groundbreaking role in the original “Star Trek” television series.

Nichols portrayed Lt. Nyota Uhura starting in 1966, in an era when women — not to mention black women — rarely played characters with lofty careers and responsibilities. She and William Shatner, the white Canadian actor who played Captain James T. Kirk, shared one of the first interracial kisses on American television.

Nichols suggested the name for her iconic “Star Trek” character: Uhuru, which means “freedom” in Swahili. The show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, suggested softening the name slightly, to Uhuru, which Nichols embraced.

Following her years on “Star Trek,” Nichols promoted diversity in NASA’s space program by encouraging women and minorities to apply for the astronaut training program. She once wrote, “In motivating them as others once did me, it’s as if my life had come back, full circle, to where the dreams of a young woman began.” Nichols served on the board of governors for the National Space Society.

Her acting career extended beyond “Star Trek,” including roles in the movies “Snow Dogs” and “Are We There Yet?” as well as the television series “Heroes.”

Nichelle Nichols died of natural causes. She is survived by one son.

Learn more about her in her own words.

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SOURCES

Dagan, Carmel. “Nichelle Nichols, Uhura in ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 89.” Variety, July 31, 2022, https://variety.com/2022/tv/news/nichelle-nichols-dead-star-trek-the-original-series-1235330159/.

Hattenstone, Simon. “Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols: ‘Martin Luther King was a Trekker.’” The Guardian, October 18, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2016/oct/18/star-trek-nichelle-nichols-martin-luther-king-trekker.

Rosenblatt, Kalhan. “Nichelle Nichols, groundbreaking 'Star Trek' actor, dead at 89.” NBC News, July 31, 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/pop-culture/pop-culture-news/nichelle-nichols-groundbreaking-star-trek-actor-dead-89-rcna40857.

Sottile, Zoe et al. “Nichelle Nichols, trailblazing 'Star Trek' actress, dies at 89.” CNN, July 31, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/07/31/entertainment/nichelle-nichols-star-trek-dies/index.html.

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