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Nichelle Nichols (28 December 193230 July 2022; age 89) was an American actress from Robbins, Illinois. She was most famous for portraying Nyota Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Animated Series, and the first six Star Trek films. She reappeared in archive footage from TOS: "The Trouble with Tribbles" and TOS: "Mirror, Mirror" that was used in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Trials and Tribble-ations".

Nichols also provided the voices for a number of other characters on the animated series. Her image also appeared in Star Trek Generations in a photograph in Kirk's cabin in the Nexus and again more prominently in Star Trek Beyond in a photograph that was among Spock's possessions bequeathed to his alternate reality counterpart.

Nichols lobbied to appear as Guinan's daughter in Star Trek: The Next Generation. [1] [2] Richard Arnold added to that by suggesting, at the Los Angeles Creation Convention in 1990, that Nichols might appear as Guinan's mother or daughter. [3] However, neither eventuality came to pass.

Early career and other roles[]

Nichols was discovered by jazz legend Duke Ellington in her mid-teens, touring with both Ellington and Lionel Hampton as a lead singer and dancer. She broke into acting in the film Porgy and Bess (1959, with Sammy Davis, Jr., Loulie Jean Norman, and Brock Peters) and had an acting career lasting over forty-five years.

Her first television role was on The Lieutenant (1964, which was written and produced by Gene Roddenberry and featured Gary Lockwood and Don Marshall). She also made TV appearances as herself in It Takes Two (1969), Head of the Class (1988), and Weakest Link (2002); she also voiced animated versions of herself on The Simpsons (2004) and in two episodes of Futurama (2000, 2002).

She appeared as Ruana in two Tarzan films: Tarzan's Jungle Rebellion (1967, with fellow Star Trek actors Lloyd Haynes, William Marshall, and Jason Evers); and Tarzan's Deadly Silence (1970, with Robert DoQui). These were episodes from the Tarzan TV series edited together and released as films.

She also appeared in the TV movies Gettin' Up Mornin' (1964, with Davis Roberts and Don Marshall) and William Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra (1983, with Ted Sorel, Earl Boen, Barrie Ingham, Dan Mason, James Avery, and her Original Series co-star Walter Koenig).

Aside from the first six Star Trek films, her other film credits include Made in Paris (1966, with Jack Perkins), Truck Turner (1974, with Dick Miller), Mister Buddwing (1966, with Ken Lynch, Bart Conrad, and Charles Seel), The Supernaturals (1986, with LeVar Burton and Jessie Lawrence Ferguson), Snow Dogs (2002), and Are We There Yet? (2005, with Jerry Hardin). Nichols co-produced and played the title role in Lady Magdalene's (2011).

Her other voice work includes the recurring role of Diane Maza on Gargoyles, with Salli Elise Richardson. Other Trek regulars who have appeared on the series include Avery Brooks, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, and Brent Spiner. Among the Trek guest performers who appeared in the same episodes as Nichols were Michael Bell, LeVar Burton, Matt Frewer, Robert Ito, and Frank Welker.

She also appeared as ancient Egyptian goddess Thoth-Khepera in the episode "Avatar" of Batman: The Animated Series, with Brock Peters and David Warner.

In 2006, Nichols returned to the role of Uhura in the fan film Star Trek: Of Gods and Men.

In August 2007, it was announced that Nichols would have a recurring role in NBC's Heroes. [4] She was the second star from The Original Series to appear on the series, after George Takei. Star Trek: Enterprise star Dominic Keating also had a recurring role on the series, and Star Trek star Zachary Quinto recurred in his famous role as the villainous Sylar. Other performers who appeared on the show during its second season included Joanna Cassidy and series regular Cristine Rose.


Nichelle Nichols and Mae Jemison

Nichols with Mae Jemison on the set of "Second Chances", in 1993

Nichols' role as Uhura on Star Trek was one of the first times that an African-American actress portrayed a non-stereotypical role on television. Previously, most African-American female characters on American television were depicted as maids or housekeepers, and Nichols' role helped break that barrier. Years later, Whoopi Goldberg told Nichols about excitedly watching Uhura, as a child, and telling her mother, "Come quick! Come quick! There's a black lady on TV, and she ain't no maid!" Nichols participated with series star William Shatner in another breakthrough, with American "episodic" television's first interracial kiss between fictional characters, as seen in The Original Series' "Plato's Stepchildren". Nancy Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. had openly kissed months earlier, in a musical-variety special broadcast by NBC on 11 December 1967, entitled Movin' With Nancy. However, preceding that was Uhura giving Christine Chapel a peck on the cheek in "What Are Little Girls Made Of?", which had first aired on 20 October 1966. [5]

Nichols became the first African-American actress to place her handprints in front of Hollywood's Grauman's Chinese Theatre, along with the rest of the Star Trek cast. In 1992, she earned her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

After meeting Nichols at a Star Trek convention in 1975, scientist Dr. Jesco von Puttkamer suggested that the actress take part in NASA's recruitment drive. Nichols took up the role in 1977, making recruitment and training films, and supervising astronaut recruits and hopefuls. She noted that, within six months, the applicant count went from fewer than a hundread a year to 1,649. Most of the recruits that she attracted were women or from ethnic minorities. For her efforts, Nichols was named as NASA's 'Woman of the Year' in 1979. NASA astronauts Sally Ride, Guion Bluford, Judith Resnik, and Ronald McNair were all recruited as a direct result of Nichelle Nichols' employ as NASA's recruiter, specifically for minorities. [6] Nichols is a good friend of former NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison. Dr. Jemison was a fan of the original Star Trek and was inspired by Nichols upon deciding to become the first African-American female astronaut. Jemison herself appeared in "Second Chances".

Zoe Saldana and Nichelle Nichols

Nichols talking to Zoe Saldana on the set of 2009's Star Trek

Nichols sat down with Zoë Saldana during the filming of 2009's Star Trek.

Several costumes and accessories worn by Nichols in Star Trek were sold off on the It's A Wrap! sale and auction on eBay, including black Starfleet boots [7] and a grey undershirt. [8]

In 2016, it was announced that Nichols would receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Saturn Awards for her role in Star Trek as well as her support for NASA. [9]

In 2023, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds honored Nichols with a tribute at the end of Season 2's premiere, "The Broken Circle". [10]

Personal background[]

Nichelle Nichols had decided to leave the original Star Trek series after the first season. Fed up with racist harassment and limitation, culminating with her learning that studio executives were withholding her fan mail, she submitted her resignation. She withdrew it when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. convinced her that her role was a too important cultural breakthrough to leave.

Nichols is said to have wearied of the constantly used line: "Hailing frequencies open, sir." After having to open hailing frequencies fourteen times, her exact words were "If I have to open hailing frequencies one more time, I'll smash this goddamn console!" (The Trouble with Tribbles) Gene Roddenberry wrote Uhura's line "Sometimes I think if I hear that word 'frequency' once more, I'll cry" into the script of "The Man Trap" as an in-joke referencing Nichols' hatred of the aforementioned sentence. (These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One)

Gene Roddenberry offered Nichols, his former lover, a very generous contract at the beginning of the first season: a flat rate of US$1,000 per episode, which was higher than the salaries of DeForest Kelley, James Doohan and George Takei. Also, her contract didn't set a limit for the number of episodes to appear in, which the aforementioned performers' contracts all did. However, Desilu's legal department and the other producers soon got angry about this, especially since in the early episodes Uhura's role was basically uttering the "hailing frequencies" line a few times per episode, yet the studio paid her a thousand dollars for what was considered to be a "bit role". Soon, a new contract was negotiated, with Nichols' salary reduced to US$140 per day – which actually meant that, if she needed to appear in all six or seven days of production, she would actually receive more money than with the previous offer. (These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One; Inside Star Trek: The Real Story)

Nichols made both her first ("The Corbomite Maneuver") and last (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) Star Trek appearances with DeForest Kelley. Both Nichols and Kelley filmed their first and last Star Trek scenes on 24 May 1966 and 2 July 1991 respectively.

Nichols authored two science fiction novels, entitled Saturn's Child and Saturn's Quest.

Her younger brother, Thomas Nichols, committed suicide on 26 March 1997, with the Heaven's Gate cult members in Rancho Santa Fe, California near San Diego.

Nichols' son is actor Kyle Johnson, who starred in the 1969 film The Learning Tree.

In 2018, Nichelle Nichols was diagnosed with dementia.

Star Trek appearances[]

Appearances as Uhura[]

Other media[]

Nichols provided voice work as Uhura for two Star Trek games:

Books authored[]

External links[]