Nichelle Nichols, groundbreaking Star Trek actress, is dead at 89

Nichelle Nichols, who broke barriers for black women in Hollywood when she played communications officer Lieutenant Nyota Uhura on the original Star Trek television series, has died at the age of 89.

Her son Kyle Johnson said Nichols died on Saturday in Silver City, New Mexico.

Star power … Nichols in her role as Lieutenant Uhura.

“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,” Johnson wrote on her official Facebook page Sunday. “Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all.”

Her role in the 1966-69 series as Lt. Uhura earned Nichols a lifelong position of honour with the series’ rabid fans, known as Trekkers and Trekkies. It also earned her accolades for breaking stereotypes that had limited black women to acting roles as servants and included an interracial onscreen kiss with co-star William Shatner that was unheard of at the time.

She often recalled how the Reverend Martin Luther King jnr was a fan of the show and praised her role and personally encouraged her to stay with the series.

Nichelle Nichols and George Takei attend Walter Koenig being honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012.Credit:David Livingston

Like other original cast members, Nichols also appeared in six big-screen spinoffs starting in 1979 with Star Trek: The Motion Picture and frequented Star Trek fan conventions. She also served for many years as a NASA recruiter, helping bring minorities and women into the astronaut corps.

More recently, she had a recurring role on television’s Heroes, playing the great-aunt of a young boy with mystical powers.

Uhura in the original Star Trek series.

In 2015 Nichols is suffered a mild stroke.

She began her career as a singer with jazz legend Duke Ellington before switching to acting.

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