Nichelle Nichols, the actress revered by “Star Trek” followers for her position as Lieutenant Uhura, the communications officer on the starship U.S.S. Enterprise, died on Saturday in Silver City, N.M. She was 89.
The trigger was coronary heart failure, stated Sky Conway, a author and a movie producer who stated he had been requested by Kyle Johnson, Ms. Nichols’s son, to talk for the household.
Ms. Nichols had an extended profession as an entertainer, starting as a teenage supper-club singer and dancer in Chicago, her hometown, and later showing on tv.
But she is going to without end be greatest remembered for her work on “Star Trek,” the cult-inspiring area journey sequence that aired from 1966 to 1969 and starred William Shatner as Captain Kirk, the heroic chief of the starship crew; Leonard Nimoy as his science officer and adviser, Mr. Spock, an ultralogical humanoid from the planet Vulcan; and DeForest Kelley as Dr. McCoy, a.okay.a. Bones, the ship’s doctor.
A placing magnificence, Ms. Nichols offered a frisson of sexiness on the bridge of the Enterprise. She was usually clad in a comfortable pink doublet and black tights; Ebony journal known as her the “most heavenly body in ‘Star Trek’” on its 1967 cowl. Her position, nevertheless, was each substantial and traditionally vital.
Uhura was an officer and a extremely educated and well-trained technician who maintained a businesslike demeanor whereas performing her high-minded duties. Ms. Nichols was among the many first Black girls to have a number one position on a community tv sequence, making her an anomaly on the small display, which till that point had hardly ever depicted Black girls in something apart from subservient roles.
In a November 1968 episode, through the present’s third and remaining season, Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura are pressured to embrace by the inhabitants of a wierd planet, leading to what’s broadly considered the primary interracial kiss in tv historical past.
Ms. Nichols’s first appearances on “Star Trek” predated the 1968 sitcom “Julia,” through which Diahann Carroll, enjoying a widowed mom who works as a nurse, grew to become the primary Black girl to star in a non-stereotypical position in a community sequence.
(A sequence known as “Beulah,” additionally known as “The Beulah Show,” starring Ethel Waters — and later Louise Beavers and Hattie McDaniel — because the maid for a white household, was broadcast on ABC within the early Fifties and subsequently cited by civil rights activists for its demeaning portraits of Black individuals.)
But Uhura’s affect reached far past tv. In 1977, Ms. Nichols started an affiliation with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, contracting as a consultant and speaker to assist recruit feminine and minority candidates for spaceflight coaching; the next yr’s class of astronaut candidates was the primary to incorporate girls and members of minority teams.
In subsequent years, Ms. Nichols made public appearances and recorded public service announcements on behalf of the company. In 2012, after she was the keynote speaker at the Goddard Space Center throughout a celebration of African American History Month, a NASA information launch in regards to the occasion lauded her assist for the reason for range in area exploration.
“Nichols’s role as one of television’s first Black characters to be more than just a stereotype and one of the first women in a position of authority (she was fourth in command of the Enterprise) inspired thousands of applications from women and minorities,” the discharge stated. “Among them: Ronald McNair, Frederick Gregory, Judith Resnik, first American woman in space Sally Ride and current NASA administrator Charlie Bolden.”
Grace Dell Nichols was born in Robbins, Ill., on Dec. 28, 1932 (some sources give a later yr), and grew up in Chicago. Her father, a chemist, was the mayor of Robbins for a time. At 13 or 14, bored with being known as Gracie by her mates, she requested a unique title from her mom, who appreciated Michelle however steered Nichelle for the alliteration.
Ms. Nichols was a ballet dancer as a toddler and had a singing voice with a naturally wide selection — greater than 4 octaves, she later stated. While attending Englewood High School in Chicago she landed her first skilled gig, in a revue at the College Inn, a well known nightspot within the metropolis.
There she was seen by Duke Ellington, who employed her a yr or two later along with his touring orchestra as a dancer in certainly one of his jazz suites.
Ms. Nichols appeared in a number of musical theater productions across the nation through the Fifties. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, she recalled performing at the Playboy Club in New York City whereas serving as an understudy for Ms. Carroll within the Broadway musical “No Strings” (although she by no means went on).
In 1959, she was a dancer in Otto Preminger’s movie model of “Porgy and Bess.” She made her tv debut in 1963 in an episode of “The Lieutenant,” a short-lived dramatic sequence, created by Gene Roddenberry, about Marines at Camp Pendleton. Mr. Roddenberry went on to create “Star Trek.”
Ms. Nichols appeared on different tv exhibits over time — amongst them “Peyton Place” (1966), “Head of the Class” (1988) and “Heroes” (2007). She additionally appeared onstage in Los Angeles, together with in a one-woman present through which she did impressions of, and paid homage to, Black feminine entertainers who preceded her, together with Lena Horne, Pearl Bailey and Eartha Kitt.
But Uhura was to be her legacy. A decade after “Star Trek” went off the air, Ms. Nichols reprised the position in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” and she or he appeared as Uhura, by then a commander, in 5 subsequent film sequels by way of 1991.
Besides her son, her survivors embody two sisters, Marian Smothers and Diane Robinson.
Ms. Nichols was married and divorced twice. In her 1995 autobiography, “Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories,” she disclosed that she and Mr. Roddenberry, who died in 1991, had been romantically concerned for a time. In an interview in 2010 for the Archive of American Television, she stated that he had little to do along with her casting in “Star Trek” however that he defended her when studio executives needed to exchange her.
When she took the position of Uhura, Ms. Nichols stated, she considered it as a mere job at the time, invaluable as a résumé enhancer; she absolutely supposed to return to the stage, as she needed a profession on Broadway. Indeed, she threatened to depart the present after its first season and submitted her resignation to Mr. Roddenberry. He informed her to assume it over for just a few days.
In a narrative she typically informed, she was a visitor that Saturday night time at an occasion in Beverly Hills, Calif. — “I believe it was an N.A.A.C.P. fund-raiser,” she recalled within the Archive interview — the place the organizer launched her to somebody he described as “your biggest fan.”
“He’s desperate to meet you,” she recalled the organizer saying.
The fan, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., launched himself.
“He said, ‘We admire you greatly, you know,’ ” Ms. Nichols stated, and she or he thanked him and informed him that she was about to depart the present. “He said, ‘You cannot. You cannot.’”
Dr. King informed her that her position as a dignified, authoritative determine in a preferred present was too necessary to the reason for civil rights for her to forgo. As Ms. Nichols recalled it, he stated, “For the first time, we will be seen on television the way we should be seen every day.”
On Monday morning, she returned to Mr. Roddenberry’s workplace and informed him what had occurred.
“And I said, ‘If you still want me to stay, I’ll stay. I have to.’”
Eduardo Medina contributed reporting.