Beloved actor, singer, and philantropist Nichelle Nichols, best known for her portrayal as Nyota Uhura in the Star Trek TV and film franchises, has died at the age of 89. According to Variety, Nichols died of natural causes on Saturday, July 30.
Born Grace Dell Nichols, Nichelle Nichols left an indelible mark in Star Trek, pop culture, and civil rights with her portayal as translator/communications officer Nyota Uhura in the original '60s Star Trek series, the '70s animated Star Trek series, the first six Star Trek films, and several ancillary projects.
When asked in 2010 about how her Uhura role - and her real life - inspired people over the years, Nichols was gracious and encouraging.
"People keep saying, 'You've inspired women of color.' And I say, 'Yes, Black, white, yellow, brown, red and probably some with green blood and pointy ears!' Gene's brilliance was in casting people from all over the Earth, and an alien. It made everyone feel like they belonged," Nichols told StarTrek.com. "I wasn't a Black communications officer. I was a communications officer who happened to be from Africa, who happened to have brown skin. So I have had women of all stripes tell me how Uhura inspired them to reach for the stars. I've had women who've named their children after Uhura, and even after Nichelle."
"That is the way life is supposed to be,'" Nichols said. "What Gene did by casting us helped change society, change the way people thought, change the world. It's amazing. He wanted [Star Trek] to be a reflection of the world, and that's what happened."
In addition to her acting work, Nichols was active in civil rights and women's rights movements with an organization she co-founded called Women in Motion, as well as being one of NASA's foremost volunteers from 1977 to 2015. The NASA program Nichols was a part of is attributed for the recruitment of the first American female astronaut (Dr. Sally Ride), as well as the first African-American astronaut (Guion Bluford). At one point, Nichols served on the board of governors for the non-profit educational space advocacy organization National Space Society (formerly known as the National Space Society).