Star Trek: Uhura actress Nichelle Nichols has died

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She became famous as “Lieutenant Uhura” in the cult series “Star Trek”. She actually wanted to leave – if it hadn't been for Martin Luther King.

As a young woman, Nichelle Nichols played Lieutenant Nyota Uhura

US actress Nichelle Nichols passed away at the age of 89. Her family announced this on Sunday (July 31) on Facebook. She died of natural causes, her son wrote.

Nichelle Nichols' dream wasn't really to appear on the television screen or the big screen, she wanted to be on the Broadway stage.

< p>And yet today her name is indelibly linked to the cult series “Star Trek: Raumschiff Enterprise”, which first flickered across US screens in 1966.

In it, Nichelle Nichols played Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, the only black crew member on the bridge of the starship USS Enterprise, led by Captain James T. Kirk and his second officer, Lieutenant Spock. In the 1960s, major roles for black or Asian actors were few and far between. Black actresses liked being cast as housemaids, but Stark Trek universe creator Gene Roddenberry didn't give a damn – despite NBC executives asking him to rewrite the role. Uhura remained Lieutenant.

Celebrity Fans: From Martin Luther King to Barack Obama

Nichols initially wanted to leave the series after the first season because she had been offered a role on Broadway. It was none other than Martin Luther King, the figurehead of the civil rights movement in the United States, who changed her mind, Nichelle Nichols told the “Television Academy Foundation” in a 2011 interview. At a fundraising gala, he told her how important her appearance on “Star Trek: Starship Enterprise” was: “For the first time you see black people the way they were meant to be seen, every day: as intelligent, beautiful, dignified people who can even travel into space.” 

So Nichols continued with “Star Trek”. The trust of Martin Luther King was to pay off: In her role as Nyota Uhura, Nichols kissed the womanizer Captain Kirk, played by William Shatner, in 1968 in “Starship Enterprise”. It was the first kiss between a black woman and a white man ever shown on US television. In the conservative southern states, this was considered too offensive – the kiss could not be broadcast there.

Nichelle Nichols in a public appearance in 2006

After the end of the television series, she also starred in six subsequent feature films about the crew of the spaceship Enterprise. From today's perspective, her performances, especially in the films, do not seem very progressive: she is often marginalized, has little dialogue and is hardly allowed to take part in the action that the male heroes indulge in. It must have seemed different in the USA in the 1960s. Martin Luther King is said to have told her that “Starship Enterprise” is the only series that his children are allowed to stay up late for so that the family can watch it together.

Other American children should be able to do the same . Many years later, US President Barack Obama confessed to Nichelle Nichols, whom he received at the White House in 2012, that he had a crush on Lieutenant Uhura as a young man, the actress reported on Twitter.

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Nichols demanded equality in space travel

After her appearance in “Spaceship Enterprise”, Nichelle Nichols dedicated herself to the advancement of women and members of minorities at the US space agency NASA. Thanks to the increased commitment Nichols demanded from NASA, Dr. Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut, and Colonel Guion Bluford, the first black astronaut. Nichelle Nichols was also honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a Golden Camera.

This gesture from the “Star Trek” series means: “Live long and prosper.”

In 2018, Nichols was diagnosed with dementia. Now the pop culture pioneer of equality has passed away. Her Star Trek co-actor George Takei hailed her role as a groundbreaking trailblazer, writing on Twitter: “My heart is heavy today and my eyes are shining [with tears] like the stars where you rest now mine dearest friend.”