Actress Nichelle Nichols, who found worldwide fame and pioneered black women on TV by starring in the original Star Trek TV series, is dead.
Her son, Kyle Johnson, said she died Saturday in Silver City, New Mexico. She was 89 years old.
His role in the 1966-69 series as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura earned Nichols a great deal of respect from the show’s diehard fans, known as the Trekkers and Trekkies.
It also earned her accolades for breaking racial stereotypes and included an on-screen interracial kiss with co-star William Shatner who was unknown at the time.
“Last night, my mom, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and died,” Kyle wrote on his Facebook page.
“Its light, however, like the ancient galaxies now seen for the first time, will remain for us and future generations to enjoy, learn and inspire.
“His was a life well lived, and as such a model for all of us”.
Star Trek co-star George Takei tweeted: “I’ll have more to say about the pioneering and incomparable Nichelle Nichols, who shared the bridge with us as Lieutenant Uhura of the USS Enterprise and who died today at the age of 89.
“For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shine like the stars between which you now rest, my dearest friend.”
Like other original cast members, Nichols has also appeared in six big screen spinoffs starting in 1979 with Star Trek: The Motion Picture and attended Star Trek fan conventions.
She also served as a NASA recruiter for many years, helping bring minorities and women into the astronaut corps.
Star Trek’s main message to viewers was that in the distant future – the 23rd century – human diversity would be fully accepted.
“I think a lot of people took it to their hearts … that what was being said on TV at the time was a reason to celebrate,” Nichols said in 1992.
He often recalled how Martin Luther King Jr was a fan of the show and praised his role. He met him at a civil rights meeting in 1967, at a time when he had decided not to return for the show’s second season.
“When I told him that I was going to miss my co-stars and that I was leaving the show, he got very serious and said, ‘You can’t do that,'” he told a newspaper in 2008.
“‘You changed the face of television forever, and therefore you changed people’s minds,'” the civil rights leader told her.
“That foresight of Dr. King has been a thunderbolt in my life,” said Nichols.