“Trailblazer” was a word used by many to mourn the passing of actor Nichelle Nichols, at the age of 89.
Her son Kyle Johnson said Nichols died Saturday in Silver City, N.M.
“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 earned Nichols a lifelong position of honor 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..
Tributes from fellow actors poured in on social media Sunday.
Her “Star Trek” co-star George Takei said he would have more to say soon but that his heart is heavy. Celia Rose Gooding, who plays Uhura on the current “Star Trek,” wrote that, “She made room for so many of us.
“I am so sorry to hear about the passing of Nichelle. She was a beautiful woman & played an admirable character that did so much for redefining social issues both here in the U.S. & throughout the world. I will certainly miss her. Sending my love and condolences to her family.” — William Shatner, “Star Trek” co-star, via Twitter.
“A remarkable woman in a remarkable role. Nichelle, you will be deeply missed. Sending much love and respect.” — J.J. Abrams, who directed 2009’s“Star Trek reboot and its 2013 follow-up“Star Trek Into Darkness,” on Twitter.
“I shall have more to say about the trailblazing, incomparable Nichelle Nichols, who shared the bridge with us as Lt. Uhura of the USS Enterprise, and who passed today at age 89. For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend.” — George Takei, Nichols’ “Star Trek” co-star who played Sulu, on Twitter.
“She made room for so many of us. She was the reminder that not only can we reach the stars, but our influence is essential to their survival. Forget shaking the table, she built it.” — Celia Rose Gooding, who plays Uhura on “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” on Twitter.
“Nichelle Nichols was The First. She was a trailblazer who navigated a very challenging trail with grit, grace, and a gorgeous fire we are not likely to see again. May she Rest In Peace.” — Kate Mulgrew, who played Capt. Janeway on “Star Trek: Voyager” and is currrently featured on “Star Trek: Prodigy,” on Twitter.
“Before we understood how much #RepresentationMatters #NichelleNichols modeled it for us. With her very presence & her grace she shone a light on who we as people of color are & inspired us to reach for our potential. Rest well glittering diamond in the sky.” — Wilson Cruz, “Star Trek: Discovery” actor, on Twitter.
“Our nation is forever indebted to inspiring artists like Nichelle Nichols, who show us a future where unity, dignity, and respect are cornerstones of every society.” – President Joe Biden, statement from the White House.
“Many actors become stars, but few stars can move a nation. Nichelle Nichols showed us the extraordinary power of Black women and paved the way for a better future for all women in media. Thank you, Nichelle. We will miss you.” — Lynda Carter, “Wonder Woman” star, on Twitter.
“Godspeed to Nichelle Nichols, champion, warrior and tremendous actor. Her kindness and bravery lit the path for many. May she forever dwell among the stars.” — Stacey Abrams, politician, on Twitter. She guest-starred on “Star Trek: Discovery.”
“Nichelle Nichols told us that we belonged in outer space. We are limitless. The heavens have gained an Uhura today.” — Colman Domingo, “Fear the Walking Dead” actor, on Twitter.
“My love for the original Star Trek is profound. Nichelle Nichols was a ground-breaker and a glorious ambassador for her show, her role and science all her life. And a truly lovely person. May she have a wonderful adventure to the final frontier.” — Jason Alexander, “Seinfeld” actor, on Twitter. He guest-starred on “Star Trek: Voyager.”
“Nichelle was a singular inspiration. She’s the one who really opened my eyes to what ‘Star Trek’ is and can be. I can’t tell you how many people have told me she’s the reason they became… an astronaut, a scientist, a writer, a linguist, an engineer… it goes on and on. We stand in her light and honor her today and every day. Thank you, dear Nichelle, for leading the way.” — Alex Kurtzman, the executive producer in charge of the Star Trek Universe, via Twitter.
Nichols was known as being unafraid to stand up to Shatner on the set when others complained that he was stealing scenes and camera time. They later learned she had a strong supporter in the show’s creator.
In her 1994 book “Beyond Uhura,” she said she met Gene Roddenberry when she guest-starred on his show “The Lieutenant,” and the two had an affair a couple of years before “Star Trek” began. The two remained lifelong close friends.
Another fan of Nichols and the show was future astronaut Mae Jemison, who became the first Black woman in space when she flew aboard the shuttle Endeavour in 1992. She played a crew member of the USS Enterprise in an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in 1993.
In an AP interview before her flight, Jemison said she watched Nichols on “Star Trek” all the time, adding she loved the show. Jemison eventually got to meet Nichols.
“The View” co-host and Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg has also said she was inspired by seeing Nichols on “Star Trek.” Goldberg later asked for and was given a recurring role on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” as Guinan — a role she recently reprised on “Star Trek: Picard.”
Nichols was a regular at “Star Trek” conventions and events into her 80s, but her schedule became limited starting in 2018 when her son announced that she was suffering from advanced dementia.
Nichols was placed under a court conservatorship in the control of her son Johnson, who said her mental decline made her unable to manage her affairs or make public appearances.
Some, including Nichols’ managers and her friend, film producer and actor Angelique Fawcett, objected to the conservatorship and sought more access to Nichols and to records of Johnson’s financial and other moves on her behalf. Her name was at times invoked at courthouse rallies that sought the freeing of Britney Spears from her own conservatorship.
But the court consistently sided with Johnson, and over the objections of Fawcett allowed him to move Nichols to New Mexico, where she lived with him in her final years.