Star Trek star William Shatner hailed his late costar Nichelle Nichols as a ‘beautiful woman’ whose iconic character Lieutenant Uhura helped ‘refine social issues’ across the globe.
Nichols passed away from natural causes Saturday night at the age of 89, her son confirmed on Sunday.
Shatner, who played Captain James T. Kirk on the show, says he will ‘certainly miss’ his longtime friend.
The pair shared an iconic on-screen kiss in 1968, during season three of the original series, that has since been regarded as one of the first interracial kisses aired on TV.
The kiss occurred only one year after the Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage and, according to TV critics, ‘suggested that there was a future where these issues were not such a big deal.’
George Takei, who portrayed Hikaru Sulu across the original Star Trek series and films, also paid tribute to Nichols, calling her both ‘trailblazing’ and ‘incomparable.’
Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols has passed away at the age of 89; pictured 2017
Her son, Kyle Johnson, announced his mother had ‘succumbed to natural causes’ on Saturday night; Nichols pictured on Star Trek
‘I am so sorry to hear about the passing of Nichelle,’ Shatner tweeted Sunday.
‘She was a beautiful woman and played an admirable character that did so much for redefining social issues both here in the US & throughout the world.’
‘I will certainly miss her. Sending my love and condolences to her family.’
The two actors, along with the show, are credited with making a public statement about racism and civil rights with their 1968 on-screen kiss during the season three episode titled Plato’s Stepchildren.
Although it was not romantic in nature – as aliens forced the pair to lock lips – the kiss would help change attitudes about what was allowed to shown on television.
Robert Thompson, a television and pop culture professor at Syracuse University, told NBC News in 2018, 50 years after the kiss debuted, that the kiss aired with almost no comment at the time.
‘It neither got the backlash one might have expected nor did it open the doors for lots more shows to do this,’ he said, but noting it did ultimately contribute to change.
‘The shot heard around the world started the American Revolution. The kiss heard around the world eventually did … but not immediately,’ he explained.
Nichols became one of the nation’s first Black women to star in a primetime show after being cast in 1966 as Nyota Uhura on Star Trek.
‘I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament no longer shines for us as it has for so many years,’ Kyle Johnson posted to his mother’s official Facebook page on Sunday.
‘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.
‘Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all.
‘I, and the rest of our family, would appreciate your patience and forbearance as we grieve her loss until we can recover sufficiently to speak further. Her services will be for family members and the closest of her friends and we request that her and our privacy be respected.’
Kyle signed off on the tribute with the iconic Star Trek slogan, ‘Live long and prosper.’
Nichols became one of the nation’s first Black women to star in a primetime show after being cast in 1966 as Nyota Uhura on Star Trek
Nichols entered showbusiness at age 16 and sang with legendary Duke Ellington before later switching to acting.
Her break-the-mold tendencies expanded beyond the screen and into space science. She volunteered with NASA from 1977 to 2015 to promote diversity in the recruiting of women and minority astronauts. The initiative led to the recruitment of Dr. Sally Ride, the nation’s first women astronaut.
As an actress, Nichols played a key role in inspiring Black children to enter showbusiness, and reportedly earned the praise of Martin Luther King Jr. Following her 70-episode run with the Star Trek series, she continued to star in box office sequels and lesser-known films.
Nichols’ contribution to the film industry earned her a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992. She also received a life career award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films in 2016, becoming the first woman to be bestowed with the honor.
In 2018, Nichols’ son Kyle Johnson announced that she had been diagnosed with dementia, which spurred a conservatorship battle between him, her former manager Gilbert Bell and her friend Angelique Fawcette.
According to an August 2021 piece in the Los Angeles Times, Johnson filed for a conservatorship saying that Bell had lived in a guest home in Nichols’ Woodland Hills, California home for nearly 10 years, and in 2017, had transferred ownership of the home into his name as as power of attorney, an arrangement which was subsequently overturned.
Fawcette had also applied to become the conservator saying that Nichols would be best served spending her final years at her Southern California home, as she had lived in New Mexico with Johnson and his wife. According to property records, the home was sold last year to a construction company for $2.22 million.
A number of people paid tribute to the late actress on Twitter, including her Star Trek costar George Takei, who called her ‘trailblazing’ and incomparable’
Rapper Chuck D shared artwork paying homage to the late Star Trek actress
Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams shared a picture she took with the late star, hailing her for ‘her kindness and bravery’
Hollywood stalwarts such as Lynda Carter, Kate Mulgrew and Jason Alexander posted online memorials to the late actress
Stars including Mark Hamill and Josh Gad honored both Nichols and late NBA star Bill Russell as the deaths of both were announced Sunday
A number of people paid tribute to the late actress on Twitter, including her Star Trek costar George Takei, who called her ‘trailblazing’ and ‘incomparable.’
Takei, who played the role of Sulu on the series, wrote, ‘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.’
Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams shared a picture she took with the late star, hailing her for ‘her kindness and bravery.
‘One of my most treasured photos – Godspeed to Nichelle Nichols, champion, warrior and tremendous actor,’ Abrams said. ‘May she forever dwell among the stars. #RIPNichelle #Uhura.’
Hollywood stalwarts such as Lynda Carter, Kate Mulgrew and Jason Alexander posted online memorials to the late actress.
Wonder Woman star Carter said: ‘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.’
Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Marina Sirtis praised Nichols as a trailblazer for her work on the series
Adam Nimoy, son of Nichols’ late costar Leonard Nimoy, shared a shot of the pair together on the set of the sci-fi franchise
NASA also posted a tweet in memory of the late TV star, showing her in one of their uniforms
Writer Stephen King and TV personality Al Roker also credited Nichols for breaking ground on the small screen
Mulgrew, who appeared on Star Trek: Voyager, tweeted, ‘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.’
Alexander, best known for his role on Seinfeld, said he has a ‘profound’ love for ‘the original Star Trek’ and called Nichols ‘a ground-breaker,’ ‘a glorious ambassador for her show, her role and science all her life’ and ‘a truly lovely person.’
Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Marina Sirtis praised Nichols as a trailblazer for her work on the series.
‘RIP @NichelleIsUhura,’ Sirtis said. ‘You led the way and opened the door for the rest of us who followed in your wake. We will be forever grateful. My heart is broken.’
Adam Nimoy, son of Nichols’ late costar Leonard Nimoy, shared a shot of the pair together on the set of the sci-fi franchise.
Actress Viola Davis shared a touching tribute on Instagram, writing ‘YOUR presence was seen, felt and received! Godspeed!!’
Star Trek actor William Shatner also paid tribute to the star praising her for ‘redefining social issues both here in the US & throughout the world’
Television talk show host Andy Cohen posted a still of her in character as Nyota Uhura with the hashtag ‘Uhura’
‘My favorite photo of Dad and Nichelle Nichols on set, he said. ‘The importance of Nichelle’s legacy cannot be over-emphasized. She was much loved and will be missed.’
Writer Stephen King lauded Nichols as a person who ‘broke new ground,’ while TV personality Al Roker called her role ‘a groundbreaking character, as a Black character on television in authority and shared the first inter-racial kiss on network TV with Capt. Kirk 52 years ago.’
NASA also posted a tweet in memory of the late TV star, which read, ‘We celebrate the life of Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek actor, trailblazer, and role model, who symbolized to so many what was possible.
‘She partnered with us to recruit some of the first women and minority astronauts, and inspired generations to reach for the stars.’
Actress Viola Davis shared an Instagram photo of the star from Star Trek, writing: ‘RIP Nichelle Nichols! You inspired whole generations of Black girls. Your beauty, grace, quiet intelligence….YOUR presence was seen, felt and received! Godspeed!!’
Star Trek actor William Shatner also paid tribute to the star, writing: ‘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 US & throughout the world. I will certainly miss her. Sending my love and condolences to her family.’
Television talk show host Andy Cohen posted a still of her in character as Nyota Uhura with the hashtag ‘Uhura.’
Inside Nichelle Nichols’ heartbreaking conservatorship case
1993: Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols purchases a Woodland Hills, California, property for $100,000
2012: Her former manager Gilbert Bell temporarily moves into a secondary house on the property
2017: Nichols inexplicably signs a quitclaim, handing over her property title to Bell. Records show that same year, Bell signed his own quitclaim, returning the property into Nichols’ hands
May 2018: Johnson files for a conservatorship, which is ultimately successful
May 2018: Nichols’ longtime friend Angelique Fawcette files an objection to Johnson’s petition
August 2018: News outlets report that Nichols was diagnosed with dementia; the exact date of diagnosis is unknown
2019: Bell sues Johnson, accusing him of attempting to evict him and Nichols in order to sell the property
2020: Johnson files a countersuit against Bell, alleging elder abuse, theft, fraud, and bilking of Nichols’ assets
2021: Property at center of contention sells to remodeling and construction company for $2.22 million