Nickel Nichols Dead: Uhura in Original ‘Star Trek’ Series Was

Nickel Nicholswho portrayed Uhura, the communications officer on the trek“Series died Saturday night in Silver City, NM when she was 89.

Nichols’ death was confirmed by his talent manager and business partner of 15 years, Gilbert Bell.

Nichols shared the first interracial kiss in television history on “Star Trek.” The moment, along with her co-star William Shatner, was a bold move on the part of “Star Trek” producer Gene Roddenberry and NBC, given the climate of the time, but the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren”, which aired in 1968 . All was written for inclusion: Uhura and Captain Kirk did not choose to kiss, but were made to do so involuntarily by aliens with the ability to control the movements of humans. Nevertheless, it was a historic moment.

There have been some interracial kisses on American television before. A year ago on “Movin’ With Nancy” Sammy Davis Jr. kissed Nancy Sinatra on the cheek which was a spontaneous gesture but was actually carefully planned. The Uhura–Kirk kiss was probably the first televised White/African American lip-to-lip kiss.

Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, Nickel Nichols, wearing his communication earpiece, 1982.  (c) Paramount.  Credits: Everett Collection.

But Uhura, whose name comes from a Swahili word meaning “freedom”, was essential beyond interracial kissing: a competent officer who could work at other stations on the bridge when needed, she was one of the first African American women. that was painted. In a non-male role on television.

Nichols played Lieutenant Uhura in the original series, voicing him in “Star Trek: The Animated Series” and playing Uhura in the first six “Star Trek” films. Uhura was promoted to lieutenant commander in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and to full commander in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”.

Nichols considered leaving “Star Trek” after the first season to pursue a career on Broadway, but the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was a fan of the series and understood the importance of his character in opening doors to other African Americans. Television personally persuaded him to remain on the show, he told astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in an interview for the Archives of American Television.

Whoopi Goldberg, who later played Guinan in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, described Uhura as a role model, recalling that she was amazed and excited to see a black female character on television. who was not a maid.

Nichols and Shatner remember shooting the famous kiss very differently. In “Star Trek Memories”, Shatner said that NBC insisted that the actors’ lips never actually touch (though they do appear). But in Nichols’ 1994 autobiography “Beyond Uhura,” the actress insisted that the kiss was in fact real. Panicked about the audience’s reaction, the network insisted that the shoot should be alternated with and without the kiss, but Nichols and Shatner deliberately flipped each one of the latter so that NBC was treated as a kiss. Will be forced to broadcast (whether their lips are actually touched or not).

Both the “Star Trek” and “Movin’ with Nancy” moments drew some negative reactions, although Nichols recalled that the fan mail was overwhelmingly positive and helpful.

NASA later hired Nichols in an effort to encourage women and African Americans to become astronauts. NASA’s Astronaut Group 8, which was selected in 1978, was the first to be recruited by women and ethnic minorities, including three blacks. Dr. May Jameson, the first black woman to fly on the Space Shuttle, cited “Star Trek” as an influence in her decision to join the space agency.

Nichols was a supporter of the space program for decades.

In 1991, Nichols became the first African American woman to have her handprints immortalized at the TCL Chinese Theatre. Other members of the original “Star Trek” cast also attended the ceremony.

Born on December 28, 1932 in Robbins, Ill., Grace Nichols began her show business career at the age of 16 by singing in a ballet created for one of her compositions with Duke Ellington. Later, she sang with her band.

She studied in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Her break came with an appearance in Oscar Brown’s high-profile but unfortunate 1961 musical “Kicks and Company”, in which she played campus queen Hazel Sharp, who was voted “Orgy Maiden of the Month” by Devil and Orgy Magazine. tempted to The drama stopped after his brief trial in Chicago, but Nichols caught the attention of Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner, who booked him at his Chicago Playboy club.

Nichols also appeared in the role of Carmen for the Chicago Stock Company’s production of “Carmen Jones” and performed in the New York production of “Porgy & Bess”, an uncredited role as a dancer in the adaptation of that work. In his feature debut. in 1959. (She would later display her singing talent on the occasion of “Star Trek”.)

While working in Chicago, Nichols was twice nominated for Best Actress for that city’s theatrical Sarah Siddons Award. The first came for “Kicks and Company”, while the second was for her performance in Jean Janet’s “The Blacks”.

She had small roles in the films “Made in Paris”, “Mr. Budwing” and Sandra Dee Vehicle in “Doc, You’ve Got to Be Kidding!” before being cast on “Star Trek”.

In the early ’60s, before “Star Trek,” Nichols had an affair with Gene Roddenberry, which, according to his autobiography, lasted several years. The affair ended when Roddenberry realized he was in love with Majel Hudeck, whom he married. When Roddenberry’s health was deteriorating decades later, Nichols co-wrote a song for him called “Gene”, which he sang at his funeral.

In January 1967, Nichols was featured on the cover of Ebony magazine, which published two feature articles on him within five years.

In the early ’70s, the actress made a few guest appearances on TV and appeared in the 1974 blaxploitation film “Truck Turner” starring Isaac Hayes. She appeared in a supporting role in the 1983 TV adaptation of “Antony and Cleopatra”, which also starred her “Star Trek” co-star Walter Koenig. She starred alongside Maxwell Caulfield and Talia Balsam in the 1986 horror sci-fi feature “The Supernatural”.

Later, Nichols began doing voice work, lending his talents to the animated series “Gargoyles” and “Spider-Man”. She also voiced herself on “Futurama”.

The actress played the mother of the lead character Cuba Gooding Jr in 2002’s “Snow Dogs” and the 2005 ice cube comedy “Are We There Still?” She played the role of Miss Mable.

In 2007, Nichols re-starred in the second season of the NBC drama “Heroes” as Nana Dawson, the parents of a New Orleans family devastated by Hurricane Katrina, who are her orphaned grandson and great-nephew. , cared for by Micah Sanders (series regular Noah Grey-Cabi). The following year she appeared in the films “True Loved” and “The Torture”.

Nichols suffered a stroke in 2015 and was diagnosed with dementia in 2018, conservatism controversy Between her manager Bell and her son as well as a friend.

Nichols was married and divorced twice. He is survived by his son Kyle Johnson in his family.

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