Groundbreaking 'Star Trek' actress, activist Nichelle Nichols dies at 89

Her family confirmed Nichols' death from natural causes.

August 1, 2022, 11:57 AM

Nichelle Nichols, one of the original cast members of "Star Trek," has died at 89, according to a Facebook post by her son, Kyle Johnson.

"I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament no longer shines for us as it has for so many years," Johnson wrote on Nichols' official Facebook page 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," he added. "Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all."

According to Johnson, Nichols died in Silver City, New Mexico.

Nichols was a groundbreaking performer, sharing American television's first scripted interracial kiss with "Star Trek" co-star William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk, in the 1968 episode "Plato's Stepchildren."

Nichols also used her celebrity to shed light on the civil rights struggle in the 1960s.

In an interview for the Archive of American Television, Nichols explained how she wanted to leave the series for a role on Broadway and how Martin Luther King Jr. talked her into staying at the height of the civil rights movement.

"I said, 'Well I'm leaving Star Trek,' and he said, 'You cannot. You cannot,'" she recalled.

In an interview with, Nichols explained that during a chance encounter at a fundraiser, King had urged her to remain on the show.

"When we see you, we see ourselves. And we see ourselves as intelligent, and beautiful and proud," she recalled King telling her. The following Monday she rescinded her resignation to show creator Gene Roddenberry.

To many, Nichols was a real-life changemaker.

"We talk a lot in Hollywood about this idea of 'you have to see it to be it,' and you have to imagine that seeing her on screen changed countless lives for young black girls," Janice Min, CEO of the Hollywood newsletter The Ankler, told ABC News.

In 2016, Nichols spoke to ABC Audio about how she had lent her star status to NASA, decades after her "Star Trek" days, to encourage diversity in its ranks of space travelers.

"NASA recruited me, hired me to recruit women and minorities for the space shuttle program. And until that time there were no people of color even considered," she explained, adding with a laugh, "and after that, we were all over the place!"

"I interviewed quite a few young women that were interested in that and simply didn't think they had a chance. And one interview with me and they knew they did," she said.

Through the years, Nichols attended countless fan signings at "Star Trek" conventions and found a number of unexpected faces -- from King to former President Barack Obama -- that the public may not have known were Trekkers.

Nichols' co-star from the original series, George Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu, mourned her death on social media over the weekend.

"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," he wrote. "For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend."

Takei later shared a photo of the two together at Florida Super Con in July 2019.

"We lived long and prospered together," he wrote in the caption.