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Nichelle Nichols
Nichelle Nichols (Shutterstock)

Pioneering Actor And Star Trek Icon Nichelle Nichols, Dead At 89

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SILVER CITY, NM (CelebrityAccess) — Nichelle Nichols, an actor best known for her portrayal of Lieutenant Uhura in the original Star Trek series and its subsequent films, and for breaking barriers with America’s first televised interracial kiss, has died. She was 89.

According to the New York Times, a spokesperson for the family said Nichols died of heart failure on Saturday in Silver City, N.M.

A native of Chicago, Nichols began her career in entertainment on the stage, getting her first break in 1961 when she landed a role in Oscar Brown’s musical production of Kicks and Co.

While the musical proved to be a flop, Nichols attracted the attention of publisher and club owner Hugh Hefner, who booked her for his Chicago Playboy Club.

Her other early stage roles included a Chicago stock company production of Carmen Jones, and the James Baldwin play Blues for Mister Charlie.

She also toured as a singer, appearing alongside of established performers such as Duke Ellington, during tours in the U.S. and Canada.

In what would become her signature role, Nichols joined the cast of Star Trek during the show’s first season in 1966, becoming the first black woman to be a featured actor in a major network television series.

In her groundbreaking role in the show, Nichols portrayed Lt. Nyota Uhura, the highly trained and competent communications officer of the USS Enterprise, a boundry breaking role in an era where Black women were routinely depicted in subservient roles in Hollywood.

During an interview with the Archive of American Television, Nichols revealed that she was considering leaving the show during its first season but after meeting Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. who approached her during a conference, told her he was a fan and urged her to continue in the role.

Nichols also made history when, during the show’s third season, she engaged in what may be the first interracial kiss on network television when she and fellow co-star William Shatner shared a brief on-screen embrace.

After the original Star Trek series ended its television run, Nichols would go on to play Lieutenant Uhura in the movie franchise spun off from the series, appearing in multiple films through the 1970, 80s, and 90s.

She also became a representative for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, helping to recruit women and minorities for the agency, including as candidates for spaceflight training.

As well, continued to act in film and television roles, and lent her distinctive voice to multiple animated characters, including Gargoyles and Batman: The Animated Series.

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