- BBC News World
American actress Nichelle Nichols, best known for her role in the 1960s science fiction television series Star Trek, died this weekend at the age of 89.
Nichols broke down racial barriers between the two with his portrayal of Lt. Nyota Uhura, becoming one of the first actresses black from the United States to play a character in a position of authority.
She was later employed by NASA in a campaign to encourage more women and Afro-descendants to become astronauts.
The actress died of natural causes Saturday night, according to her son Kyle Johnson.
In a statement posted on Facebook, Johnson wrote: “I am sorry to inform you that a great light in the sky has ceased to shine for us as it has for so many years.”
“Its light, however, like ancient galaxies seen for the first time, will continue with us and future generations to enjoy, learn and be inspired by it.”
The Star Trek television series broke 1960s stereotypes by casting black and other minority actors in leading roles.
Lieutenant Uhura was a competent and rational communications officer, who go against the formulas and clichés of the time.
In 1968, she and Star Trek main character William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk, defied existing norms by sharing the first interracial kiss — even if it wasn’t romantic.
Despite its success, Nichols initially considered leaving the show. But she was talked out of it by the black leader Martin Luther King jr.which describes her character as “the first non-stereotypical role played by a black woman in the history of television”.
Nichols said he decided to continue and never regretted doing so.
After the series ended in 1969, Nichols was involved in the first six Star Trek versions that were produced for the movies.
Upon learning of his death, his series co-star George Takei, who played Hikaru Suru, wrote on Twitter, “My heart is heavy, my eyes shine like the stars you sleep with, my dear friend.”
“The significance of Nichelle’s legacy cannot be underestimated. She was much loved and will be missed,” said television producer Adam Nimoy, the son of actor Leonard Nimoy who played Mr. Spock in StarTrek.
William Shatner also paid tribute to the actress.
“She was a beautiful woman and she admirably embodied the character who did so much to redefine social issues in the United States and around the world,” he wrote on Twitter.
For its part, NASA described Nichols as a “pioneer” and a “model”.
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