The incomparable talent Nichelle Nichols inspired so many generations with her trailblazing presence. Ever since she first appeared on-screen as Lt. Nyota Uhura, the Enterprise’s communications officer in 1966, she demonstrated that a woman — a woman of color at that — had just as every right to be stationed on the Bridge in a high-ranking position in both a mainstream television series as well as the fictional world of a brighter future.
Inspiring millions across generations, Nichols provided courage, hope, and encouragement for those pursuing space in all areas whether it be acting, the sciences, or political activism. Not only did she inspire future Trek talent such as Whoopi Goldberg, Sonequa Martin-Green, Dawnn Lewis, and Celia Rose Gooding, but she also served as inspiration to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Barack Obama, Dr. Mae Jemison, and so many countless others. Here was the rare example of the fictional character being just as incredible as the real talent, not just the other way around.
In the days following the passing of the late great Nichelle Nichols, many people worldwide in the realm of Trek and beyond have shared what both Nichelle and Uhura have meant to them, memorializing her grace and groundbreaking presence.
Those who served aboard the same Bridge as Nichols — William Shatner, George Takei, and Walter Koenig — remembered their colleague and friend fondly.
Takei, who portrayed Sulu, shared several messages on Twitter as well as his personal site, “For today, my heart is heavy, my eyes shining like the stars you now rest among, my dearest friend,” and included an image stating, “We lived long and prospered together.”
Shatner, who portrayed Capt. James T. Kirk, shared, “I am so sorry to hear about the passing of Nichelle. She was a beautiful woman and played an admirable character that did so much for redefining social issues both here in the US and throughout the world. I will certainly miss her. Sending my love and condolences to her family.”
Koenig relayed, "My heart goes out to Nichelle's son, Kyle, Nichelle's sisters and Sky Conway who stood by and up for our dear co-worker Nichelle Nichols these very trying past years. Love always"
Adam Nimoy, the son of their late co-star Leonard Nimoy, shared an old production photo of Nichols and his father noting, “My favorite photo of Dad and Nichelle Nichols on set. The importance of Nichelle's legacy cannot be over-emphasized. She was much loved and will be missed.”
During Monday’s episode of The View, Whoopi Goldberg, who starred on Star Trek: The Next Generation, shared, “Nichelle Nichols was a trailblazer, a heroine, and an extraordinary woman — someone who inspired millions and millions of people, but who inspired me because I explained when I went to get my gig at Star Trek that Nichelle was the first Black person I’d ever seen who made it to the future. She was head of communications. And this show and this woman was the one beacon that said, ‘Yes, we’ll be there.’ And it just made me feel like that was an amazing thing. She helped propel other women to go into space. She was extraordinary and I was lucky enough to spend time with her over the years.”
Zoe Saldana, the Uhura from J.J. Abrams’ Kelvin Timeline films, took to Instagram to share a heartfelt message, “I’m saddened to learn of Nichelle Nichols’ passing. We have lost a true star- a unique artist who was ahead of her time always. She’s an icon, an activist and most importantly an amazing woman- who blazed a trail that has shown so many how to see women of color in a different light. Her strive for equality was unwavering.”
“Meeting Nichelle was truly a very special moment in my life,” continued Saldana. “Her energy was infectious every time I was in her presence. She convinced me in believing that anything was achievable if you put your heart into it. I mean, she inspired Mae Jemison to follow her dreams of becoming an astronaut and that’s exactly what Mae did. I knew I had big shoes to fill when I was chosen to play Uhura, and Nichelle made me feel safe, told me to play her with all the confidence in the world. My hope is that we continue to keep her memory alive by celebrating her amazing body of work, and by spreading the message of peace and equality amongst all people. She lived a long, impactful life and not only prospered, but helped so many others prosper too.”
“Maya Angelou once said ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,’” concluded Saldana. “I agree with this statement with the exception of Nichelle Nichols. It’ll be hard to forget what she said and hard to forget what she did, and it will certainly be impossible to forget how she made us feel. REST IN POWER QUEEN NICHELLE”
Sonequa Martin-Green, the lead star Capt. Michael Burnham on Star Trek: Discovery, revealed, “Devastated. I feel for her family and loved ones especially as I grieve this revolutionary force of a woman. Can’t put it all in a post but I’ll settle now for this: She was a hero in the true sense of the word. I owe so much to her. We all do. Her impact on the world can’t be quantified but I hope we can follow her example and carry her legacy forward.”
Celia Rose Gooding, the latest addition to the Star Trek universe who portrays the younger version of the character Nichols made iconic, Cadet Uhura, on the series Strange New Worlds, initially shared, “She made room for so many of us. She was the reminder that not only can we reach the stars, but our influence is essential to their survival. Forget shaking the table, she built it!”
Gooding further elaborated on her sentiments in a tribute essay in The Hollywood Reporter, “How often in history does one live to see the impact of their legacy? As human beings with lifetimes that stand as just a drop in the ocean of time, one rarely sees the fruits of their labor moving toward a better world for future generations. Nichelle Nichols, who died July 30 at the age of 89, serves as an incomparable exception to that notion.”
Reflecting on what Nichols’ presence on television screens in homes around the world in the ‘60s meant, Gooding stated, “As a chief officer on the flagship of Starfleet, Lt. Uhura was the cool, unflappable presence who oversaw connections between species, playing it with a beauty and grace that made her stand out in an otherwise predominantly white and male world. In the ’60s, a Black woman in a position of power was an anomaly. Nichols’ portrayal of Nyota Uhura symbolized that Black people merited a position of importance, equality and respect in the future. Martin Luther King Jr. himself knew the importance of Lt. Uhura in representing the contributions of Black people; Nichols recalled the civil rights icon telling her, ‘For the first time on television, we will be seen as we should be seen every day, as intelligent, quality, beautiful people who can sing, dance and who can go to space, who are professors, lawyers.’ Lt. Uhura quenched the thirst of Black Americans everywhere who yearned for a future in which they could see themselves living, learning and loving in a world where the color of their skin didn’t limit their future — the world that freedom fighters were grappling for in real time. She opened the doors for Black women in entertainment to be viewed as powerful, capable, beautiful and intelligent. She collaborated on NASA initiatives to recruit more women and people of color. She went above and beyond, not only playing an important Black woman in the future of space programs, but also paving the way for other astronauts, doctors and scientists to excel in their respective fields, further cementing the role of women and people of color in the scientific advancement of the present day.”
On Nichols’ legacy, Gooding added, “I’ve embraced the role of Cadet Nyota Uhura, understanding and grateful for the role Nichols played in paving the way, and the work she did to establish a proud tradition of Black women carving out a place for others to fill. I never had the chance to meet her, but I feel her presence on set every day and see her legacy reflected in the lives she touched. On the TV screen and beyond, Nichols’ legacy lives on in all of us, myself included, who are grateful for and benefit from her perseverance, talent and grace.”
Alex Kurtzman, screenwriter, producer, director, and current architect of the Star Trek universe, reflected, “Nichelle was a singular inspiration. She’s the one who really opened my eyes to what Star Trek is and can be. I can’t tell you how many people have told me she’s the reason they became… an astronaut, a scientist, a writer, a linguist, an engineer… it goes on and on. We stand in her light and honor her today and every day. Thank you, dear Nichelle, for leading the way.”
Kate Mulgrew, who portrayed Capt. Janeway on Voyager and now currently on Prodigy, expressed, “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. May she Rest In Peace.”
Tributes poured in from every corner of the Star Trek universe including Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Levar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Jeri Ryan, Wilson Cruz, Aaron J. Waltke, Olatunde Osunsanmi, Doug Jones, Kim Cattrall, Karl Urban, JJ Abrams, John Cho, Anthony Rapp, Melissa Navia, Tawny Newsome, Denise Crosby, Seth MacFarlane, Anthony Montgomery, Davy Perez, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Terry Matalas, Brent Spiner, Mike McMahan, Michelle Paradis, Akiva Goldsman, Bo Yeon Kim, Henry Alonso Myers, Rod Roddenberry, David Mack, Lea Thompson, Jayne Brook, and Michael Okuda.
NASA posted, “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.” The agency took to their site to further detail all the times their paths crossed with Nichols including her work in recruiting women and people of color into the Space Shuttle Program.
NASA administrator Bill Nelson remarked, “Nichelle’s advocacy transcended television and transformed NASA. After Apollo 11, Nichelle made it her mission to inspire women and people of color to join this agency, change the face of STEM and explore the cosmos. Nichelle’s mission is NASA’s mission. Today, as we work to send the first woman and first person of color to the Moon under Artemis, NASA is guided by the legacy of Nichelle Nichols.”
Those she inspired to travel into actual space took to Twitter to pay their tributes as well. Dr. Mae Jemison reflected, “Nichelle Nichols is forever for me the embodiment of grace, daring, intelligence, fun, inspiration, beauty, talent & the future. Today I am heart-sad at her passing. I consider our dearest friendship a great treasure & privilege in my life.”
Astronaut and STEAM explorer Leland Melvin expressed, “Nichelle thank you for being such a powerful, graceful, elegant, kind, and talented force in the Universe. You inspired me and so many others to believe and rise. Condolences to the family. Much love and respect.”
President Joe Biden and the White House released a statement noting, “Our nation is forever indebted to inspiring artists like Nichelle Nichols, who show us a future where unity, dignity, and respect are cornerstones of every society.”
Vice President Kamala Harris shared, “Nichelle Nichols was a trailblazer. She inspired generations of young leaders to pursue a career in STEM and space. Her remarkable legacy is one that I and so many others are touched by.”
The Obama Foundation paid tribute, “Today we're remembering Nichelle Nichols, a beloved Star Trek legend, whose millions of fans included a young Barack Obama. Throughout her career she helped blaze new trails on Earth and in space, inspiring so many young people to reimagine their own future.”
In life, Nichols often recalled how she nearly quit Star Trek until a conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had her reconsider the decision. His daughter, activist Bernice King, and son, Martin Luther King III, memorialized the late actress as well.
Bernice King shared, “Representation matters. Excellence in representation matters even more. Thank you, Nichelle Nichols. Rest well, ancestor. 🖤”
While The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center stated, “We will miss you, Nichelle Nichols. You blazed a trail for every Black woman that always believed they could be a superhero.”
Activist and Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia Stacey Abrams posted, “One of my most treasured photos - Godspeed to Nichelle Nichols, champion, warrior and tremendous actor. Her kindness and bravery lit the path for many. May she forever dwell among the stars.”
Other officials and government agencies shared their gratitude and reflections, including former Secretary of State and senator Hillary Clinton, The Smithsonian, National Air and Space Museum, Georgia state senator Rev. Raphael Warnock, and Florida Rep. Val Demings.
Actress Ashley Nicole Black noted, “Nichelle Nichols left behind such a beautiful legacy of what it really means to use the platform you have to make the world a better place. I think of her example often and I hope others will too. Rest well, Lt.”
Other actors and luminaries who were touched by Nichols’ passing include Kerry Washington, Ben Stiller, Josh Gad, Tom Morello, Matthew Modine, Bill Nye, Wanda Sykes, Viola Davis, Jason Alexander, Colman Domingo, and Joy-Ann Reid.
Marc Evan Jackson recalled a memory of Nichols and The Next Generation’s Michael Dorn, “Years ago on the way home from some Con, I was on a flight with some unquestionable sci fi royalty. As we deplaned, Michael Dorn knelt to a seated Nichelle Nichols and said, ‘Be well, my Queen,’ and it was all I could do not to cry there and then. I think of it a lot.”
Another classic TV icon, Lynda Carter, shared, “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.”
The LA Away Team gathered in Los Angeles at Nichols’ Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Please join StarTrek.com in extending our condolences to Nichols' family, friends, colleagues, and countless fans all over the world.