One of the stars of the original TV series “Star Trek” died over the weekend. Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura on the Starship Enterprise, was 89.
Radio Iowa interviewed Nichols during her last stop in Iowa in 2018 and she reflected on a long, prosperous life which she said has been one bold adventure after another. Nichols is considered by many not just an iconic actress, but as a heroine in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
“I’m honored to be thought of that way but it was just my life. That’s the way I went. That’s the way I was,” Nichols said. “Then everybody wanted to put it out there, and I’ve been putting stuff out there for all my life, so why not?” Nichols planned to leave the show after the first season, but had a chance meeting with a fan, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, who convinced her to stay on, saying she was an incredible role model in the multiracial cast.
Nichols, who was black, and white actor William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk, shared what’s celebrated as the first interracial kiss on American television in 1968. In later years, Nichols helped NASA recruit women and minorities to join the astronaut corps. She’s credited with bringing aboard Sally Ride, who became the first American woman in space, as well as Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space.
Nichols said her first love was musical theater and she toured the country in the 1990s singing in a one-woman tribute to female jazz and blues singers. “I sing. I’m a dancer. I’m a ballerina. I talk too much. I’m an actor,” she says, laughing. “I’m all of those things. I’m in all of those areas that are fascinating to me.”
Interviewed at the Wizard World Comic Con in Des Moines in June of 2018, Nichols said she was energized to see so many fans lining up to see her, to get an autograph or a selfie with her, even more than 50 years after Star Trek debuted. It’s an incredibly loyal fan base, “just wonderful,” she said.
“You would be shocked at the many people that are Star Trekkers and know more about Trekdom than I do,” she said. The original TV show continues to spawn spin-offs and movies, but also lives on in reruns and is still finding new, adoring viewers. In the autograph line, that day was a young girl of around eight, clad in boots and a red skirt with a triangular gold emblem on the black lapel, a miniature version of the uniform Nichols wore as Uhura more than five decades ago.