Best known for playing Lieutenant Uhura, the communications officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise on the original 60’s television series, Star Trek, former dancer and bodacious model Nichelle Nichols is one of the first African-American women to be cast in a role other than stereotyped black maid or nanny.
Just two weeks in recovery after suffering a stroke in the late summer of 2015, Nichelle says, “I am feeling the best that I felt in a very long time,” Nichols said, smiling.
Nichols added that there’s been no loss of mobility in the wake of her stroke, telling Entertainment Tonight, “I am as wild and woolly as I have ever been.”
The acclaimed actress says that she was able to get past her illness using a coping technique she learned from her parents.
“Things I can’t deal with and have no say over, I deny them,” Nichols explained. “And strangely enough most times they go away. So this was one of those times.”
But she recognizes that simply denying something won’t always work, and sometimes you have to fight hard to get past obstacles.
“Yeah, I am a fighter,” Nichols said. “Don’t be messing with my game. My game is my career.”
And what a great, long career Nichols continues to have.
Nichols recalls that some of her fans in the South confessed that they were not allowed to watch Star Trek during that time because the show was integrated. She also performed the first inter-racial kiss on national television, which is one of many behind the scene stories of the show.
One of the most notable, but rarely talked about behind-the-scenes stories is how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. convinced her to stay on the show despite her desire to leave after only one season.
“I walked in to the interview with this magnificent document on Africa by [Robert] Ruark called Uhuru, which is Swahili for Freedom,” explains Nichols. “Gene Roddenberry, the show’s creator, said he really liked the name of that book and wanted to use the title as a first name. I said, why don’t you do an alliteration of the name Uhuru and soften the N and make it Uhura? He said you are Uhura and that belongs to you.”
“After the first year, Grace Lee Whitney was let go so it became Bill and Leonard. The rest of us became supporting characters. I decided to leave the show after the first season,” continued Nichols.
“I was at a fundraiser and the promoter of the event said there’s somebody that wants to meet you. He is your biggest fan. I stood up and turned to see the beatific face of Dr. Martin Luther King walking towards me with a sparkle in his eye. He took my hand and thanked me for meeting him. He then said I am your greatest fan. All I remember is my mouth opening and shutting.”
Thanks to her popularity with Star Trek, Nichols also began volunteering her time with NASA, in a highly effective campaign to recruit minority and female personnel for the space agency. She served on the Board of Governors of the National Space Society, a nonprofit, educational space advocacy organization. She has continued to appear in various television and film roles, returned to singing, and in 1994, she published her autobiography Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories. She was awarded her much deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992.