‘Star Trek’ star Nichelle Nichols honored at 2021 Los Angeles Comic Con
Nichelle Nichols, the woman who played Nyota Uhura in the original Star Trek series, has made her final convention appearance.
After more than 50 years in the spotlight, Nichols has decided to step back from public appearances. She made her final convention showing over the weekend at the 2021 Los Angeles Comic-Con, where she was showered with praise and recognition. The convention featured Nichols as part of a three-day farewell commemoration aiming to celebrate the 88-year-old actress and her history-defining role.
From 1966 to 1991, through three seasons and six feature films, Nichols played the primary translator and communications officer onboard the USS Enterprise. She was one of the first Black characters to appear on television in a non-menial role and shared the first interracial kiss to ever appear on television in the 1968 Star Trek episode “Plato’s Stepchildren.”
Nichols’ role as Uhura was groundbreaking and helped pave the way for the wealth of talented actors of color who would follow, including in the Star Trek universe itself. Star Trek: Discovery star Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays the first Black female Starfleet Captain in a leading role in the Star Trek universe, spoke via video tribute at the convention. She named Nichols as a big part of her personal inspiration and shared a story about her first-ever meeting with Nichols, at the premier of Discovery in 2017.
“I remember the great ball of nervousness that was in my stomach as I was approaching her, but she whispered to me in my ear so delicately, she said ‘Take care. It’s yours now.’ And I melted,” Martin-Green said. “And I needed that. I needed that blessing. She made me feel welcomed. She made me feel justified and she made me feel empowered.”
The 36-year-old Discovery star also recounted the story of Nichols’ chance meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King. During her Star Trek run, Nichols briefly considered leaving the show to shift her talents to Broadway. As she was considering the change in careers, Nichols had an unexpected encounter with Dr. King, in which he explained how much her role meant to viewers of color, that emphasized the representation she was providing for Black people around the nation.
“Nichelle’s legacy can be described as that of sacrificial, heroic contribution. She decided to stay, and ultimately devoted her entire self to the progression of Black people, people of color, and women,” Martin-Green said. “And she gave everything. She gave her time, her energy. She gave her intelligence, her wisdom, her leadership, and her heart for the betterment of the world and the future. I am only here because of her. I also owe it to Nichelle to continue her legacy of heroism through sacrifice. And that is what she has taught me. That is how her words have been reverberating in my heart here lately, is making that choice to step away from self-interest, and instead devote yourself to the interests of others.”
Nichols is headed toward her 89th birthday, which will occur later this month on Dec. 28. She has experienced increasing health difficulties in her old age, struggling with dementia and recently landing at the center of a conservatorship battle between her former manager, Gilbert Bell, and her son, Kyle Johnson.
Despite her age and health issues, Nichols made her retirement from conventions with aplomb. She met with fans, took photos, signed autographs, and reportedly even engaged “briefly but joyfully” in dance, according to reporting from People. A number of other prominent figures joined Martin-Green in honoring Nichols from afar, including Star Trek creator Gene Roddenbury’s son, Rod Roddenberry, retired U.S. Ambassador and current Diversity & Inclusion Officer at the U.S. State Department Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, along with current and former NASA administrators Sen. Bill Nelson and Gen. Charles Bolden.
A number of people also managed to show up to honor Nichols in-person, including NASA Astronaut Appearance Specialist Denise Young and former astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, both of whom were inspired to join the agency thanks to Nichols.
Nichols was reportedly thrilled to attend the convention, flashing smiles, waves, blown kisses, and the Vulcan salute to fans who stopped by to see her. Her son spoke at the convention alongside several others, honoring his mother for the changes her role paved the way for.
“A life well-lived is reward enough, every day, and my mother’s certainly had a life well-lived in many respects,” he said. “This is an exceptional recognition, and I’m of course very proud of her for all that she’s done, and the value and the meaning of her work. Not just as an actress, but very real and important work that she inspired and enabled people to understand.”
Jemison, who joined NASA thanks to Nichols’ work recruiting women and minorities into the agency during the 1970s, also recognized the Star Trek actress in a speech. She honored Nichols throughout her career, opening all her on-air communications with one of Nichols’ signature Star Trek lines: “Hailing frequencies open.”
“One of the things that you’ve heard everyone say when they talk about meeting and spending any time in Miss Nichelle Nichols’ presence is warmth and generosity. And you feel like you’ve known her, because she is that real, not just relatable, but that important and sentient in our lives,” Jemison said.
“She said to me, ‘Life is what the universe gave you for free when you were born. But style is what you do with it.'”