As a key cast member of the original "Star Trek" TV series, Nichelle Nichols is credited with inspiring a generation of young African American actresses, scientists and astronauts — and with participating in the first amorous interracial kiss on U.S. television.
The historic moment in kissing occurred in 1968, when Nichols, playing Lieutenant Commander Uhura of the U.S.S. Enterprise, kissed William Shatner in his role as starship Captain James T. Kirk. At the time, the scene provoked great controversy, even though the kiss was portrayed as having been caused by telekinesis. It happened nearly a year after Sammy Davis, Jr. kissed Nancy Sinatra on a variety show, though the Davis-Sinatra kiss was clearly platonic.
Aside from the kiss, Nichols is remembered as playing an educated, dignified black woman of authority at a time when most racial minorities, if cast at all, were consigned to subservient roles. Interviewed for the documentary, "Trekkies," Nichols proudly related one young fan's reaction to Nichols' character: "Momma! There's a black lady on TV and she ain't no maid!" That young fan was Whoopi Goldberg, later a frequent guest star on "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
Hailing from Robbins, Ill., where her father was the mayor, Nichols was born in 1932 and studied acting in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. She once sang with Duke Ellington and starred in a New York production of "Porgy and Bess." Her son, actor Kyle Johnson, played the lead role in the 1969 movie, "The Learning Tree." Nichols, who lives in Woodland Hills, has volunteered time to help NASA recruit women and minorities.