(NEXSTAR) – Nichelle Nichols, well known for her role as Nyota Uhura in “Star Trek: The Original Series,” has died at the age of 89, her son announced on Sunday.
Her son Kyle Johnson said Nichols died Saturday in Silver City, New Mexico.
“I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament no longer shines for us as it has for so many years,” Johnson wrote on Nichols’ Facebook page. “Last night, my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away. Her light, however, like the ancient galaxies now being seen for the first time, will remain for us and future generations to enjoy, learn from, and draw inspiration.”
Nichols was born in Robbins, Illinois, in 1932, according to her IMDb page. Legendary composer Duke Ellington “discovered” Nichols and helped her become a singer and dancer. She later turned to acting and joined Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek,” where she played Lt. Uhura from 1966 to 1969.
She often recalled how the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a fan of the show and praised her role and personally encouraged her to stay with the series.
She was one of the first African American actresses to play a role that was treated the same as characters of another race, IMDb says. Nichols also shared the first on-screen kiss between a Black female and white male with “Star Trek” costar William Shatner.
After her time on “Star Trek,” Nichols went on to become a spokesperson for NASA, where she “helped recruit and inspire a new generation of fearless astronauts,” her website reads.
Her advocacy was impactful for some. Formerly a NASA deputy administrator, Frederick Gregory, now 81, told the Associated Press he once saw an advertisement in which Nichols said “I want you to apply for the NASA program.”
“She was talking to me,” he recounted. The U.S. Air Force pilot would apply and later become the first African American shuttle pilot.
Nichols has been credited for bringing in more than 8,000 applications when she signed on to help NASA recruit more women and people of color. Among those applicants were Sally Ride, the first woman from America to go to space, and Guion Stewart Bluford Jr., the first African American in space, according to USA Today.
More recently, she had a recurring role on television’s “Heroes,” playing the great-aunt of a young boy with mystical powers.
In 2015, Nichols suffered a stroke. Three years later, she was diagnosed with dementia.
Johnson said services will be for family members and her closest friends.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.