I have been truly moved by the tributes and messages honoring the life and work of Nichelle Nichols, our very own Lieutenant and later Commander Uhura on Star Trek.
Although our original series ran only three seasons, we became bonded as the fans of our show organized, convened and ultimately pressed for movies and spin-offs of the groundbreaking show. Nichelle and I spent the following decades together as not only colleagues from the bridge of the Enterprise, but as lifelong friends.
Much has been said about what a trailblazer and role model Nichelle was for so many young Black women, who saw in her hope and promise for their own future. I wanted to take a moment to share some stories about Nichelle that aren’t as well known, and which highlight her lively spirit, her incredible kindness, and her warm generosity.
Courtesy of the Takei Family
Our friendship began six decades ago, before Star Trek, when she came backstage after a performance of a civil rights musical I was doing called “Fly Blackbird” in Los Angeles. I will never forget that first meeting. She was stunningly beautiful. But beyond her beauty, she stood out. It was a time when many African American women “conked” their hair, which meant straightening it, as was the current fashion. Instead, Nichelle wore an enormous natural “Afro” sphere on her head. It was natural, it was proud, and it was glorious. I knew right then that she was a singular individual.
Back in the 1970s, after our series ended on television, I became active in local politics and even ran for city council in Los Ángeles. That required a lot of fundraising dinners and political campaigning, and I knew that I could always ask Nichelle to be our featured performer. She always donated her talent and made every event feel special and glamorous. Indeed, Nichelle made a point of being at every important milestone of mine that she could, including the opening of Allegiance just a few years ago on Broadway and later in Los Ángeles. As a trained stage actress, Nichelle knew how special such occasions were to us.
Courtesy of the Takei Family
When my husband Brad and I got married, we asked Walter Koenig, who played ensign Chekov on the show, to be our best man at the wedding. We asked Nichelle to be our matron of honor. In her characteristic fashion, Nichelle declared, “I am not a matron! If Walter can be best man, why can’t I be best lady?” Noting that Walter’s “best man” title implied the awkward title of “best woman,” she was determined to be known as the “best lady” to the guests. I told her, “Of course you are.”
When my father passed away, Nichelle came to the funeral and she saw many Japanese Americans with envelopes. They were handing them over to a receptionist in the lobby. She was always a curious soul, so she asked me, “George, what are they bringing to the funeral?” I said it was friends and relatives making financial contributions to support the funeral costs. Nichelle had never heard of the Japanese tradition called koden. A few days later, an envelope arrived in the mail from her. Inside was a check for $500, a very generous koden.
Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images
So while fans will miss and honor the famous actress who opened so many paths with her presence on the screen, I will also miss the dear friend who always let you know she was there to support you, to love you, and to go through this strange and wonderful life alongside you.
Nichelle Nichols, you were one in a million in so many, many ways.