Nichols died from natural causes, he said.
Nichols portrayed communications officer Lt. Nyota Uhura in the “Star Trek” TV series and many of its film offshoots.
When “Star Trek” began in 1966, Nichols was a television rarity: a Black woman in a notable role on a prime-time television series. There had been African-American women on TV before, but they often played domestic workers and had small roles; Nichols’ Uhura was an integral part of the multicultural “Star Trek” crew.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called it “the first non-stereotypical role portrayed by a Black woman in television history.”
After “Trek’s” three-season run, Nichols dedicated herself to the space program. She helped NASA in making the agency more diverse, helping to recruit astronauts Sally Ride, Judith Resnik and Guion Bluford, among others.
George Takei, who portrayed the USS Enterprise’s helmsman Hikaru Sulu, posted a touching tribute to his co-star.
“We lived long and prospered together,” he added with a photo of the pair making the iconic Vulcan salute.
Nichols was born Grace Dell Nichols near Chicago in 1932. (Unhappy with Grace, she took the name Nichelle when she was a teenager.) Her grandfather was a White Southerner who married a Black woman, causing a rift in his family.
She moved to Los Angeles in the early ’60s and landed a role in a Gene Roddenberry series, “The Lieutenant.” A number of “Star Trek” veterans, including Leonard Nimoy, Walter Koenig and Majel Barrett, also worked on the show.
When Roddenberry was creating “Trek,” he remembered Nichols. She was in Europe when she got the call.
Uhura wasn’t in the original script, and Nichols was responsible for the name. She was reading a book called “Uhuru” — “freedom” in Swahili — and suggested her character take the name. Roddenberry thought it was too harsh.
“I said, ‘Well, why don’t you do an alteration of it, soften the end with an ‘A,’ and it’ll be Uhura?’ ” she recalled. “He said, ‘That’s it, that’s your name! You named it; it’s yours.’ ”
Nichols is survived by her son, Kyle Johnson.