Nichelle Nichols, 1932-2022

Nichelle Nichols!

The last time we met Nichelle Nichols, at Indiana Comic Con 2017.

Today we were saddened to hear of the passing of Nichelle Nichols, a.k.a. Lieutenant Nyota Uhura from Star Trek, life-changing inspiration and role model of millions. Millions of actors, creators, celebrities, fans, and news sites are online to explain who she is or what she meant to so, so many. For me as a youngster who caught the OG Enterprise crew in reruns, she was an integral part of a stellar interstellar ensemble who showed us, despite innumerable obstacles in their path, that theirs was a potential future for humankind, in which everyone works, lives, and succeeds side-by-side in forging new paths together.

Ms. Nichols’ presence has graced this humble site in years past. Sunday afternoon my wife Anne rushed to dig through her convention scrapbooks for memories of Ms. Nichols, some of which predate this site and the public internet itself. Suffice it to say there’s a certain fondness on her part as we stroll down that memory lane with thoughts and prayers for Ms. Nichols’ family and loved ones today.

Nichols was among the guest at Starbase Indy 1991, the very first convention Anne ever attended. A college student at the time, Anne showed up that cold November 30th on the other side of Indianapolis with her old 110 camera in hand and terrible ballroom lighting working against her. Little did she know Nichols would become a recurring guest in her memories throughout the next three decades, and not just on screens.

Nichelle Nichols 1991!

She regaled the Q&A audience with stories of working on the show, recounted her famous meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King when he convinced her to remain on the show, and answered fans’ questions. (When a child asked how long it took to build the Enterprise, she patiently replied, “A looooong time.”

Nichelle Nichols 1991!

She ended the panel with a song. She sang for them! The more I think about this, the more jealous I am of Anne for having had that beautiful opportunity.

Nichols earrings 1991!

Back in those days, stars at cons would sign for free, so turnout could be huge. Nichols and the other guests kept on signing long after their scheduled time.

Nichelle Nichols 1991!

Her autographed program from the occasion.

Fast-forward to November 28, 1998: Nichols was one of four classic-Trek superstars (along with George Takei, Walter Koenig, and James Doohan before his passing in 2005) to grace Indy with their presence at “Slanted Fedora Presents the Fab Four Tour” according to Anne’s ticket stub. The autographs were again free and the lines were even longer.

Nichelle Nichols!

I recall she said something extraordinarily gracious to Anne, but I didn’t write it down. This was still pre-internet for us, pre-digital cameras, and very pre-blogging.

Nichols autograph 1998!

The very photo in that photo, post-signing.

Conventions weren’t her only public outings. Once upon a time, Gold 104.5, a now-defunct “oldies” radio station — which at that time meant their entire catalog was ’50s and ’60s pop singles, not Nirvana and MC Hammer — held an annual event called “Throwback Thursdays”, for which they invited classic-TV actors to come to town and do one-night-only free signings for listeners. (Other stars we met through this same promotional generosity throughout the years included Gabe Kotter, Donny Most, Gordon Jump, and Burt Ward.) The signing locations varied, probably dependent on advertising dollars spent. Thus did Nichols graciously hold court at a National Car Sales franchise.

Nichelle Nichols 2003!

In hindsight, I wish I’d taken five minutes to change out of my work clothes before hurrying on down.

Nichols autograph 2003!

The last freebie.

The next time we spotted her in person was at Gen Con 2012, back when Gen Con still had media guests each year, a practice they later discontinued to focus on their core strengths, such as games and games and games. This was also the first time we ever saw her in a wheelchair. As she entered, fans were asked not to take any photos till she was at her table, in position and ready for action.

Nichelle Nichols 2012!

Yep, she still got it.

…and our lead photo, from Indiana Comic Con 2017, would be our final encounter. And yes, this time we were more than happy to pay for our “WE’RE NOT WORTHY!” moment. The photo op ended up a compromise — one part goofy jazz hands (which works as a sort of “TA-DAAA!” heraldry of royalty) and two parts Vulcan salute in honor of her friends and her legacy. R.I.P., Ms. Nichols.

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