Nichols died of natural causes, he said.
Nichols portrayed communications officer Lt. Nyota Uhura in the “Star Trek” TV series and many of its movie offshoots.
When “Star Trek” began in 1966, Nichols was a rarity on television: 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.
Rev Martin Luther King Jr. calling it “the first non-stereotypical role played by a black woman in television history.”
After the three-season run of “Trek,” Nichols devoted himself to the space program. She helped NASA diversify the agency and helped recruit astronauts Sally Ride, Judith Resnik and Guion Bluford, among others.
George Takei, who played the helmsman Hikaru Sulu of the USS Enterprise, posted a moving tribute to his opponent.
“We lived a long life and prospered together,” he added with a photo of the couple taking the iconic Vulcan salute.
Nichols was born Grace Dell Nichols near Chicago in 1932. (Unfortunately with Grace, she took the name Nichelle when she was a teenager.) Her grandfather was a white Southerner who married a black woman, marking a split in his family caused.
She moved to Los Angeles in the early 1960s and landed a part 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 making “Trek,” he remembered Nichols. She was in Europe when she got the call.
Uhura was not in the original script and Nichols was responsible for the name. She read a book called “Uhuru” – “freedom” in Swahili – and suggested that her character take the name. Roddenberry thought it was too hard.
“I said, ‘Well, why don’t you change it, soften the ending with an ‘A’, and it becomes 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.