Beloved "Star Trek" actress Nichelle Nichols is caught in the middle of a conservatorship battle as she fights her own battle with dementia.
For years, there has been a fight over the legal conservatorship of Nichols, who famously played Lieutenant Nyota Uhura in "Star Trek: The Original Series" and who, here on planet Earth, helped NASA to recruit more women and people of color for the agency's astronaut corps.
Now, Nichols' only child, Kyle Johnson, her close friend and successor Angelique Fawcette and her former manager Gilbert Bell continue to fight over her conservatorship, or control over assets, personal affairs and more, the Los Angeles Times has reported (opens in new tab).
This battle comes as Nichols, 88, continues to grapple with dementia, with which she was first diagnosed in 2013. Nichols also suffered a minor stroke two years later, in 2015.
A three-way battle
For years, Bell, using his position as Nichols' manager, held control over her assets and affairs. However, three years ago, Johnson sought a petition for Nichols' conservatorship, citing his concerns that, given Nichols' dementia, she was vulnerable to being exploited. Johnson claimed his mother suffers from "severe short-term memory loss impacting her executive functioning," according to the LA Times.
Later that year, Fawcette, whom Nichols met in 2012, filed an objection to the petition, insisting that Nichols was not vulnerable and, with limited assistance, was mentally well enough to manage her own finances and personal affairs. Fawcette pushed for Nichols to stay in her home in Woodland Hills, California, and for visitation time. Fawcette also accused Johnson of filing the petition just to gain access to his mother's assets.
Despite Fawcette's objection, in 2019, Johnson was named conservator of his mother's person and estate.
Bell opposed the court's decision to grant conservatorship to Johnson and has now filed a lawsuit against Johnson, alleging that Johnson is making an "aggressive and combative" attempt to remove him from his current residence in Nichols' guest home adjacent to her home in Woodland Hills that she purchased in 1982 as a guesthouse and workspace.
However, while both Bell and Fawcette have taken issue with Johnson, Fawcette has also expressed concern about Bell. Fawcette has claimed that Bell left Nichols' guest home in a state of "disrepair" and that he suggested that he marry Nichols. This also sparked concern from Nichols' family and other friends.
Bell has claimed that living so close to Nichols has allowed him to maintain her career and finances. However, according to Johnson, who filed a countersuit against Bell in 2020, the guest home where Bell has been living is where he "exerted his undue influence and took control over Ms. Nichols’ assets and personal affairs."
Nichols' current mental and physical health is currently unknown. However, as of last year, she no longer lives at her Woodland Hills address, as her son moved her to New Mexico where he and his wife live.
A powerful legacy
From "Star Trek" to her work with NASA, Nichols has paved the way for many. In 1968, Nichols and fellow actor William Shatner shared one of the first interracial kisses to ever air on television, just one year after interracial marriage was legalized in the United States. And, many people, including NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, have spoken out over the years about how her role on the show inspired them.
Even famed civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a fan of Nichols and her role as Uhura. In fact, as it was revealed in the documentary "Woman in Motion: Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek and the Remaking of NASA," he once surprised Nichols at an event and convinced her to stay on the show when she was considering leaving.
"You don't understand the effect that you are having, not only on Black people, not only on young women, but on everybody. Everybody's mind and attitude is changed immeasurably simply because you are there," King Jr. told Nichols.
And, in addition to her groundbreaking role on "Star Trek," Nichols helped to shape the real world of space exploration. After her time on the show, Nichols began to write magazine columns about the lack of women and people of color in NASA's astronaut program.
In 1977, she was appointed to the board of directors of the National Space Institute and, with the consulting firm she started, Women in Motion, she helped to diversify the applicants for NASA's astronaut corps. According to the documentary, in just a few months, she brought in over 8,000 applicants, 1,600 of whom were women and 1,000 of whom were people of color, a significantly more diverse pool of applicants than NASA had seen before.
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