Skip to main content

'Star Trek' legend Nichelle Nichols caught in ongoing conservatorship battle: report

"Star Trek" actress Nichelle Nichols is currently in the middle of a three-way conservatorship battle. In this photo, actress Nichelle Nichols is seen at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, during a 2010 event with LEGO. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

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

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. 

Related: Documentary explores 'Star Trek,' Nichelle Nichols and NASA's 1970s astronaut search

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. 

In pictures: 'Star Trek' and NASA - A mind-meld of sci-fi and fact

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. 

More: Nichelle Nichols, African-American Astronauts Honored at Gala

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. 

Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@space.com or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Chelsea Gohd

Chelsea Gohd joined Space.com as an intern in the summer of 2018 and returned as a Staff Writer in 2019. After receiving a B.S. in Public Health, she worked as a science communicator at the American Museum of Natural History and even wrote an installation for the museum's permanent Hall of Meteorites. Chelsea has written for publications including Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine, Live Science, All That is Interesting, AMNH Microbe Mondays blog, The Daily Targum and Roaring Earth. When not writing, reading or following the latest space and science discoveries, Chelsea is writing music and performing as her alter ego Foxanne (@foxannemusic). You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd.