As the saying goes, “Bad news comes in threes”. By now, I’m sure everyone has heard about the passing of both Nichelle Nichols on July 30 and Bill Russell on July 31. Sadly, they are the second and third recent deaths of notable people.
I’ve heard people criticize Nichols’s role of Uhura as a “glorified receptionist”, but you have to take the good with the bad. Her character was groundbreaking because hers was not a Black role, the character had skills and a job which she did well. When people are shown as just people, living normal lives (well, as normal as living in a sci-fi world can be), it changes public perception. Yes, Star Trek was always “woke” (the first time I’ve ever used that word).
Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt Uhura in original Star Trek, dies aged 89
Nichelle Nichols, who played communications officer Lt Nyota Uhura on the original Star Trek series and helped to create a new era for television in the 1960s, has died in New Mexico at the age of 89.
Nichols’ son, Kyle Johnson, announced her death on Sunday via Facebook, saying: “I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament no longer shines for us as it has for so many years.” Nichols’s death, on Saturday night in Silver City, was later confirmed by her agent.
Johnson said his mother had succumbed to natural causes, seven years after suffered a stroke.
“Her light however, like the ancient galaxies now being seen for the first time, will remain for us and future generations to enjoy, learn from and draw inspiration.”
Russell was a giant of a man, and I’m not referring to basketball. Well, he was a giant there too. Even if you never knew he played, his activism and his words throughout his life carried weight.
NBA legend and civil rights activist Bill Russell dies at 88
NBA legend Bill Russell, an 11-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics and the first Black head coach in the league, passed away “peacefully” Sunday, according to a family statement from his verified Twitter account. He was 88.
“It is with a very heavy heart we would like to pass along to all of Bill’s friends, fans, & followers,” the statement reads.
“Bill Russell, the most prolific winner in American sports history, passed away peacefully today at age 88, with his wife, Jeannine, by his side. Arrangements for his memorial service will be announced soon.”
In addition to his sporting achievements, Russell was one of sport’s leading civil rights activists and marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. when he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. He also supported iconic boxer Muhammad Ali in his opposition to being drafted into military service.
The first person of note who died recently was actor Pat John at age 69 (born 1953, died July 13, 2022). He was an actor with only one role to his credit: Jesse Jim, on the long running CBC comedy/drama, “The Beachcombers” (1972-1991). The show was popular not just at home but also internationally, in the US on PBS and in many other countries.
John was a role model for First Nations people and Indigenous people around the world. The character of Jesse Jim wasn’t a hollywood caricature or stereotype. Rather, like Nichelle Nichols’s role of Uhuru on Star Trek, the character of Jesse Jim wasn’t a First Nations role; he was a man with a job, living a normal life. That was something non-white actors rarely got in the 1970s; if they had roles at all, they were usually uncomplimentary.
Pat John, actor who played Jesse on The Beachcombers, is dead at 69
Pat John, best known for playing the quiet, dependable Jesse Jim on long-running CBC drama The Beachcombers, has died at age 69.
John’s friend and former co-star, Jackson Davies, confirmed his death to CBC News on Thursday.
The actor died at noon on Wednesday “looking more peaceful than he has in a long time,” Davies wrote in a Facebook post announcing John’s death. There was no immediate word on the cause of his death.
“He was funny, kind, and although he didn’t get the credit he should have, he was also a very good actor. He had the greatest laugh ever, and it was my goal in life to get him to laugh, just to hear it.”
John, a member of the shíshálh Nation in Sechelt, B.C., was cast on The Beachcombers as a teenager.
In the years that followed, he created a new blueprint for Indigenous characters on the screen, eschewing outdated stereotypes and caricatures as Jesse.
Shirley McLean, a TV producer from Carcross/Tagish First Nation in Yukon, was one of many who grew up watching John. She calls him a trailblazer for Indigenous actors and representation.
“Seeing an Indigenous character on TV was something that we were proud of, something that normalized us in mainstream society,” McLean said.
The Beachcombers ran for 19 seasons, making it the second longest-running Canadian television drama ever.
And one positive and happy thought to finish off, someone still alive and healthy:
Lenny Zakatek (born Lenny du Platel) a/k/a “The Voice” recently had his 75th birthday (born July 29, 1947). Zakatek was born in “British India”, emigrating to England at 13. He first rose to fame with the UK disco group Gonzalez and their top ten hit, “Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet”, then later with the Alan Parsons Project as the singer on many of their biggest hits: “Games People Play”, “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You”, “Damned If I Do”, “You Don’t Believe”, and others.
I’m not certain, but he may be the most internationally famous recording artist born in Karachi, Pakistan.