What We Know About Star Trek Star Nichelle Nichols' Tragic Conservatorship Battle

Actress Nichelle Nichols made history when she and actor William Shatner shared an on-screen kiss in 1968 in an episode of "Star Trek (via Variety). It was widely regarded as the first televised kiss on the lips between an African-American person and a white person, at a time when interracial romances were considered taboo. Nichols was always breaking barriers. She would go on to act in six "Star Trek" movies, and was in the franchise for so long that her character was promoted several times — her character, Lt. Uhura, eventually became the commander in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." Nichols was a role model, too. She signed on with NASA to encourage African Americans and young girls to pursue science careers.

But in the last few years of her life, Nichelle Nichols' peace was disturbed by a long and drawn-out legal process. In 2015, while in her 80s, Nichols had a stroke. Then, about three years later, she was also diagnosed with dementia. After that, per the Los Angeles Times, began the tragic case of Nichols's conservatorship. She was caught between her former manager, her son, and her friend, all of whom thought they knew what was best for the actress.

Nichols' health problems started the conservatorship debate

Nichelle Nichols' son, Kyle Johnson, filed a petition for a conservatorship over his mother's estate (via the Los Angeles Times). He worried she would be exploited due to her dementia diagnosis. Her former manager Gilbert Bell, and her longtime friend Angelique Fawcette, were also both involved with the conservatorship over their concerns about Nichols' wellbeing. 

The final years of Nichols's life ended up being consumed by the legal fervor around what was best for her. Per Variety, Nichelle Nichols died at age 89 on July 30, 2022.

The story of Nichelle Nichols's conservator battle begins long before the courts intervened. Starting in 2010, Nichols' former manager Gilbert Bell moved into the actress's guesthouse (per the Los Angeles Times). While he didn't pay her any rent money, he did help the "Star Trek" actress make five-figure bookings to attend conventions. Bell said he helped her make six figures each year in total, but her son, Kyle Johnson, disputed this. 

Regardless, Nichols began to have more health issues. In the beginning of 2013, she was rushed to the hospital with a serious case of pancreatitis, which Johnson said was caused by his mother's increased alcohol consumption in recent years.

Bell and Nichols planned to marry

Gilbert Bell and Angelique Fawcette joined Nichols in the hospital — they claim Johnson did not show up — and after Nichols pleaded with them, they checked her out of the hospital, reports the Los Angeles Times. Nichols gave Bell power of attorney over her, and named Fawcette as her successor, with the wish that Bell would handle her healthcare needs and financial responsibilities. Nichols then recorded a video where she detailed what she wanted her future to look like, saying she only wanted her son to control her life if he was paying her bills.

After she left the hospital, Bell said he helped Nichols get her alcohol consumption under control so that she could keep working conventions. He also provided for her more and more as time went on. In 2015 Nichols had a stroke, and Bell stepped up to hire a bevy of doctors and aides to care for her. But Fawcette, Nichols' friend, said that during this time period she became worried about Nichols, and contacted Nichols' sibling for help. 

Fawcette was stunned when, in 2018, Bell told her that he planned to marry Nichols, apparently more for financial benefit than for romance. Fawcette reached out to Johnson, who started a petition to become his mom's guardian in that same year. Per Variety, 2018 was the year Nichols was diagnosed with dementia, adding even more confusion over Nichols' mental capacity to care for herself and her finances.

Missing money and expired contracts

Per The Superior Court of the State of California, after a few other temporary conservators had been responsible for Nichols's estate, a licensed professional fiduciary named Norine Boehmer was assigned to be the conservator of Nichol's estate for much of 2018. But around November 2018, after about a year with Boehmer, Nichols' conservatorship changed hands again. Another licensed professional fiduciary, B.J. Hawkins, was instated as a temporary conservator, and Kyle Johnson, Nichols' son, was named permanent conservator. 

However, Hawkins had spotted financial issues right away — chunks of her money had disappeared and couldn't be accounted for, while Nichols also had accumulated debt. The temporary conservator noted that Nichols was involved in out-of-date or shoddily written contracts.

Buzzfeed News reports that after Kyle Johnson took over the conservatorship, Nichols's life changed quickly and drastically. Johnson sold his mother's house in Los Angeles and moved her to New Mexico, where he lived. She was suddenly far away from her friends, and losing her property against her wishes.

Then came a hard-to-watch video of Nichols and Johnson, in which Nichols is clearly upset and screaming at Johnson (via CBS46 Atlanta). "I didn't get permission to have conservatorship over me!" she exclaimed in the 2019 exclusive clip, before Johnson arrived. "I didn't know what he [Johnson] was doing."

A disturbing video of Nichols and Johnson

Then, as the clip from CBS46 Atlanta showed, Kyle Johnson entered the room, and Nichelle Nichols went from being calm to being very upset. After Johnson repeatedly told her that she will be going home with him, Nichols protested with screams and accusations against her son. She was then caught on surveillance video screaming at Johnson, "You trying to get rid of me?" and "Get your hands off of me!" The LAPD was contacted because of the disturbing viral video of the actress and her son, but did not open an investigation into the matter.

Angelique Fawcette took steps to help her friend. Per Buzzfeed News, she objected to Johnson's accounting report for Nichols's finances. She told the court that Nichols was moved to a new home, even as the actress protested that she did not want to go. People reports that Fawcette claimed Nichols  adored her house, and did not want to move to a single bedroom condo.

Nichols was becoming more and more isolated from others who cared about her (via Buzzfeed News). But the courts ruled against Fawcette, saying she did not have standing to pursue the case. 

Johnson bans Fawcette and Bell from visiting

According to Buzzfeed News, Angelique Fawcette then disputed that Nichelle Nichols needed that much aid from her son. In fact, Fawcette claimed that Nichols was actually capable of controlling her own finances, as long as she had some aid from her assistant. She then said that she believes Nichols' son was "not acting in her best interests." 

Fawcette told People that Nichols was like a mother to her, but after she spoke out about the video of Nichols screaming, she was barred from seeing her again. Bell was also told he could no longer visit Nichols after April 2019. Instead, Johnson acted as his mother's sole caregiver while they lived in New Mexico.

Unlike another recent high-profile case of a conservatorship under scrutiny, the case of singer Britney Spears, which resulted in the #FreeBritney movement, Nichols's case ended before the Star Trek actress could regain her independence (per Buzzfeed News). Although Fawcette said she would continue to try and help Nichols, the "Star Trek" actress died before the matter could be resolved.