Who was Thomas Nichols? 'Star Trek' star Nichelle Nichols' brother was part of Heaven's Gate suicide cult

Thomas was a member of the Heaven's Gate cult, a suicide group that believed that God was an advanced alien traveling in a spaceship on the trail of the Hale-Bopp comet


                            Who was Thomas Nichols? 'Star Trek' star Nichelle Nichols' brother was part of Heaven's Gate suicide cult
Nichelle Nichols' brother Thomas Nichols was a member of the cult for 20 years (Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images)
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Nichelle Nichols, who portrayed Uhura on ‘Star Trek’, passed away at the age of 89 on July 31, 2022. Her death was confirmed on Instagram by the actress' son Kyle Johnson, who mentioned she died of natural cause. But did you know the actress’ brother Thomas Nichols was one of the space cult disciples who died in the mass suicide horror in California in 1997?

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Nichelle shot to fame when she made her way to the 1966 space adventure series 'Star Trek' as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, the ship’s communications officer. The role set many benchmarks. It was one of the first major roles for a Black woman in a US television series. It was among the first portrayals of a Black woman in a military-style command role in any format. However, her brother was a member of the Heaven's Gate cult, the first well-known American cult of the Internet era, as described by RollingStone.

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Who was Thomas Nichols?

Thomas was a member of the Heaven's Gate cult. A member for 20 years, he frequently identified himself as Nichelle's brother in promotional materials released by the cult. The group believed that God was an advanced alien traveling in the spaceship on the trail of the Hale-Bopp comet and that he planned to soon “recycle” the Earth. The group committed suicide so that they could ascend to “The Evolutionary Level Above Human," as per RollingStone report.

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Thomas died on March 26, 1997, when an anonymous caller directed police to a mansion outside San Diego where authorities soon discovered the largest mass suicide. He was one of the 39 victims found there.

According to ABC, the anonymous caller was Rio DiAngelo, a surviving member who left the group after three years and was to stay behind and tell the world about the group's story. Rio first spoke to ABC News' Diane Sawyer in 1997. He said, "I was always looking for answers, looking for purpose in my life. I loved these people. ... it meant everything to me." 

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Heaven's Gate cult

The cult was created in the early 1970s by Marshall Herff Applewhite and Bonnie Lou Nettles. Marshall was the son of a Presbyterian preacher and became a stage actor and singer. He struggled with his sexuality and had a complicated relationship with his father, as per reports. 

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