DeForest Kelley

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DeForest Kelley
Kelley at a 1988 Star Trek convention
Jackson DeForest Kelley

(1920-01-20)January 20, 1920
DiedJune 11, 1999(1999-06-11) (aged 79)
Years active1947–1998
Home townAtlanta, Georgia
Carolyn Dowling
(m. 1945)

Jackson DeForest Kelley (January 20, 1920 – June 11, 1999), known to colleagues as "Dee",[1] was an American actor, screenwriter, poet, and singer known for his roles in Westerns and as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy of the USS Enterprise in the television and film series Star Trek (1966–1991).

Early life[edit]

Kelley was delivered by his uncle at his parents' home in Toccoa, Georgia, the son of Clora (née Casey) and Ernest David Kelley, who was a Baptist minister.[2][3] Kelley was named after the pioneering electronics engineer Lee de Forest. He later named his Star Trek character's father "David" after his own father. Kelley had an older brother, Ernest Casey Kelley.[4] Kelley was immersed in his father's mission (church) in Conyers, Georgia and told his father that failure would mean "wreck and ruin".[citation needed]

Before the end of his first year at Conyers, Kelley was regularly putting to use his musical talents and often sang solo in morning church services.[5] Kelley wanted to become a doctor like his uncle, but his family could not afford to send him to medical school. He began singing on local radio shows,[2] including an appearance on WSB AM in Atlanta. As a result of Kelley's radio work, he won an engagement with Lew Forbes and his orchestra at the Paramount Theater.[4]

In 1934, the family left Conyers for Decatur, Georgia. He attended the Decatur Boys High School, where he played on the Decatur Bantams baseball team. Kelley also played football and other sports. Before his graduation in 1938, Kelley got a job as a drugstore car hop. He spent his weekends working in the local theaters.[4]

During World War II, Kelley served as an enlisted man in the United States Army Air Forces from March 10, 1943 to January 28, 1946, assigned to the First Motion Picture Unit. After an extended stay in Long Beach, California, Kelley decided to pursue an acting career and relocate to Southern California permanently, living for a time with his uncle Casey. He worked as an usher in a local theater to earn enough money for the move. Kelley's mother encouraged her son in his new career goal, but his father disliked the idea. While in California, Kelley was spotted by a Paramount Pictures scout while doing a United States Navy training film.[4]


Early roles[edit]

Kelley's acting career began with the feature film Fear in the Night in 1947.[6] The low-budget movie was a hit, bringing him to the attention of a national audience and giving Kelley reason to believe he would soon become a star. His next role, in Variety Girl, established him as a leading actor and resulted in the founding of his first fan club. Kelley did not become a leading man, however, and his wife Carolyn and he decided to move to New York City. He found work on stage and on live television, but after three years in New York, the Kelleys returned to Hollywood.

In California, he received a role in an installment of You Are There, anchored by Walter Cronkite. He played ranch owner Bob Kitteridge in the 1949 episode "Legion of Old Timers" of the television series The Lone Ranger. This led to an appearance in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral as Morgan Earp (brother to Burt Lancaster's Wyatt Earp). This role led to three movie offers, including Warlock with Henry Fonda and Anthony Quinn.

In 1957, he had a small role as a Southern officer in Raintree County, a Civil War film directed by Edward Dmytryk, alongside Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, and Lee Marvin. He also appeared in leading roles as a U.S. Navy submarine captain in the World War II set television series, The Silent Service. He appeared in season one, episode five, "The Spearfish Delivers", as Commander Dempsey and in the first episode of season two, "The Archerfish Spits Straight", as Lieutenant Commander Enright. His future Star Trek co-star Leonard Nimoy also appeared in two different episodes of the series around the same time.

Kelley appeared three times in various portrayals of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, The first was in 1955, as Ike Clanton in the television series You Are There. Two years later, in the 1957 film of that name, he played Morgan Earp. His third appearance was in a third-season Star Trek episode (broadcast originally on October 25, 1968), titled "Spectre of the Gun", this time portraying Tom McLaury.

Kelley also appeared in episodes of The Donna Reed Show, Perry Mason, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Boots and Saddles, Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater, Death Valley Days, Riverboat, The Fugitive, Lawman, Bat Masterson, Have Gun - Will Travel, and Laredo. He appeared in the 1962 episode of Route 66, "1800 Days to Justice" and "The Clover Throne" as Willis. He had a small role in the movie The View from Pompey's Head.

For nine years, Kelley primarily played villains. He built up an extensive list of credits, alternating between television and motion pictures. However, he was afraid of typecasting, so he broke away from villains by starring in Where Love Has Gone and a television pilot called 333 Montgomery. The pilot was written by an ex-policeman named Gene Roddenberry, and a few years later Kelley appeared in another Roddenberry pilot, Police Story (1967), that was again not developed into a series.

Kelley also appeared in at least one radio drama, Suspense, where series producer William M. Robson introduced him as "a bright new luminary in the Hollywood firmament".

Star Trek[edit]

Kelley as Dr. McCoy

In 1956, nine years before being cast as Dr. McCoy, Kelley played a small supporting role as a medic in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit in which he utters the diagnosis "This man's dead, Captain" and "That man is dead" to Gregory Peck.[7] Kelley appeared as Lieutenant Commander James Dempsey in two episodes of the syndicated military drama The Silent Service, based on actual stories of the submarine service of the United States Navy. In 1962, he appeared in the Bonanza episode titled "The Decision", as a doctor sentenced to hang for the murder of a journalist. The judge in this episode was portrayed by John Hoyt, who later portrayed Dr. Phillip John Boyce, one of Leonard McCoy's predecessors, on the Star Trek pilot "The Cage". In 1963, he appeared in The Virginian episode "Man of Violence" as a "drinking" cavalry doctor with Leonard Nimoy as his patient. (Nimoy's character did not survive.) Perhaps not coincidentally, the episode was written by John D. F. Black, who went on to become a writer-producer on Star Trek. Just before Star Trek began filming, Kelley appeared as a doctor again, in the Laredo episode "The Sound of Terror".[8]

After refusing Roddenberry's 1964 offer to play Spock,[9] Kelley played Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy from 1966 to 1969 in Star Trek. He reprised the character in a voice-over role in Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973–74), and the first six Star Trek motion pictures (1979 to 1991). In 1987, he also had a cameo in "Encounter at Farpoint", the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as Admiral Leonard McCoy, Starfleet Surgeon General Emeritus.[10] Several aspects of Kelley's background became part of McCoy's characterization, including his pronunciation of "nuclear" as "nucular".

Kelley became a good friend of Star Trek castmates William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, from their first meeting in 1964. During Trek's first season, Kelley's name was listed in the end credits along with the rest of the cast. Only Shatner and Nimoy were listed in the opening credits. As Kelley's role grew in importance during the first season, he received a pay raise to about $2,500 per episode and received third billing starting in the second season after Nimoy. Despite the show's recognition of Kelley as one of its stars, he was frustrated by the greater attention that Shatner received as its lead actor and that Nimoy received because of "Spockamania" among fans.[citation needed]

Shy by his own admission, Kelley was the only cast member of the original Star Trek series program never to have written or published an autobiography; the authorized biography From Sawdust to Stardust (2005) was written posthumously by Terry Lee Rioux of Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. Kelley regarded "The Empath" as his favorite Star Trek television episode.[11]

Later career[edit]

After Star Trek, Kelley found himself a victim of the very typecasting he had so feared. In 1972, he was cast in the horror film Night of the Lepus. Kelley thereafter did a few television appearances and a few movies, but essentially went into de facto retirement other than playing McCoy.[12] By 1978, he was earning up to $50,000 ($196,000 today) annually from appearances at Star Trek conventions.[13] Like other Star Trek actors, Kelley received little of the enormous profits that the franchise generated for Paramount, until Nimoy, as executive producer, helped arrange for Kelley to be paid $1 million for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), which was his final live-action film appearance. He also appeared in the first Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, "Encounter at Farpoint", in which he portrayed a 137-year-old Dr. McCoy.[4] For his final film, Kelley provided the voice of Viking 1 in the second and third installments in the children's series The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars. Later in life, Kelley developed an interest in poetry, eventually publishing the first of two books in an unfinished series, The Big Bird's Dream and The Dream Goes On.

In a TLC interview done in the late 1990s, Kelley joked that one of his biggest fears was that the words etched on his gravestone would be "He's dead, Jim". Kelley's obituary in Newsweek magazine began: "We're not even going to try to resist: He's dead, Jim".[14] He stated the year before his death that his legacy would be the many people McCoy had inspired to become doctors; "That's something that very few people can say they've done. I'm proud to say that I have".[2] In 1991, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 1999, shortly before he died, he was awarded a Golden Boot Award for his contribution to the genre of Western television and movies.[15]


Kelley died of stomach cancer on June 11, 1999, at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles.





  1. ^ Shatner, William; Fisher, David (2016). Leonard. St. Martin's Press. p. 108ff.
  2. ^ a b c Andrew Jacobs (June 12, 1999). "DeForest Kelley, 79, Creator Of Dr. McCoy on 'Star Trek' - The New York Times". The New York Times. p. A13. Retrieved October 26, 2019.
  3. ^ Who, Marquis Who's (August 10, 2010). "Who was who in America - Marquis Who's Who - Google Books". Retrieved October 26, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e Lee Rioux, Terry (2005). From Sawdust to Stardust. Rocket Books.
  5. ^ "DeForest Kelley". Archived from the original on June 9, 2008. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  6. ^ Woo, Elaine (June 12, 1999). "DeForest Kelley, Actor Beloved as Dr. McCoy on 'Star Trek,' Dies at 79". Los Angeles Times. p. 30.
  7. ^ "Excerpt The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit". YouTube. April 22, 2008. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  8. ^ wes-connors (December 27, 2008). ""Laredo" Sound of Terror (TV Episode 1966)". IMDb.
  9. ^, staff. "Star Trek Remembering DeForest Kelley". CBS Entertainment. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  10. ^ ""Star Trek: The Next Generation" Encounter at Farpoint (TV Episode 1987)" – via
  11. ^ "The Empath" Story outline report and script analysis by Dave Eversole
  12. ^ Marriott, Michael (September 15, 1991). "TV View; the 'Star Trek' Curse: a Lifetime Starfleet Commission". The New York Times. Retrieved May 3, 2011.
  13. ^ Michaels, Marguerite (December 10, 1978). "A Visit to Star Trek's Movie Launch". Parade. Retrieved May 2, 2011.
  14. ^ Newsweek, July 20, 1999.
  15. ^ "Author Kristine M. Smith Remembers DeForest Kelley". June 11, 2013. Retrieved December 20, 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Lee Rioux, Terry (2005). From Sawdust to Stardust: The Biography of DeForest Kelley, Star Trek's Dr. McCoy. Pocket Books. ISBN 978-0-7434-5762-0.

External links[edit]