Leonard McCoy

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Leonard McCoy
DeForest Kelley, Dr. McCoy, Star Trek.jpg
DeForest Kelley as Leonard McCoy in a publicity photograph for the original Star Trek
First appearance
Portrayed by
TitleLeonard McCoy
FamilyDavid McCoy (father)
Natira (Wife)
ChildrenJoanna McCoy (daughter)

Dr. Leonard H. "Bones" McCoy is a character in the American science fiction franchise Star Trek.[1] First portrayed by DeForest Kelley in the original Star Trek series, McCoy also appears in the animated Star Trek series, six Star Trek movies, the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in numerous books, comics, and video games.[2] Karl Urban assumed the role of the character in the 2009 Star Trek film[3] and its sequels: Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) and Star Trek Beyond (2016).


McCoy was born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 20, 2227.[4] The son of David,[5]:257–258 he attended the University of Mississippi[2] and is a divorcé[6] McCoy later married Natira, the priestess of Yonada, characterized in the episode, "For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky". In 2266, McCoy was posted as chief medical officer of the USS Enterprise under Captain James T. Kirk, who often calls him "Bones".[2] McCoy and Kirk are good friends, even "brotherly".[5]:146 The passionate, sometimes cantankerous McCoy frequently argues with Kirk's other confidante, science officer Spock,[1] and occasionally is prejudiced against Spock's Vulcan heritage.[7] McCoy often plays the role of Kirk's conscience, offering a counterpoint to Spock's logic.[1] McCoy is suspicious of technology,[8] especially the transporter.[2] As a physician, he prefers less intrusive treatment and believes in the body's innate recuperative powers.[1] The character's nickname, "Bones", is a play on sawbones, an epithet for physicians[9] qualified as surgeons.[10]

When Kirk orders McCoy's commission reactivated in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979);[2] a resentful McCoy complains of being "drafted".[11] Spock transfers his katra—his knowledge and experience—into McCoy before dying in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982).[2] This causes mental anguish for McCoy, who in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) helps restore Spock's katra to his reanimated body.[2] McCoy continues to serve on Kirk's crew aboard the captured Klingon ship in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986).[2] In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), McCoy (through the intervention of Spock's half-brother Sybok) reveals that he helped his father commit suicide to relieve him of his pain. Shortly after the suicide, a cure was found for his father's disease, and McCoy carried the guilt about it with him for the rest of his life. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), McCoy and Kirk escape from a Klingon prison world, and the Enterprise crew stops a plot to prevent peace between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire.[2] Kelley reprised the role for the "Encounter at Farpoint" pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987), insisting upon no more than the minimum Screen Actors Guild payment for his appearance.[12]

In the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Survivor", McCoy mentions he has a daughter, Joanna. Although Chekov's friend Irina in the original series episode "The Way to Eden" was originally written as McCoy's daughter, it was changed before the episode was shot.[13]

Reboot film series[edit]

Karl Urban as McCoy in Star Trek (2009)

In the 2009 Star Trek film, which takes place in an "alternate, parallel" reality,[14] McCoy and Kirk become friends at Starfleet Academy, which McCoy joins after a divorce that he says "left [him] nothing but [his] bones." This line, improvised by Urban,[15] explains how McCoy earned the nickname Bones. McCoy later helps get Kirk posted aboard the USS Enterprise. He later becomes the chief medical officer after Doctor Puri is killed during an attack by Nero. McCoy remains aboard to see the Enterprise defeat Nero and his crew, with Kirk becoming the commanding officer of the ship.

The Guardian called Urban's portrayal of McCoy in the 2009 film an "unqualified success",[16] and The New York Times called the character "wild-eyed and funny".[17] Slate.com said Urban came closer than the other actors to impersonating a character's original depiction.[18]


Kelley had worked with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry on previous television pilots,[19] and he was Roddenberry's first choice to play the doctor aboard the USS Enterprise.[20] However, for the rejected pilot "The Cage" (1964), Roddenberry went with director Robert Butler's choice of John Hoyt to play Dr. Philip Boyce.[21] For the second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (1966), Roddenberry accepted director James Goldstone's decision to have Paul Fix play Dr. Mark Piper.[22] Although Roddenberry wanted Kelley to play the character of ship's doctor, he did not put Kelley's name forward to NBC; the network never "rejected" the actor as Roddenberry sometimes suggested.[20]

Kelley's first broadcast appearance as Doctor Leonard McCoy was in "The Man Trap" (1966). Despite his character's prominence, Kelley's contract granted him only a "featuring" credit; it was not until the second season that he was given "starring" credit, at the urging of producer Robert Justman.[23] Kelley was apprehensive about Star Trek's future, telling Roddenberry that the show was "going to be the biggest hit or the biggest miss God ever made".[5]:146 Kelley portrayed McCoy throughout the original Star Trek series and voiced the character in the animated Star Trek.[1]

Kelley, who in his youth wanted to become a doctor like his uncle, but whose family could not pay for a medical education,[24] in part drew upon his real-life experiences in creating McCoy: a doctor's "matter-of-fact" delivery of news of Kelley's mother's terminal cancer was the "abrasive sand" Kelley used in creating McCoy's demeanor.[5]:145 Star Trek writer D. C. Fontana said that while Roddenberry created the series, Kelley essentially created McCoy; everything done with the character was done with Kelley's input.[5]:156

"Exquisite chemistry" among Kelley, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy manifested itself in their performances as McCoy, Captain James T. Kirk and science officer Spock, respectively.[5]:154 Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura, referred to Kelley as her "sassy gentleman friend";[5]:154 the friendship between the African-American Nichols and Southern Kelley was a real-life demonstration of the message Roddenberry hoped to convey through Star Trek.[5]:154

For the 2009 Star Trek film, writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman saw McCoy as an "arbiter" in Kirk and Spock's relationship.[25] While Spock represented "extreme logic, extreme science" and Kirk symbolized "extreme emotion and intuition", McCoy's role as "a very colorful doctor, essentially a very humanistic scientist" represented the "two extremes that often served as the glue that held the trio together."[25] They chose to reveal that McCoy befriended Kirk first, explaining the "bias" in their friendship and why he would often be a "little dismissive" of Spock.[25] Urban said the script was "very faithful" to the original character, including the "great compassion for humanity and that sense of irascibility" with which Kelley imbued the character.[26] New Zealand-born Urban trained with a dialect coach to create McCoy's accent [26] and reprised the role in its sequels Star Trek Into Darkness[27] and Star Trek Beyond.

Cultural impact[edit]

McCoy is someone to whom Kirk unburdens himself, but is a foil to Spock.[23] He is Kirk's "friend, personal bartender, confidant, counselor, and priest".[28] Spock and McCoy's bickering became so popular that Roddenberry wrote in a 1968 memo "we simply didn't realize ... how much the fans loved the bickering between our Arrowsmith and our Alien".[29] Urban said McCoy has a "sense of irascibility with real passion for life and doing the right thing", and that "Spock's logic and McCoy's moral standing gave Kirk the benefit of having three brains instead of just one."[30]

Kelley said that his greatest thrill at Star Trek conventions was the number of people who told him they entered the medical profession because of the McCoy character.[31] He received two or three letters a month from others reporting similar experiences. A friend observed that despite not becoming a doctor as he had hoped, Kelley's portrayal of McCoy had helped create many doctors. According to Kelley, "You can win awards and that sort of thing, but to influence the youth of the country ... is an award that is not handed out by the industry".[5]:273

In a humor column for the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the ethicist Michael Yeo described the character of McCoy as "TV’s only true physician" and "someone who has broken free from the yoke of ethics and practises the art and science of medicine beyond the stultifying opposition of paternalism and autonomy".[32]

"He's dead, Jim!"[edit]

Twenty times on the original Star Trek, McCoy declares someone or something deceased with the line, "He's dead", "He's dead, Jim", or something similar. The phrase so became a catchphrase of the character that Kelley joked that the line would appear on his tombstone[33][34][35]—and it appeared in the first sentence of at least one obituary[36]—but disliked repeating such lines[5]:166 and refused to say it in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan when Spock is near death. Kelley and James Doohan (Scotty) agreed to swap their lines, so McCoy warns Kirk against opening the engineering doors while Scotty says, "He's dead already".[5]:249[37]

The line has entered popular culture as a general metaphor.[citation needed] The USC literature professor Henry Jenkins cites Dr. McCoy's "He's dead, Jim" line as an example of fans actively participating in the creation of an underground culture in which they derive pleasure by repeating memorable lines as part of constructing new mythologies and alternative social communities.[38][undue weight? ]

"I'm a doctor, not a(n)..."[edit]

Another of McCoy's catchphrases is his "I'm a doctor, (Jim) not a(n)..." statements,[39] delivered by Kelley 11 times,[5]:166 and three times (by Karl Urban) in later films. McCoy repeats the line when he must perform some task beyond his medical skills, such as the "classic moment" when he is confronted with the unusual silicon-based Horta alien in "The Devil in the Dark" (1967), saying, "I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer."[40] The line was used in Terra Nova.[41]

Kelley himself parodied the phrase for a Trivial Pursuit commercial, in which the question is asked "How many chambers does a human heart have?" Kelley appears on screen and replies "How should I know? I'm an actor, not a doctor!".[42][43]


  1. ^ a b c d e Asherman, Alan (1993-05-01). The Star Trek Compendium. ISBN 978-0-671-79612-9.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Okuda, Michael; Okuda, Denise; Mirek, Debbie (1999). The Star Trek Encyclopedia. Pocket Books. ISBN 0-671-53609-5.
  3. ^ "And Karl Urban as McCoy!". Viacom. 2007-10-17. Retrieved 2009-01-26.
  4. ^ Mandel, Geoffrey (1980). USS Enterprise Officer's Manual. 201W 18th St. Apt 20A, New York, NY. 10011: Interstellar Associates. p. 21.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Rioux, Terry Lee. From Sawdust to Stardust: The Biography of DeForest Kelley, Star Trek's Dr. McCoy. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7434-5762-0.
  6. ^ Okuda, Michael; Okuda, Denise (1996). Star Trek Chronology: The History of the Future. Pocket Books. ISBN 0-671-53610-9.
  7. ^ Porter, Jennifer E.; McLaren, Darcee L. (1999). Star Trek and Sacred Ground. SUNY Press. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-7914-4334-7.
  8. ^ Bruno, Mike (2007-10-18). "Abrams' 'Trek' Casts Kirk and Bones". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-01-26.
  9. ^ Schnakenberg, Robert (2007). Sci-Fi Baby Names: 500 Out-of-This-World Baby Names from Anakin to Zardoz. Quirk Books. ISBN 978-1-59474-161-6.
  10. ^ "Sawbones definition - Medical Dictionary definitions of popular medical terms easily defined on MedTerms". Medterms.com. 2012-03-19. Retrieved 2013-05-25.
  11. ^ Screenplay by Harold Livingston, story by Alan Dean Foster, directed by Robert Wise (1979). Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Your revered Admiral Nogura invoked a little-known, seldom-used "reserve activation clause". In simpler language, Captain, they drafted me.
  12. ^ Nemeck, Larry (2003-01-07). Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion. Pocket Books. ISBN 978-0-7434-5798-9.
  13. ^ Joanna Archived August 10, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. precursor to "The Way to Eden"
  14. ^ Burr, Ty (2009-05-05). "Star Trek". The Boston Globe. p. 1. Retrieved 2009-05-06.
  15. ^ Star Trek DVD commentary
  16. ^ Hoad, Phil (2009-04-21). "JJ Abrams's Star Trek: we have liftoff". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2009-04-22.
  17. ^ Dargis, Manohla (2009-05-08). "A Franchise Goes Boldly Backward". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-07.
  18. ^ Stevens, Dana (2009-05-06). "Go See Star Trek". Slate.com. Retrieved 2009-05-07.
  19. ^ "DeForest Kelley profile at Startrek.com". Retrieved 2009-01-25.
  20. ^ a b Solow, Herbert; Justman, Robert (June 1997). Inside Star Trek The Real Story. Simon & Schuster. p. 152. ISBN 0-671-00974-5.
  21. ^ Solow, Herbert; Justman, Robert (June 1997). Inside Star Trek The Real Story. Simon & Schuster. p. 37. ISBN 0-671-00974-5.
  22. ^ Solow, Herbert; Justman, Robert (June 1997). Inside Star Trek The Real Story. Simon & Schuster. p. 75. ISBN 0-671-00974-5.
  23. ^ a b Solow, Herbert; Justman, Robert (June 1997). Inside Star Trek The Real Story. Simon & Schuster. p. 240. ISBN 0-671-00974-5.
  24. ^ "Star Trek's Dr McCoy dies". BBC. 1999-06-11. Retrieved 2009-01-26.
  25. ^ a b c "Orci & Kurtzman: How Star Trek deals with Kirk, Spock and McCoy". Sci Fi Wire. 2009-03-25. Retrieved 2009-05-08.
  26. ^ a b "Karl Urban". IESB.net. January 17, 2008. Archived from the original on March 17, 2009. Retrieved January 26, 2009.
  27. ^ "'Dredd 3D' Star Karl Urban: 'Star Trek Into Darkness' Will Be 'Epic', 'Emotional' (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO)". Celebuzz. 2012-09-22. Retrieved 2013-05-25.
  28. ^ Whitney, Grace Lee; Denney, James D. (1998). The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy. Quill Driver Books. p. 84. ISBN 978-1-884956-03-4.
  29. ^ Davis, Lauren (2013-09-07). "Gene Roddenberry's 1968 memo on improving Star Trek's characters". io9. Retrieved 2013-09-07.
  30. ^ "Urban On Star Trek & McCoy". Sci Fi Pulse. 2008-07-18. Archived from the original on December 5, 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-26.
  31. ^ Shatner, William (2008). Up Till Now: The Autobiography. Macmillan. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-312-37265-1.
  32. ^ Yeo M (December 15, 1998). "To boldly go: we have to look beyond the Simpsons for a true medical hero" (PDF). Canadian Medical Association Journal. 159 (12): 1476–1477. PMID 9988569. Retrieved January 23, 2018.
  33. ^ Porter, Jennifer E. (1999). "Darcee L. McLaren". Star Trek and Sacred Ground: Explorations of Star Trek, Religion, and American Culture. SUNY Press. p. 127. ISBN 0-7914-4334-5.
  34. ^ Amesly, Cassandra (1990). "How to Watch Star Trek". Cultural Studies: Volume 3, Number 3. John Fiske (ed.). Routledge. pp. 68–69. ISBN 0-415-03743-3. Retrieved 2009-04-07. Equally part of typical episodes are a series of lines that fans readily recognize: some that are favorites in particular episodes (such as the 'accoutrements' cited in the beginning commentary) and some which are closely identified with characters: Dr McCoy says, 'He's dead, Jim,' and 'I'm a doctor, not a — '; Spock remarks 'Fascinating' to occurrences which appear likely to kill or maim the crew...'
  35. ^ Kaplan, Anna L. (October 1999). "Obituary: DeForest Kelley". Cinefantastique. 31 (8): 62. Retrieved 2009-04-07. Dr. McCoy's signature lines, "He's dead, Jim", and "I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer", will never be forgotten. In fact, Kelley joked that the line, "He's dead, Jim", would be written on his tombstone.
  36. ^ "Obituary: DeForest Kelley". The Independent. 1999-06-13. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  37. ^ Greenberg, Allen (May 1992). "Install Long and Prosper". Computer Gaming World. p. 46. Retrieved 2013-11-24.
  38. ^ Jenkins, Henry (2013). Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture (updated 20th anniversary ed.). New York, N.Y.: Routledge. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-41-553328-7.
  39. ^ Butt, Miriam; Wohlmut, Kyle (2006). "The Thousand Faces of Xena: Transculturality Through Multi-Identity". Globalization, Cultural Identities, and Media Representations. Natascha Gentz (ed.), Stefan Kramer (ed.). SUNY Press. p. 83. ISBN 0-7914-6683-3. Retrieved 2009-04-07. each character's role is clearly defined by his or her position on the ship, so much so that one of the show's many catchphrases was Dr. McCoy's recurring line, 'I'm a doctor, not a ...'
  40. ^ Lass, Martin; Hilder, Rickie (2002). "The Discovery of Chiron". Musings of a Rogue Comet: Chiron, Planet of Healing (2nd ed.). Galactic Publications. p. 212. ISBN 0-9715924-2-X. Retrieved 2009-04-07. In a classic moment (episode: "The Devil in the Dark"), McCoy, challenged with healing a being that was made more of rock than flesh, spouts out, "I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer!"
  41. ^ "Now you see me". Terra Nova. Season 1. Episode 10. 2011-11-28. Archived from the original on January 3, 2012.
  42. ^ "I'm a doctor, not a... Dr Leonard McCoy's much-parodied signature phrase". Fortean Times. Archived from the original on June 7, 2009. Retrieved 2010-03-25.
  43. ^ Stuart Elliott (1992-09-22). "THE MEDIA BUSINESS: Advertising; Giving Familiar Brands a Second Chance". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-27.

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