DeForest Kelley

DeForest Kelley
DeForest Kelley

Kelley at a 1988 Star Trek convention
Born Jackson DeForest Kelley
January 20, 1920(1920-01-20)
Toccoa, Georgia
Died June 11, 1999(1999-06-11) (aged 79)
Woodland Hills, California
Cause of death Stomach Cancer
Residence Los Angeles, California
Nationality American
Education Decatur Boys High
Years active 1945–1998
Known for Leonard "Bones" McCoy
Home town Atlanta, Georgia
Television Star Trek
Religion Baptist
Spouse Carolyn Dowling (1949–1999) (his death, she died on 10-12-2004)

Jackson DeForest Kelley (January 20, 1920 – June 11, 1999) was an American actor known for his iconic roles in Westerns and as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy of the USS Enterprise in the television and film series Star Trek.



Early life

Kelley was born in Toccoa, Georgia, the son of Clora[1]:1 (née Casey) and Ernest David Kelley, who was a Baptist minister. DeForest was named after the pioneering electronics engineer Lee De Forest, and later named his Star Trek character's father "David" after his own.[1]:6,257,258 Kelley was delivered in their home by his uncle, a prominent local physician. Kelley had an older brother, Ernest Casey Kelley.

Kelley grew up in the Atlanta area and was a 1938 graduate of Decatur Boys High in Decatur, Georgia. As a child, he sang in the church choir,[2] where he discovered that he enjoyed singing and was good at it. Eventually, this led to solos and an appearance on the radio station WSB AM in Atlanta, Georgia. As a result of his radio work, he won an engagement with Lew Forbes and his orchestra at the Paramount Theater.

Kelley served in World War II as an enlisted man in the United States Army Air Forces between March 10, 1943, and January 28, 1946. 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 in order 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.


Early roles

Kelley's acting career began with the feature film Fear in the Night. The low-budget movie was a hit, bringing him to the attention of a national audience and giving Kelley reason to believe that he would soon become a star.[1]:72,173 His next role, in Variety Girl, established him as a leading actor and resulted in the founding of his first fan club[1]:74 Kelley did not become a leading man, however, and he and his wife, Carolyn, 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 TV 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 was a source for three movie offers, including "Warlock" with Henry Fonda and Anthony Quinn. He also appeared in episodes of the TV series Wanted: Dead or Alive, Boots and Saddles, Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater, Death Valley Days, Lawman, Bat Masterson, and many others. He appeared in the 1962 episode of Route 66, 1800 Days to Justice., and "The Clover Throne" as Willis.

For nine years, Kelley primarily played villains. He built up an impressive 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 would appear in another Roddenberry pilot, Police Story (1967), that was again not developed into a series.

Star Trek

In 1956, 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.[3] 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 section of the United States Navy. In 1962, he appeared in the Bonanza episode entitled "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). Just before Star Trek began filming, Kelley appeared as a doctor again, in the Laredo episode "The Sound of Terror."[4] It is not clear whether these portrayals factored into his casting in Star Trek.

After refusing Roddenberry's 1964 offer to play Spock,[1]:133,148 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 (1973–1974), and the first six Star Trek motion pictures (1979 to 1991). In one of the Star Trek comic books it was stated that Dr. McCoy's father had been a Baptist preacher, an idea that apparently came from Kelley's background. In 1987, he also had a cameo in "Encounter at Farpoint", the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as by-that-time Admiral Leonard McCoy, Star Fleet Surgeon General Emeritus[citation needed]. Several aspects of Kelley's background became part of McCoy's characterization, including his pronunciation of "nuclear" as "nookeler".[1]:167

Kelley became good friends with Star Trek cast mates William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy from their first meeting in 1964. During Trek's first season, Kelley's 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.[1]:154,159 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 Nimoy received because of "Spockamania" among fans.[1]:173-174 Nonetheless, Kelley was very proud of the fact that he was the only one of the three who stayed married, saying "I'm happy in the Valley, with the very same wife."[1]:314

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; however, the authorized biography From Sawdust to Stardust (2005) was written posthumously by Terry Lee Rioux of Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.[1]

Later career

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 couple of movies but essentially went into de facto retirement other than playing McCoy.[5] By 1978 he was earning up to $50,000 ($168,000 today) annually from appearances at Star Trek conventions attended by Trekkies.[6] 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 (1991).[1]:297

In a TLC interview done in the late 1990s, Kelley said one of his biggest fears was that the words etched on his gravestone would be "He's dead, Jim". Reflecting this, Kelley's obituary in Newsweek magazine began: "We're not even going to try to resist: He's dead, Jim."[7] On the other hand, he stated that he was very proud to hear from so many Star Trek fans who had been inspired to become doctors as a result of his portrayal of Dr. McCoy. For his final film, Kelley provided the voice of Viking 1 in Disney's movie The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars.

Later in life, Kelley developed an interest in poetry, eventually publishing the first of two books in a series, The Big Bird's Dream and The Dream Goes On - a series he would never finish.


Kelley died of stomach cancer on June 11, 1999. His body was cremated and the ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean.[citation needed]



  • 1949 The Lone Ranger (as Bob Kittredge in episode "Legion of Old Timers")
  • 1953-54 City Detective (episodes "Crazy Like a Fox" and "An Old Man's Gold")
  • 1955 Science Fiction Theatre (As Captain Hall in episode "Y..O..R..D..")
  • 1956 Gunsmoke (appeared in various episodes)
  • 1957 M Squad (Appeared in the Episode "Pete Loves Mary")
  • 1958 Wanted, dead or alive (as sheriff Steve Pax)
  • 1959 Mackenzie's Raiders (as Charles Barrons in episode "Son of the Hawk")
  • 1959 Mikey Spillane's Mike Hammer (as Eddie Robbins in episode "I Ain't Talkin'")
  • 1959 26 Men (appeared in episode "Trail of Revenge" with Leonard Nimoy)
  • 1959 State Trooper (as Graham in "The Patient Skeleton")
  • 1960 Two Faces West (as Vern Cleary in "Fallen Gun")
  • 1960 Johnny Midnight (as David Lawton in "The Inner Eye")
  • 1960-61 Coronado 9 (as Frank Briggs in "Loser's Circle" and Shep Harlow in "Run, Shep, Run")
  • 1961 Perry Mason (appeared in various episodes)



  • Lee Rioux, Terry (2005). From Sawdust to Stardust: The Biography of DeForest Kelley, Star Trek's Dr. McCoy. Pocket Books. ISBN 0-7434-5762-5. 

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