Like the character of Dr. Leonard McCoy he played, Jackson DeForest Kelley was born in Georgia—Atlanta, to be specific, the son of a Baptist minister. Following his discharge from the U.S. Army Air Force at the end of World War II, Kelley chose to pursue a career in acting, and made his way to Los Angeles. Under contract to Paramount Pictures, he began appearing in motion pictures and television series, most often Westerns and nearly always playing the bad guy. That villainous persona couldn’t have been farther from his own, and he worried for a time that he would be typecast that way forever. Ironically, while the role of Doctor McCoy saved him from that particular fate, it typecast him in an entirely different way—but one that he reportedly never regretted.
Kelley met his future wife, actress Carolyn Dowling, when they both appeared in a theatrical production for the Long Beach Theatre Group. They were married in 1945 and were virtually inseparable for the next 53 years. Kelley chose to relax into retirement following the cancellation of Star Trek. He reprised his role as McCoy for the Animated Series, and appeared in six of the Star Trek motion pictures—and played McCoy at 137 as an aged retired admiral on inspection duty at the launch of the The Next Generation. His beloved stanza poem "The Big Bird's Dream" and its sequel, using creator Gene Roddenberry's nickname, told in verse the story of his unlikely Star Trek castmates and their experience, and continued it through the movies.
But beyond that, convention appearances and occasional film roles and television guest stints, Kelley was content to spend most of his time at home with his wife, garden and their infamous pet Myrtle the Turtle. He died of stomach cancer on June 11, 1999, at the age of 79.