Born on January 20, 1920 -- 99 years ago today -- DeForest Kelley was that rarest of Hollywood rarities, a true gentleman, an old-school Southern fella who hailed from Georgia. He always insisted that anyone who met him call him “De.” He treated everyone – lifelong friends and newbie Star Trek fans excited just to be in his presence – with equal grace and warmth. And more than anything in the universe, he absolutely adored his beloved Carolyn, who’d been Mrs. DeForest Kelley for nearly 55 years when Kelley passed away on June 11, 1999. Oddly enough, before he landed his iconic Star Trek role as the cranky-but-goodhearted “country doctor,” Dr. Leonard “Bones" McCoy, Kelley had spent much of his career portraying nasty, humorless, tough-as-nails villains.
It’d be too easy to sit here and list Kelley’s credits or recount Dr. McCoy’s most memorable lines or most infamous sparring matches with Spock. So we’re not going to do that. If you’re interested, though, we highly recommend From Sawdust to Stardust: The Biography of DeForest Kelley, Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy, a comprehensive and Kelley-sanctioned biography penned by Terry Lee Rioux and released in 2005. We also suggest checking out DeForest Kelley: A Harvest of Memories, by Kristine M. Smith, a Kelley fan who became his personal assistant and, eventually, his caretaker as the actor lived out his last days. And, of course, there’s a plethora of information to be found online.
So, let’s recall a few comments made by Kelley himself:
- “My absolute favorite memory (of Star Trek)? I don’t know. One that stands out, though, was something that happened during our third year of the series. We knew we’d be dropped at the end of the season, but we were still shooting the show. There was a television set around and we watched one of the NASA missions, maybe the one where they landed on the moon. Here we were, standing there in our far-out costumes, filming a show about the future, watching the astronauts walking around for real. That always amazes me, that memory.” – Star Trek Monthly
- “It wouldn’t have worked with me as Spock. I still remember Gene (Roddenberry) saying there were two roles in Star Trek he thought I’d be right for. One of them was (Spock) and one of them was what I called High Noon (Dr. McCoy). I thought it over and I said, ‘I’ll take High Noon, Gene.’ High Noon worked out just fine for me, wouldn’t you agree?” – Star Trek Monthly
- Lastly, his New York Times obituary quoted Kelley contemplating his legacy: “These people are doctors now, all kinds of doctors who save lives. That’s something very few people can say they’ve done. I’m proud to say that I have.”
Happy 99th birthday, De.