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


Early life[]

Kelley was born in Toccoa, Georgia, the son of Clora[1] (née Casey) and Ernest David Kelley, who was a Baptist minister. DeForest was named after the pioneering electronics engineer Lee De Forest.[2] Kelley was delivered in their home by his uncle, a prominent local physician. He 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,[3] 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 had an older brother, Ernest Casey Kelley.

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 at Long Beach, California, Kelley decided to pursue an acting career and relocate to southern California, 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 received encouragement from his mother about this 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[]

The first movie of Kelley's acting career was the feature film Fear in the Nighy. The low-budget movie was a blockbuster hitTemplate:Citation needed, bringing him to the attention of a national audience. His next role, in Variety Girl, established him as a leading actor. A few years later, Kelley 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. 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 and many others. He appeared in a 1962 episode of Route 66, 1800 Days to Justice.

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), another pilot that was not developed into a series.

Star Trek[]

Years before being cast as Dr. McCoy, 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". 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 this factored into his casting in Star Trek. Kelley played Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy from 1966 to 1969 in Roddenberry's Star Trek, went on to reprise McCoy's 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 own life as the son of a Baptist minister. 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. One of his best-known lines as Dr. McCoy was of the form "I'm a doctor, not a [insert other trade or profession here]!" As a nod to the original series, this phrase was also often used by the Holographic Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager, and once by Dr. Bashir in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Trials and Tribble-ations" which merged the Deep Space Nine cast with the original series episode "The Trouble With Tribbles". Another popular line was "He's dead, Jim." Another trademark was his arguments with Spock, often putting forward emotional responses to Spock's clinical analysis of situations.

During Trek's first season, Kelley's was listed in the end credits along with the rest of the cast. Only William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were listed in the opening credits. However, Kelley would receive third billing starting in the second season where the opening credits would list him after Nimoy.

Kelley became good friends with Star Trek cast mates Shatner and Nimoy starting in 1964, with their first meeting Template:Citation needed. He was very proud of the fact he was the only one of the three who stayed married to one wife, Carolyn, for much of his life. His stock comment to them was, "I'm alive and well and living in the valley with the very same wife!"

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 was written posthumously by Terry Lee Rioux, a Lamar University professor in Beaumont, Texas.

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. Thereafter, he did a few television appearances and a couple of movies, but essentially went into de facto retirement. In a TLC interview done in the late 1990s, he 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."[5] On the other hand, he stated that he was very proud to hear from so many Star Trek fans that had been inspired to become doctors as a result of his portrayal of Dr. McCoy.

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.Template:Citation needed


  • 1947 Fear in the Night
  • 1947 Variety Girl
  • 1948 Canon City
  • 1949 Duke of Chicago
  • 1949 Malaya
  • 1950 The Men
  • 1953 Taxi
  • 1955 House of Bamboo
  • 1955 Illegal
  • 1955 The View from Pompey's Head
  • 1956 Tension at Table Rock
  • 1956 The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
  • 1957 Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
  • 1957 Raintree County
  • 1958 The Law and Jake Wade
  • 1959 Warlock
  • 1964 Gunfight at Comanche Creek
  • 1964 Where Love Has Gone
  • 1965 Black Spurs
  • 1965 Marriage on the Rocks
  • 1965 Town Tamer
  • 1966 Apache Uprising
  • 1966 Johnny Reno
  • 1966 Waco
  • 1972 Night of the Lepus
  • 1979 Star Trek: The Motion Picture
  • 1982 Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  • 1984 Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
  • 1986 Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  • 1989 Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
  • 1991 Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
  • 1998 The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars


  • 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")
  • 1959 Mackenzie's Raiders (as Charles Barrons in episode "Son of the Hawk")
  • 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)
  • 1961 Shannon (as Carlyle in "The Pickup")
  • 1961-66 Bonanza, (appeared in various episodes)
  • 1962 Have Gun, Will Travel
  • 1962 The Bull of the West
  • 1965 The Fugitive
  • 1966 Death Valley Days
  • 1966 1/2 I happened
  • 1966 Laredo (as Dr. David Ingram in "The Sound of Terror")
  • 1966 Ride the Wind
  • 1966-69 Star Trek: The Original Series
  • 1970 Ironside (appeared in various episodes)
  • 1973-74 Star Trek: The Animated Series (voice)
  • 1987 Star Trek: The Next Generation (Admiral Leonard McCoy)
  • 1996 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Archival footage)
  • Terry Lee Rioux, From Sawdust to Stardust: The Biography of DeForest Kelley, Star Trek's Dr. McCoy. Pocket Books, 2005. p. 1.
  • Terry Lee Rioux, From Sawdust to Stardust: The Biography of DeForest Kelley, Star Trek's Dr. McCoy. Pocket Books, 2005. p. 6.
  • The Star Trek Explorer - DeForest Kelley Obituary
  • "The Sound of Terror" episode cast, Internet Movie Database
  • Newsweek, July 20, 1999
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