Star Trek: Remembering DeForest Kelley - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Star Trek: Remembering DeForest Kelley

He's not a scientist or a physicist...

Born 100 years ago today, on January 20th 1920, DeForest Kelley is known around the globe for portraying Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy in the television and film series Star Trek. For me, when I first discovered Trek in the late 1970s, Dr. McCoy was my favourite character. Spock may have been the icon of the series, and Capt. Kirk might have gotten all the alien chicks, but McCoy was the everyman, the one I could relate to. I was clearly never going to be Vulcan, and time would prove that I was not destined to be much of a ladies man, but I could be Bones. Perhaps? So in this new fantastical alien adventure world I'd discovered, he was the human connection. At least for me he was.

Plus, there was something just so inherently cool about Bones. Of course, at that young age I didn't realise it was because the character had developed to be an extension of DeForest Kelley himself. It was him bringing the cool and exuding charisma in every scene he was in.

Between Dr. McCoy and Quincy M.E. I had decided at the age of 8 a career in medicine was for me. This was abruptly scuppered when I realised I had a deep phobia of hospitals! Nevertheless, I found myself returning to Star Trek week after week, thanks in no small part to McCoy, and, as tends to happen when you discover a new actor you admire, I started to notice Kelley pop up as a guest star in many other re-runs airing around that time.

DeForest Kelley had actually started his career on the big screen, almost 20 years before he joined the crew of the USS Enterprise, with the 1947 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 he would soon become a star. His next role, in Variety Girl, saw him share the screen with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, and established Kelley as a leading actor, resulting in the founding of his first fan club. But his career stumbled and Kelley and his wife, Carolyn, decided to move to New York City were he found work on stage and on live television.

After three years in New York, the Kelleys returned to Hollywood where DeForest quickly built up an extensive resume, guest starring in dozens of the most popular series' of the day. Although you may have seen him in The Donna Reed Show, Perry Mason and The Fugitive, Kelley seemed to mainly be offered roles in Westerns.

Across the years he appeared in; The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, Wanted Dead Or Alive, Rawhide, State Trooper, The Virginian, Stagecoach West, and Bonanza. His association with the genre led to an appearance in the 1957 movie Gunfight at the O.K. Corral as Morgan Earp, brother to Burt Lancaster's Wyatt Earp. (You may remember in the season three Star Trek episode titled "Spectre of the Gun", Captain Kirk and members of his crew are sent to die in a re-enactment of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. On this occasion, Kelley as Dr. McCoy portrays Tom McLaury.) In 1999, Kelley was presented with a Golden Boot Award for his contribution to the genre of Western television and movies.

Throughout the 1950s, Kelley had primarily portrayed villains, and so looking for a change he took a role in a 1960 television pilot called 333 Montgomery.

The pilot was written by an ex-policeman named Gene Roddenberry, who 4 years later, when casting his new science fiction series, offered the role of Spock to DeForest Kelley. Kelley declined.

Of course, he would eventually join the cast of Star Trek after the initial pilot had been rejected. Kelley played Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy from 1966 to 1969, reprising the character in a voice-over role in Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973–74), and the first six Star Trek motion pictures (1979 to 1991). In 1987, he also had a cameo in "Encounter at Farpoint", the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as Admiral Leonard McCoy, Starfleet Surgeon General Emeritus.

DeForest Kelley died at age 79 of stomach cancer in his home in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles on June 11th 1999. In an interview two years prior to his death, Kelley jokingly said one of his biggest fears was that the words etched on his gravestone would be "He's dead, Jim."

Kelley also 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. That career path might not have been for me, but DeForest Kelley did inspire me to return to the world of Star Trek each and every week and, consequently, develop a lifelong love of the series.

DeForest Kelly is missed. But he will never be forgotten.

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