DeForest Kelley, the actor known internationally for his iconic role as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy on Star Trek, was was born January 20, 1920. Thursday, January 20, 2022, would have been his 102nd birthday. He left us on June 11, 1999, at the age of 79.

Both DeForest Kelley and Leonard McCoy were born in Georgia in the southern United States. In Star Trek, Kelley played the CMO (Chief Medical Officer) of the USS Enterprise.

{image via Paramount}

in real life, DeForerst Kelley actually wanted to go to medical school, but the tuition was not in his family’s budget. He pointed out: “I’d wanted to become a doctor and couldn’t – yet became the best known doctor in the galaxy.”1

DoForest Kelley found his way into the entertainment world through music. First he sang in church, then he sang on the radio. While serving in the US Army Air Forces, he was assigned to the Motion Picture Unit and made training films. A Hollywood talent scout saw him in a recruiting film, and the rest, as they say is history., By the time he was cast as Bones in Star Trek, he had already earned a reputation as a reliable character actor in westerns.

DeForest Kelley as Curly Burn in Warlock (1959) {image via 20th Century Fox}

He was a guest on The Lone Ranger three times. He was on The Adventures of Jim Bowie once, and once on Boots and Saddles.He also appeared in The Rough Riders, The Californians, Rawhide, and McKenzie’s Raiders. Black Saddle, Elfego Baca., The Depoty, and Zane Grey Theatre.

“I thoroughly enjoyed those years. I liked Westerns for two reasons: First, it took the actor outside. They were all very physical at that time and not limited to a stage. Second, they paid my rent an awful lot.”

Between all the westerns and the third season Star Trek episode “Spectre of the Gun,”2 he spent a lot of time at OK Corral. “In 1955 he played Ike Clanton in an episode of the series You Are There (1953), and in 1957 he played Morgan Earp in the film Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957). On Star Trek (1966) the USS Enterprise away team beam onto a planet and he again finds himself at the O.K. Corral, playing Tom McLaury.

DeForest Kelley died June 11, 19999 in Los Angeles, California of stomach cancer at the age of 79. He was married to actress Carolyn Dowling from 1946 until his death in 1999. He’s been gone nearly a generation now, but he is still remembered fondly, as both a gentleman and as a performer.

Just as Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch inspired young people to go to law school, so DeForest Kelley as Dr. McCoy inspired young people to seek a career in medicine. He was rather proud of that, and justly so.

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1Fans of Tom Baker might disagree.
2“Spectre of the Gun” was episode 6 in the third season of Star Trek TOS.

Susan Macdonald
Susan Macdonald

Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as short stories in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, “Supernatural Colorado”, “Barbarian Crowns”, “Cat Tails””Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions,  Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.