A 'Trek' original dies at 79

Appreciation: DeForest Kelley will be remembered for `Bones' McCoy, but also his caring nature.

June 12, 1999|By Chris Kridler | Chris Kridler,SUN STAFF

The first senior member of the "Star Trek" crew has died, and that particular universe will never be the same.

DeForest Kelley, who played Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy on the original series that ran from 1966 to 1969 and gained immortality in syndicated reruns, died yesterday at age 79 after a long illness, said Carol Pfannkuche, spokeswoman for the Motion Picture and Television Country Home and Hospital in Woodland Hills, Calif.

With William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, Kelley was at the heart of a series that captured audiences with its imagination despite its sometimes cheesy effects and detours into camp. He made the most of the role with a down-home sense of humor and as a humane, impassioned counterpart to the unflappable, logical Spock.

"He represented humanity, and it fitted him well," said Nimoy. "He was a decent, loving, caring partner and will be deeply missed."

Kelley, who went on to star in six "Star Trek" films as well as make an appearance on the TV series "Star Trek: The Next Generation," is most easily remembered for such catchphrases as "He's dead, Jim," and "I'm a doctor, not a [name a profession here]."

On the show, he also often said, "I'm just an old country doctor," bringing a welcome touch of folksiness into the high-tech (well, as high-tech as plastic-foam planets can be) world.

While growing up in Atlanta, Kelley did indeed want to be a doctor, like the uncle who delivered him. And though his family couldn't afford to send him to medical school, he managed to realize his dream in a roundabout way: by drifting into theater and eventually landing the role of Dr. McCoy on the series.

A Paramount scout spotted him in a Navy training film and signed him to a contract at the studio as a bit player. Among his screen credits are "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" and "Raintree County." He also appeared on dozens of TV shows, including "Bonanza" and "Gunsmoke."

Kelley didn't object to being typecast as McCoy. "He loved that series so much," said A.C. Lyles, a friend and longtime Paramount Studios producer who knew Kelley for five decades.

Lyles recalled how Kelley went up for a leading role in "This Gun for Hire" in 1940, losing out to Alan Ladd but gaining a Paramount contract and regular roles in westerns. "I always used him as a heavy, a mean man, and he was marvelous at that," Lyles said. In real life, Kelley -- "De" to his friends -- was known for his great sense of humor and his skill at growing roses, he said.

Mary Jensen, who runs the DeForest Kelley Tribute Page on the Web (http: //members.tripod.com/(tilde)NimoyKelley/kelley.html), says he won't be forgotten.

"His fans will be loyal to his memory," she said yesterday. "I think De probably embellished [series creator Gene] Roddenberry's ideal of what the future will be, that it will be a better future. He was truly a gentlemen and truly a kind and loving person, and very caring and giving."

Jensen, a 48-year-old from Cedar Falls, Iowa, who's been a fan of "Star Trek" since it premiered, says Kelley has set an example for her. "I've always patterned my life after the character of McCoy, who was always trying to do what he could for humanity," she said.

Kelley is survived by his wife of nearly 55 years, Carolyn, who was at his side when he died.

Sun wire services contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 6/12/99

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