DeForest Kelley was an American actor, screenwriter, singer, and poet. He is best known for portraying Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy in Star Trek franchise TV series. He was discovered by a Paramount Pictures scout while he was shooting a United States Navy training film. This led him to star in his debut film ‘Fear in the Night’, a hit that garnered him initial recognition. However eventually Kelley landed up playing supporting roles, often as villain, in several films like ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral’ and ‘Raintree County’ and TV shows like ‘Bonanza’ and ‘The Fugitive’. His real breakthrough came with the role of Dr. Leonard McCoy in sci-fi television series ‘Star Trek’. He went on to reprise the role in six Star Trek movies starting from ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’; Star Trek: The Animated Series (voice); and pilot episode of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a Golden Boot Award.
Childhood & Early Life
DeForest Kelley was born on January 20, 1920, in Toccoa, Georgia, US as second son of Reverend Ernest David Kelley and Clora Casey. His father worked as a Baptist minister and as a result of this family had to relocate several times across Georgia. In 1930, they settled in Conyers.
While in Conyers, he used to sing solo in morning church services. He later performed on radio station WSB AM in Atlanta. This paved his way to perform with Lew Forbes and his orchestra at Paramount Theater.
His family relocated to Decatur, Georgia in 1934 where he studied at the Decatur Boys High School. There he played for the Decatur Bantams baseball team. While studying, he also worked as a drugstore car hop and during weekends worked in local theatres. He completed his graduation in 1938.
He went to stay with his uncle for two weeks in Long Beach, California, however ended up spending around a year there. Kelly then resolved to make a career in acting and shifted permanently in Southern California. In pursuit of earning enough money to meet his goal, Kelly worked as an usher in a local theatre.
He was enlisted during the Second World War and served the United States Army Air Forces from March 10, 1943 to January 28, 1946.
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DeForest Kelley was spotted by a Paramount Pictures scout in California when he was working on a United States Navy training film. Paramount Studios offered him a seven-year contract.
He made his film debut with starring role of Vince Grayson in the film noir crime film ‘Fear in the Night’ in 1947. The commercially successful film gave him initial recognition. Same year he starred in musical-comedy film ‘Variety Girl’.
Unable to garner lead roles further, Kelley relocated to New York for three years. There he worked on stage and on live television before returning to Hollywood.
Moving on, he featured in several films, mostly in supporting roles. These include the Western film ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Corral’ (1957); the Technicolor melodramatic film ‘Raintree County’ (1957) staring Montgomery Clift, Lee Marvin and Elizabeth Taylor; and the Western film ‘Warlock’ (1959) starring Anthony Quinn and Henry Fonda.
Meanwhile, he appeared in small roles in television series ‘The Lone Ranger’, ‘Gunsmoke’ and ‘Route 66’. He also featured in various roles in the NBC television Western series, ‘Bonanza’, from 1961 to 1966. He also performed in the radio drama, ‘Suspense’.
His career received a boost when he landed with his breakthrough role of chief medical officer Lieutenant Commander Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy of the starship USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) in the sci-fi television series ‘Star Trek’. The series originally ran for 3 seasons on NBC from September 8, 1966, to June 3, 1969.
Kelley went on to reprise the character of Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy in the animated sci-fi television series ‘Star Trek: The Animated Series’ (1973-74); in six Star Trek motion pictures starting from ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ (1979) to ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’ (1991, his last live-action film role); and in pilot episode of the series ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ titled ‘Encounter at Farpoint’ (1987).
The 1998 animated film ‘The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars’ where Kelly contributed voice of Viking 1 marked his last film role.
He published two poetry books ‘The Big Bird's Dream’ (1977) and ‘The Dream Goes On’ (1984).
He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991 and a Golden Boot Award in 1999.
Family & Personal Life
DeForest Kelly met actress Carolyn Dowling while working with a local theatre group in California. The two got married on September 7, 1945.
DeForest Kelly died of stomach cancer on June 11, 1999, at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital, in the Woodland Hills neighbourhood of Los Angeles.