DeForest Kelley was a supporting actor on film, stage and television for 20 years before landing the defining role of his career: the irascible but wise Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in the “Star Trek” TV series and movies.
On the Enterprise’s motley crew, Kelley played the resident surgeon and humanist — the perfect foil for the coldly logical Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and macho Capt. James T. Kirk (William Shatner). “It fit him very well,” Nimoy said of Kelley and his role. “He brought a decency and sensibility that made you want to have him around.”
The son of a Baptist minister, Kelley came to Long Beach to visit an uncle and wound up joining a theater group. In the mid-1940s he was discovered by a Paramount talent scout who saw him in a Navy training film. Kelley parlayed his slight Southern drawl and weathered face into roles as ranchers, town folk and minor villains in westerns.
Kelley admitted he was not a fan of science fiction, but “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry offered him a choice of two roles, one of which he described as “this green-painted alien.” Kelley chose the other. “I’m glad it turned out that way,” the actor told the Chicago Tribune.
McCoy’s sarcasm endeared him to fans, as did two particular trademark lines: “I’m just a country doctor,” uttered when he was faced with some ghastly outer-space malady, and “He’s dead, Jim.”