Jackson DeForest Kelley, better known as DeForest or just plain De, played villains in a long string of Westerns before being cast as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy in Star Trek the Original Series. Alongside William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, he made up a third of the Power Trio that headed the show's cast.
Eleven years older than the young cast (most of whom, besides James Doohan, were in their mid-thirties), Kelley grew up on "the sawdust trail" in rural Georgia as the son of a preacher. In his late teens he moved to Long Beach, California, to pursue his dream of becoming a performer. There he met the love of his life -- Carolyn Meagher Dowling, with whom he was co-starring at The Long Beach Playhouse. They continued their courtship throughout Kelley's service in World War Two and married in 1945. He never looked twice at anyone else.
Kelley got his first cinematic starring role in Fear In The Night, and soon he was playing bit parts in Westerns for Paramount. He ended up typecast as your typical Western villain, never knowing that an even bigger role was about to come his way.
Kelley brought to the role of McCoy an earthy humor, gentle sensitivity, and caustic compassion that would make him, and the role, famous. While he never quite reached the popularity levels of the dashing, golden-haired, devil-may-care Captain or the dark, enigmatic Vulcan, his bright blue eyes, gorgeous smile, Southern accent and charisma earned him a sizable fanbase in his own right, aided by his constant snark-fests with Nimoy as Spock. Although he would get little work outside the Star Trek franchise for the remainder of his life, he never sought the limelight: De and Carolyn were very private people, and no actors ever crossed the threshold of their own private house. Ironically, at the time of production, Kelley was the best-known actor of the three -- Nimoy and Shatner had done stage work and not much else prior to being cast.
Movingly, it was De who was chosen to "pass the torch" to Star Trek the Next Generation, appearing one last time as a feisty, 137-year-old Admiral McCoy in "Encounter at Farpoint", written by TOS veteran D.C. Fontana. His last line, delivered to Data, was, "Treat her like a lady, and she'll always bring you home."
Shy by nature, De appeared at conventions only infrequently and did even fewer television interviews, confessing on Merv Griffin that "I'm so scared -- I never do talk shows, you know, I'm absolutely a wreck." When he did appear, however, Kelley was universally remembered by fans as warm, witty, down-to-earth, incredibly welcoming, and a gentle spirit with the same compassion and general goodwill that made his character so famous.
He was the first of the original cast to pass on, dying of stomach cancer in 1999. He left behind an immortal character who embodied the essence of human compassion. Kelley's work would not go unrecognized -- he was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located, fittingly, outside the Galaxy theater.
He was the only original cast member not to write an autobiography. Terry Lee Rioux published his biography, From Sawdust To Stardust, in 2005.