Aphelion Issue 279, Volume 26
December 2022/January 2023
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DeForest Kelley

(1920 - 1999)

A rememberance

by Rob Wynne

Deforest Kelley

I knew it was any day now. Any week. Any year. No one lasts forever, and the last few years, he looked even more frail every time I saw him in an interview. But it still hit me like a punch in the stomach that afternoon in June when I heard that DeForest Kelley had passed away.

I know part of it is that Kelley, as Doctor Leonard "Bones" McCoy, was hands down my favorite character in the original Star Trek series (or indeed, in all of Star Trek, before and since). Doctor McCoy was an old southern gentleman and, in his own words, "a simple country doctor" who just happened to live and work in space. A terrific example of an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances, a type of character I myself have always enjoyed writing. He exemplified human virtues, carrying himself with dignity and poise, and argued passionately with his companions when he felt they strayed from what he considered a firm moral ground. He was aware of his own limitations, and, while he was never afraid to protest being asked to exceed them (often with his trademark phrase -- "Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a..."), he also never failed to commit himself totally to his mission of compassion and mercy, doing whatever it would take to save a life or ease a pain.

Having had the good fortune to meet Mr. Kelley on one occasion, I cannot help but think that there was little difference between the actor and his alter ego. Even as early as 1987, he was no longer able to sign autographs, due to painful arthritis in his hands, but he stayed longer than anyone to meet and greet with his fans, and, since he could not sign pictures, he took the time to pose with and chat with every single person who stopped by where he was. He had a gracious and unassuming presence, and was genuinely happy to talk with his fans, a trait not shared by some of his cast mates.

Normally, I sit down to write a reflection like this almost immediately. It's a sort of grieving process for me, to capture my thoughts on a person I had admired when they passed on. For some reason, however, this time I found myself unable to really focus my thoughts, as if there was something bigger working at the back of my brain, that I couldn't quite let go of yet. And it finally struck me.

He was the first.

Star Trek is more than just a television show. It's a part of our culture, in a way that few science fiction works have managed to become. Perhaps only Superman is more recognized around the world than the Enterprise and her crew. Despite it's amazingly deep roots, however, to this day, the players were all still with us. The last log had not been closed, the last story had not been told, the last voyage had not been made.

Until now.

There will be no more Star Trek like the Star Trek I grew up on. There can be no more. An adventure of the original crew without Kelley's good-natured curmudgeon would be a hollow recreation. No matter how hard it might try, it would be missing a very important part of its soul, a part which can neither be replaced nor ignored.

DeForest Kelley was proud of his work on Star Trek. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, he declared his greatest legacy was "to have inspired a great number of people to enter the medical world." And those he has inspired will always remember him, and take their direction from his grace, charm, and good character.

It is said that the best thing a man can hope for in life is to leave the world a better place than he found it. DeForest Kelley has certainly done that. He shall truly be missed.

More rememberances of Deforest Kelley

  • Steve Troop ran this lovely strip the day after Mr. Kelley passed away:

  • Brenda Sutton wrote this wonderful eulogy song in memory of Deforest Kelley.

© 1999 Robert T. Wynne

Robert Wynne ("Doc") is a gentleman rogue and a scholar of truth. He has been, at alternate times, a writer, an editor, a salesman, a teacher, a freelance computer consultant and a charming vagrant. You can reach him via e-mail at doc@america.net.

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