DeForest Kelley, who, as Star Trek's folksy spaceman Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy, frequently issued the dire (and trademark) "He's dead, Jim" diagnosis, died today at the Motion Picture and Television Country Home and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. He was 79.
Kelley was pronounced dead at 12:15 p.m. Longtime friend and producer A.C. Lyles told reporters the star had been confined to the hospital for three months, suffering from a "lingering illness."
Kelley is the first major member of the USS Enterprise's original on-air crew to pass away. Franchise creator Gene Roddenberry died in 1991. Actor Mark Lenard, a familiar face in the series and movies as Mr. Spock's Vulcan father, died in 1996.
With William Shatner's Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy's Mr. Spock, Kelley's Bones McCoy formed the original Trek's holy troika. They were the three guys who got the biggest storylines, the best billing, the most money and the clearest shots at post-Trek careers.
"He represented humanity, and it fitted him well," Nimoy said today in a statement. "He was a decent, loving, caring partner and will be deeply missed."
Kelley costarred as Bones on the 1966-69 NBC series and in six Trek movies--from 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture to 1991's Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the last to feature the entire original cast.
Flowers were to be placed tonight on Kelley's Hollywood Walk of Fame star.
Prior to donning the blue shirt that was the sign of a Starfleet medical officer, Kelley wore another kind of uniform--a cowboy get-up. He worked extensively in TV westerns of the 1950s and '60s, piling up credits on shows such as Rawhide, The Virginian and Zane Grey Theater.
Born January 20, 1920, in Atlanta, Georgia, Kelley was inspired to pursue acting as a teenager during a visit to an uncle in Long Beach, California. He was discovered by a talent scout for Paramount Pictures while appearing in a stage play there. A contract didn't materialize, though, until after he returned from a tour in World War II.
His first film was 1947's Fear in the Night. Soon, he became a workhorse on the Paramount lot, appearing in dozens of grind-'em-out flicks.
"He always played the heavy," Lyles said to Los Angeles' City News Service. "He was a great heavy, in contrast to what he is in person."
In 1957, Kelley won the role of Morgan Earp in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. He returned to the Corral in the 1968 Trek episode, "Spectre of the Gun," although the second time around he was on the side of the Clantons, not the Earps.
It was Trek, of course, that brought him his most indelible role. If not quite the sci-fi show's comic relief, then he was its ascerbic aside. It was McCoy's Bones who bickered with Spock to loosen up the pointy-eared guy. In Trek lore, Bones' greatest bond was with his ship's captain, James T. Kirk--the "Jim" of "He's dead, Jim."
After the series met an uncelebrated end in 1969, McCoy went back to episodic TV work--and started on the unexpected, never-ending Trekkie convention circuit. His most notable non-Trek film of the period was 1972's killer-bunny horror flick, Night of the Lepus.
Survivors include his wife of 55 years, Carolyn, who was being treated at the same hospital as her spouse for a broken leg and other complications.
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