It was June 11, 1999, that DeForest Kelley passed away. As the first loss of the main Original Series cast, Kelley’s death showed us that Star Trek (and its fans) was aging. Yet, DeForest Kelley’s legacy continues to inspire fans, actors and medical professionals to this day. Today, we celebrate his contributions to acting, animal rights, volunteerism, and being a role model for many with a series of personal memories.
DeForest Kelley Memories
Trekmovie.com asked some of those who knew and worked with DeForest Kelley to share their remembrances of the person and the actor. Their words exemplify why DeForest Kelley will never really leave us.
I remember how generous and kind DeForest Kelley was to "the new kids on the block". I was thrilled to be able to share a scene with him in the pilot episode and he made me feel very comfortable on my first day on the Enterprise. In fact, that’s the way he was whenever we met. I did share one meal with him and his lovely wife one evening and he regaled us with stories about his days in summer stock. It was, needless to say, a treat. The only thing I can add to that is that he was always wonderful to be around and I wish I could’ve spent a lot more time enjoying his company.
– Brent Spiner
Actor, (Data – Star Trek: The Next Generation)
It was Gene’s idea to use DeForest Kelley for the pilot [of Star Trek The Next Generation]. And you know what? DeForest wouldn’t take anything above scale for his remuneration. He worked for SAG minimum. That was his way of giving back, he was very generous and he said he felt he owed it to Star Trek. That was kind of man he was.
– Robert Justman
Producer on Star Trek & Star Trek The Next Generation
After all these years, some of the best memories I have of creating and running the Official Star Trek Fan Club, and its official magazine, the Star Trek Communicator, involve DeForest Kelley. He was one of my favorites and a true gentleman – always there when you needed him, always with a smile on his face and kind word.
The first time I met DeForest Kelley was at a convention here in Denver. I had been corresponding with him for some time and was trying to arrange an interview with him for the fan club magazine. De suggested we meet at his hotel at the convention and just do the interview in-person. The first moment I entered his room, I was treated with the utmost of respect. His wife, Carolyn, who also became a good friend, greeted me with hugs. We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast while talking very casually about his career with Star Trek.
After that, De and I remained in contact with each other through all the years up to his passing. I always received notes from he and his wife thanking me for sending the magazines. They received every issue and read it from cover to cover. I think I interviewed De probably12 times over the years.
One of the special memories I have is flying out for his Star Ceremony on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. To be there and share in that special moment with both he and Carolyn was wonderful. After the ceremony, we went to a special party where De gave me a small pin replica of his star – a treasured keepsake.
De and Carolyn always loved their roses at their home. I remember De telling me that one of the things he enjoyed most was taking care of the roses and enjoying them with others. They had a beautiful yard full of them. It was one of the ways he truly relaxed.
One of my fondest memories of De was on the set of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I visited the set on the day they were filming in the large water tank on the back lot as the entire crew had just crash landed in the Klingon Bird of Prey. It was fun watching the wind machines blow and the cast do several takes as the whale swims by. After the scene was finished. De came up and asked if I would like to go to lunch. We went to the Paramount commissary and De was telling me that he thought they were creating a classic with the film. He was so happy to have Leonard back as director and said he was having a great time making the film. He was glad to see the humor return.
During one of our many interviews, I asked De how he would like to be remembered after he was gone. He thought and thought about it and said he just didn’t have an answer to that – he wasn’t sure what people would say about him after he was gone. When the issue came out, I sent him several copies. He sent me a wonderful note back, which I still have and treasure, thanking me for the copies and saying, “As for the question of what I would like people to say about me after I am gone, I guess…..’he’s dead Jim!’” De always had a wonderful sense of humor and never took himself too seriously. He was always proud of his association with Star Trek, loved and appreciated the fans, and made every attempt to say hello to them and write them back when they took the time to let him know how much they appreciated him.
De’s life was one to be emulated. He had a long successful career (I remember him telling me about stories as a young actor at Paramount working with Gloria Swanson and eating lunch with the likes of Clark Gable and Bing Crosby among many others.) He was married for over 50 years to the love of his life, Carolyn – a class act herself. They had one of the truly great love stories of Hollywood. I remember someone telling me that one of the last things De did before he passed away was leave a note to Carolyn that said, “True love stories never end.” This was truly the case with De and Carolyn.
I’ll never forget the day De passed away. I was driving in my car and it came over the radio that the news had just come in that DeForest Kelley had passed away. I had to pull over and wipe the tears from my eyes. Not only had I lost a dear friend but the Star Trek world had lost one of its true heroes – a man beloved by the fans whose memory would live forever. The best tribute I could do for De was to create a special issue devoted to him of the Star Trek Communicator. I asked Bill Shatner and Leonard Nimoy if they would do special interviews with me on their memories of De. They agreed in a heartbeat and the result was an issue that I am proud of. It was a fitting tribute to one of the great actors of Star Trek. It was filled with memories of De from his friends and colleagues, past interviews with him, and many special images from his life. When I look at that issue today it reminds me of how much I miss being able to talk with him and miss his unique and warm personality. Those surely were the best of times.
Thank God for Star Trek – a show which has, for over 40 years now, been a beacon of light in so many peoples lives. It has provided hope, a positive vision of the future, and just good entertainment for generations of fans. It goes without saying that DeForest Kelley was an integral part of that successful vision, both on-screen and off. He was an inspiration in his own life as well as the irascible Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. De would’ve have been glad to see that Star Trek was continuing through JJ Abrams new film and he would’ve embraced Karl Urban’s portrayal. He was happy to support Gene Roddenberry’s new vision with The Next Generation by making a cameo as an aged McCoy and I believe it would’ve made him happy to know that Star Trek, and its positive vision, was continuing. De was not selfish and believed in doing what was best for Star Trek. May his memory live long and prosper – De was an actor and human being truly worthy of the emulation and legendary status he has received for the past 40 years and for many, many years to come!
– Dan Madsen
Actor and Former Publisher and President of the Official Star Trek Fan Club
There was only one member of the Star Trek cast old or new who could give me the “fanboy” willies, and that was De. Once I was old enough to truly soak up the original Star Trek, McCoy the Southern realist came to become my favorite character-and De was the one I always thought it would be easiest to sit down to dinner with.
So it was that I’ll always remember the last time I really saw him, years into the era when professional Star Trek World had caught us up. It was the official 30th anniversary celebration in Huntsville, Alabama-which as it turned out was also to be the last time the original cast would all be onstage together. Nagging me at the time was the fact that De was the only member of the original gang who had not announced plans for his own biography-even resisted it-and the clock was ticking, to put it nicely.
So, when we got to share some time that weekend, I quite passionately (and only slightly selfishly) made one more pitch to let me co-write his story in some fashion; or, failing that, to let anyone join him in the project. “Oh, but then I’d just have to go out and go through all that stuff in the garage,” he drawled, winking at me and grinning-as polite but firm a “no” as ever.
Of course, later on author Terry Rioux won family approval to go through all that “stuff in the garage” and put together a wonderful life story for De, and I was happy to join dozens who helped out in the effort. But the Huntsville story points out how great an actor the unassuming De really was-for he and Caroline both balanced his wonderful public openness and warmth with a zealous bottom-line priority for their real personal privacy. It suited him well, for the unexpected career turn of 1966 that forever left him an icon was based on that very same unassuming appeal-the grounded, down-to-earth guy that De really was. If the latter ever gave way, you see, the former could never really be as beloved by his audience.
It’s been nine years since we lost DeForest Kelley, but that’s what still strikes me about him: how well he kept those extremes in his personal and public persona, and kept them in balance so well. (Might also be how both De and McCoy might have been the only one in the universe able to cut his illustrious colleagues down to size when they needed it!)
Oh, and our 1999 memorial issue of Communicator for De? It was, for me, both the hardest and the most glorious issue we ever did. It was just one year into my tenure there way back when, but it remains my favorite issue ever.
– Larry Nemecek
Star Trek author, editor and archivist.
DeForest Kelley was married just once, from September 7, 1945 until he passed away in 1999. He was 25 when he married Carolyn M. Kelley. He often said of his beloved Carolyn, “I make the living, but she makes the living worthwhile.” The first part of this declaration of love wasn’t always the case: Carolyn supported De for a number of years as he struggled to establish a viable acting career. She worked at Warner Bros. in New York while he pounded the pavement looking for stage work in the early 50’s. She also served as his secretary his entire career, except toward the end of his life when arthritis and a broken leg, suffered at age 82, made it impossible for her to serve in that capacity any longer.
Upon landing his first role in a Western, De was quickly taught how to ride a horse by aviatrix and barnstormer Aileen Pickering, an accomplished rider. (While considering signing De for the role, the producer asked him if he could ride a horse. De responded in the affirmative – far from his finest hour where truth-telling is concerned, but then he immediately set out cancel out the lie, making sure he could ride before reporting to the set! Aileen said he was a natural, a very fast learner. This is evident when watching him in Westerns. A viewer would think he was born on a horse.
De and Carolyn didn’t have any children, although they loved them – and children loved them. Instead, they had a series of pets, including two small dogs (Cheers, a schnoodle, and Fancy, a Lhasa Apso) , a parakeet (Cherie), a cat (Maggie), and a desert tortoise (Myrtle the Turtle, an octogenarian). In later life, De frequently joked about Myrtle, “We always like to have someone around older than we are!”
De appeared in twenty motion pictures, and in hundreds of TV episodes in the 50’s and 60’s, including Rawhide, Bat Masterson, The Lone Ranger, Perry Mason, The Bold Ones, and Bonanza. Many of his portrayals can still be seen on video, and every fan of his should see them, to realize what a fine actor he was.
He was born in Atlanta, Georgia, delivered at home by his uncle, who was also a doctor for the Governor of Georgia at that time. His uncle thought De would make a fine doctor; De’s dad, a Baptist minister, thought De would make a fine preacher. De thought he would make a fine cowboy, since his family didn’t have enough money to send him to college to pursue a career as a physician. De often joked at conventions, “But I did become both a doctor and a cowboy – in motion pictures!” And as we all know, De did, indeed, have a ministry (something his father would have loved had he lived to see it) it was all of us!
– Kristine M. Smith
Author (DeForest Kelley: A Harvest of Memories)
From the Staff of TrekMovie.com
We miss you, DeForest.