DeForest Kelley, who played the curmudgeonly Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy in the original Star Trek series, died on June 11, 1999, at the age of 79. He was the first member of the original Star Trek cast to pass away.
Initially approached for the role of the Vulcan science officer Mr. Spock, Kelley was instead cast as the ship's chief medical officer, described by series creator Gene Roddenberry as "a future-day H.L. Mencken". An unabashed cynic of technology, the McCoy character was a self-described old fashioned country doctor who put more faith in humanity than high technology.
In a 1982 interview with author Allan Asherman, Kelley said McCoy represented "the perspective of the audience, that if you were along on the voyage you'd think, 'These people are crazy! How in the hell do they expect to do that?'" Indeed, the McCoy character was often used to interject a dose of reality, interpret the techno-babble, and explain the frequently convoluted plotting of the more arcane Trek adventures to those in the audience struggling to follow the science fiction storylines.
His summary of the plot of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, delivered in exasperated disbelief to the gung-ho Captain Kirk, still stands as one of the best examples of exposition in screen history:
"You're proposing that we go backwards in time, find humpbacked whales, then bring them forward in time, drop 'em off, and hope to hell they tell this probe what to go do with itself?!" The entire plot in fewer than 35 words. That's Bones for you.
The son of a Baptist minister, Jackson DeForest Kelley wanted to be a doctor like an uncle he greatly admired, but his family couldn't afford to send him to medical school. He instead became a character actor who worked steadily in film and television from the late 1940s through the 1960s. Star Trek's popularity in syndication essentially ended his acting career, but he considered himself fortunate to be associated with a role that made him a permanent icon in popular culture, and he made a comfortable living by reprising his character for the motion picture series and appearing on the convention circuit.
Asherman's interview ended with a quote that could serve as an accurate and fitting epitaph:
"I'd wanted to be a physician and couldn't- and yet became the most well-known doctor in the galaxy."
(YouTube video: A Tribute to DeForest Kelley)
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