We lost De Kelley 25 years ago today

I can’t believe it’s been 25 years ago today that we lost De.

I mean DeForest Kelley, of course— the humble working actor who parlayed a resume of playing the heavy during the boom era of the Westerns into galactic fame as Dr. Leonard McCoy, the heart of Star Trek. (That’s the one that created its own paradigm, and the demand for all the others.)

Today’s Trekland Tuesdays LIVE #354 is dedicated to this somber timestamp and some warm memories— and thankful to have friend, author and De’s late-life assistant Kim M. Smith as guest.

Now, look: Veteran Treklanders know that McCoy was my original favorite of the Trek cast, and De as the actor from the cast whom I’d most like to actually sit down and converse with over dinner.

Years later, it turned out De was that humble, and he and beloved wife Caroline lived private lives even while cherishing De’s fans for decades of support.

I’ve written often about De, marking his birthday every year on blogs and now socials…as well as the day his death news spread like a thunderclap. De had stomach cancer, one of the most painful and incurable varieties, and he kept the dept of his illness secret in his final months— even from some family and others close. That’s why the news of June 11, 1999 hit like a wallop.

Aside from creator Gene Roddenberry and #1 recurring actor Mark Lenard,  De was also the first of the original Trek folks to pass—and certainly the first of the regular cast. It was a bittersweet, watershed moment. A shift for all the Star Trek family— fan and pro alike.

Despite that, I was gratified and privileged to have had the keys to the official magazine Communicator for about six months by then, and we stopped plans to make a pivot and conjure up a memorial issue on a month’s notice. It’s 1999 mode, sure, but still one of my proudest moments. In a weird way, knowing that coming years would only bring more inevitable losses of our only-too-human Trek heroes, I felt privileged and honored for De to have been our first,. my first, to have been so celebrated.

Today, all the original roles from original Star Trek still shine bright: Either because their actors are iconic and still w its us, or because they’ve become legendary and since been prostrated by others in the Kelvinverse or in younger guises on Strange New Worlds.

All except McCoy—Karl Urban’s great channeling tribute notwithstanding — and especially De as the protrayor. As I shared a few weeks back on Trekland Tuesdays LIVE, I fret that his impact will fall through the cracks, his impact and import fade.  Or even be misinterpreted by later generations.

And yet, author and longtime friend, De’s late-life assistant Kris M. Smith tells me that the bigger load of inquiries about De come from Gen X, Gen Alphas even — they just stumble across TOS, fall for De’s McCoy,  and want to know more about him—the interviews and clips online just aren’t enough.

Once again, De — who found himself an unexpected equal to Bill and Leonard among Star Trek’s original troika of characters and charismatic actors, would just be smiling at that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *