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DeForest Kelley dies at 79

Original 'Star Trek' doctor was popular character

DeForest Kelley, known to millions of TV viewers as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy on the original “Star Trek” TV series, died Friday at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Hospital in Los Angeles. He was 79.

Hospital officials said he died after a long illness, but wouldn’t elaborate. His wife of 55 years, Carolyn, also a patient at the hospital being treated for a broken leg, was at his side when he died.

Kelley played Dr. McCoy from 1966 to 1969 on the original series, but never left American TV screens thanks to an endless number of syndicated repeats. His character was one of the most popular on the series.

In addition to the TV series, Kelley also appeared in the successful line of six “Star Trek” films with other series stars William Shatner, who played Starship Enterprise’s captain, and Leonard Nimoy, the Vulcan first mate Spock.

Born DeForest Jackson Kelley in Atlanta, Ga., on Jan. 20, 1920, the son of a Baptist minister, his career dream was to become a doctor like the uncle who delivered him. But his family did not have the funds to send him to medical school, and Kelley drifted into singing and theater.

He came to Long Beach at the age of 17 to visit relatives and wound up acting in a play. A Paramount scout, Milton Lewis, liked Kelley and brought him to the studio for an audition. Paramount at the time was testing for an unknown actor to play the lead of a film called “This Gun for Hire.” The finalists were DeForest Kelley and Alan Ladd. Kelley lost the role to Ladd and left Hollywood to serve in the armed forces during World War II.

Kelley subsequently signed with Paramount and his first film was “Fear in the Night” (1947). He appeared in about eight westerns at Paramount produced by A.C. Lyles, who always made Kelley the heavy. Additional film credits include “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” (1956), “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” (1957) and “Raintree County” (1957).

Lyles is arranging a memorial service for Kelley to be held at Paramount Studios later this month.