Eric's meaty face  Annotations

Some Days in the Life - Good Night, DeForrest Kelly

Posted 6/12/99

Current Entry
Personal History
Essay Page
Send Comments

DeForrest Kelly is dead. You fill in the joke. I don't want to.

The joke got brought up (but not said) last night online, and it was almost too much for one or two people. McCoy wasn't just a TV character to them. He was a role model. And it was just too painful for people. I can understand that, though McCoy wasn't a role model for me. My favorite character was Scotty. And it seemed unfair -- after all, McCoy was supposed to live to 137, according to the Season Premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The only character from the original show in the premiere, no less.

But I don't claim it doesn't affect me at all. It does, more than most celebrity deaths I've heard about. DeForrest Kelly lived a very quiet post-Star Trek life. Unlike Shatner and Nimoy, he never tried to get people to forget the role he had created and the place it had in history. He was perfectly content to retire after Star Trek, reprising his role every now and again and going to conventions. I never saw him at a convention (I've only been to one Star Trek specific Con -- I like the Literary Cons better) but he was always described as amiable and a true gentleman. Unlike the two more popular, better paid parts of the central Star Trek trio, he hasn't written a book called I Am Not Spock or Get A Life about how much he resented his fans. Clearly, he didn't resent his fans, he appreciated them, and the notoriety that came with it.

In that trio, McCoy stood for humanity -- the voice of emotionalism. The voice of conscience. The often short shrifted symbol of the man who says that there are deeper, more emotional, more human considerations than logic -- considerations which make us better than Vulcans, not worse. In the best of the movies, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, McCoy was at once the man who was morally offended that humanity was trying to play God and take over Evolution with the Genesis device, and astounded and pleased with the Genesis Cave, where humanity's most wondrous achievement had been given its only successful fruition. The two were not incompatible for McCoy. Unlike the often overly cerebral and "preachy" monologues of McCoy's humanity-spokesman successor, Jean-Luc Picard, McCoy always seemed to have his beliefs come from his heart, inspired by the moment -- impressed with human ingenuity and concerned over humanity's quest to better itself at the cost of its basic morality. McCoy should be impressed with the fruits of Genesis and passionately against its creation and use. It was who the character was.

And clearly who DeForrest Kelly was as well. More than most, he seemed to be his most famous character in interviews. And it's known that in the travesty that was Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, McCoy was supposed to turn against Kirk in the name of a Vulcan who took his greatest pains and shared them. Kelly refused to play the scene -- the first time in history he ever caused trouble. McCoy wouldn't do that -- not to Kirk, and more importantly, not to himself. Humanity didn't turn away from itself.

After Kelly's revolt, Leonard Nimoy also refused, but it started with DeForrest Kelly, who believed so passionately in what his character represented he could buck the ego of William Shatner, who wanted his own character to be the only one who resisted. And yet, unlike Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, George Takei and (most passionately) James Doohan, DeForrest Kelly never said a negative word about William Shatner in public that I have ever seen.

A true gentleman. A passionate believer in the mythology he helped create. A part of Americana.

I'll miss him. So will we all.