DeForest Kelley will join several other Star Trek alumni for a memorial space flight later this year.
A man who will forever be known as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy from Star Trek: The Original Series, DeForest Kelley passed away in 1999, but thanks to his friend and personal assistant and caregiver, Kris Smith, his DNA will travel to space on Celestis’ Enterprise Memorial Space Flight later on this year. I had the opportunity to talk to Smith about the decision to include Kelley and his enduring legacy.
You donated a lock of Kelley’s hair from which DNA will be extracted. What brought you to that decision?
Carolyn (Kelley’s wife) asked me to collect two locks of hair from De after he passed, one for her and one for me. I had been his caregiver for months by then and had washed and combed his hair, so getting that lock was significant to me. And when I heard about the Celestis Enterprise flight, I thought, “If they can use a lock of De’s hair to add him to the mission, I want them to do it, because no Enterprise memorial flight would ever be complete without him.” And thank serendipity for that, too.
I happened to have Celestis’s Ambassador Marc B Lee on my EVER NEW podcast and after the show I told him about the lock of hair and asked if it could be used. He said he believed so and contacted Celestis, who confirmed that. They were very excited to be able to include De on the upcoming flight. They considered it the miracle they never expected. So they had me send half of the lock to their lab in Canada, and it was processed and prepared for the flight. I’m delighted that De will be able to be included in this deep space mission.
How do you think Kelley would have felt about this?
I think De would love it. When asked years ago if he would ever travel in space if given the chance, he said, “In a heartbeat.” So, he’s going!
Do you plan to attend the launch? Yes, I have been invited by Celestis to attend the three-day event and to spend about three minutes talking about De at the memorial service the day before the flight leaves earth.
What do you think the one thing De would say to fans today if he could? I think he would say thank you for continuing to hold him in such high regard even after so many years. He was once asked by Dan Madsen how he would like to be remembered. De chuckled a little and responded, ”Well, first of all, I hope they do remember. There’s nothing deader than a dead actor!” In a great many cases, he was right about that, and I don’t think he ever put himself in the category of the actors who would be long-remembered. But he is!
I hear from fans new and old every month. Some of them have just discovered him and fallen in love with him by watching some of his interviews on YouTube. Most of the people who reach out to me these days are under 20. They weren’t alive when De was. They want me to help resurrect him, and I do my best. That’s why I wrote the book: to keep his awesome goodness top of mind.
You had a close friendship with Kelley and his wife, Carolyn. What is one thing you wish fans could know about him?
That he was as genuine, kind, and gentlemanly as he appeared to be. At his memorial service at Paramount, I reflected, “In my opinion, DeForest Kelley was the kind of man God had in mind when he created Adam. If there were more DeForest Kelley types in the world, it would be the paradise we all wish it was.” He was such a blessing to everyone he met and knew.
We all have this image of him as Dr. McCoy. How was he different from that character?
McCoy was more gruff and curmudgeonly. Gene Roddenberry had in mind an H.L. Mencken kind of guy, but Kelley brought enough of himself into the role to make him less caustic than Roddenberry envisioned. Of course, it was the Kelley touch that made the character lovable despite his flaws. I’m not sure De had any personality flaws. I certainly never witnessed any. He was an exemplary human being.
You have an entire collection of DeForest Kelley memorabilia (more on that later). Is there one thing that you will never, ever part with?
There are several things. Probably more than several. When it comes time to part with my collection, it will be a very trying time! Among the items I’ll probably be unable to part with are the letters he wrote telling me he was having the article I wrote about meeting him published in TV Star Parade and for other special occasions and events, his Walk of Fame sweater (which fits me now, as he hoped it would) and the infamous blue-and-white striped shirt that he signed on the hem are among them.
There are also a couple other sweaters and truly ratty shirts that he wore often and loved much. I think he wore them while he was out in his rose garden collecting roses for Carolyn by the looks of them. They have tiny holes in them in various places. I love them just because he wore them so much. And the scent of their home or his cologne (I can’t tell which) is still on the clothes, so that gives me flashbacks to the good times we shared.
Knowing Kelley so well, Smith wrote several books about him and his wife to commemorate their friendship and time together, all of which you can find at Yellow Balloon Publications and Amazon. I would especially recommend DeForest Kelley Up Close and Personal: A Harvest of Memories from the Fan Who Knew Him Best.
And speaking of Smith’s Kelley collection, while nothing is set in concrete yet, the author is beginning to make plans to part with most of what is in the collection. Terry Rioux, who wrote DeForest Kelley’s biography FROM SAWDUST TO STARDUST, said that Smith has the most extensive Kelley career collection she was ever able to find. The motion picture libraries and other repositories don’t have near the breadth or depth of Kelley detail that Smith has so while unique, this will be quite the undertaking.
We’ll have more information on the collection and when it will come available in an upcoming post so stay tuned for details on how you may be able to acquire something personal from DeForest Kelley.