Jackson DeForest Kelly was born and raised in Atlanta Georgia. His father, Ernest D. Kelley was a Baptist minister and raised him with those values. His mother, Clara Casey Kelley, was a housewife and tended to the family. After graduating high school at 16, he had gotten a job as an usher in a local theatre and he began singing in his father's church choir. Once he realized he was quite a good singer, he began to perform on radio station WSB in Atlanta. This eventually led to a job performing with Lew Forbes and his orchestra at the Paramount Theatre. Having developed a taste for performing, he decided to visit his uncle in Long Beach California to be closer to the heart of America's entertainment industry. Not wanting to abuse his uncle's generosity, he made sure to find a job to help pull his own weight. He started out with menial jobs like mopping floors and eventually secured a job as a hotel elevator operator.
Chance had led DeForest to meet with a local theatre director named Rohn Hawke. He had asked DeForest if he had ever worked on stage. Having performed as a singer, DeForest replied "Yes". He auditioned for the play Hawke was directing and landed a role. Using the experience to smooth out his Georgia accent and develop his acting skills, he caught the attention of talent scout who was impressed eith what he had seen and felt that DeForest had a real future as an actor. Encouraged by the praise, he continued to find work as an actor both on stage and on live radio productions.
In 1942, he was working in a play called "The Innocent Young Man" with the Long Beach Theatre Group. It was there that he met a budding young actress named Carolyn Downing. She co-starred in the play with DeForest and the two began dating. It seemed as though he had found Mrs. Right, but their romance would have to be put on the back burner. America had officially entered World War II and on March 10, 1943, DeForest joined the Army Air Corps. Initially stationed in New Mexico, he was transferred to Culver City to put his acting talents to work making Navy training films. Although he was prepared to be deployed to the European theatre if ordered to, DeForest never saw combat. When the war ended, he and Carolyn went before a judge on September 7, 1945 and the two were married. Although DeForest still had four months to go in his tour of duty, neither of them wanted to wait any longer. On January 28, 1946, DeForest was honorably discharged from the Army and he and his bride went about planning their lives.
When his Navy training film was seen by a Paramount talent scout, he approached DeForest about signing with the studio. In short order, a three year contract was written up. His first film was a low-budget film-noir called Fear in the Night, but it struck a chord with audiences. DeForest's acting career was finally building up some steam.
In the years to come, he played in a number of films, Westerns for the most part, usually playing tough guys or "heavies". He had also made himself available for the newest entertainment media, television. With guest appearances on shows like The Lone Ranger, The Lone Wolf and Waterfront, his face and his name was becoming known to the audiences in America. Afraid of becoming typecast as a gunslinger or a tough-guy, he branched out by landing a role in the Susan Hayward / Bette Davis drama Where Love Has Gone and an episode of Alcoa Theatre called 333 Montgomery Street which had been penned by a retired cop turned writer named Gene Roddenberry. Years later, DeForest was approached by Roddenberry again to audition for a new show he was pitching to NBC called Star Trek.
After getting an unprecidented second chance to launch a series on network TV, Roddenberry wanted a far more emotionally engaging core cast than his original pilot which was determined to be "too cerebral". Intrigued at the notion of a show that was promoted as "Wagon Train" in space, DeForest originally auditioned for the role of Mr. Spock. However, it was determined that he was far more suited to the role of the temperamental and fiery Dr. Leonard H. "Bones" McCoy. Star Trek had premiered in September 1966 to decent but not overwhelming audiences. The network was on the verge of cancelling the show after its first season, but decided to give Star Trek a second season, hoping it would find its legs. As the second season came to a close and rumors of the cancellation of Star Trek spread among its small but vocal audience, a fierce letter writing campaign convinced the network executives to give the show one more chance. Unfortunately, the numbers did not improve over the third season and Star Trek was cancelled in 1969.
When Star Trek ended, DeForest took a well-deserved vacation. He made a few television appearances as a guest star on shows like Ironside and Room 222, as well as lending his voice to Star Trek: The Animated Series, but otherwise he focused his attention on his wife. During this time, an unusual phenomenon began to take hold in America and around the world: Star Trek had become a monstrous success in syndicated reruns. With fan clubs proliferating everywhere and fan conventions being organized where "Trekkies" can come together by the thousands to discuss their favorite show and trade their memorabilia, rumors of a new show began circulating. Although Star Trek 2 was being considered and had even gone so far as to start auditions for a new cast, the decision finally came down from Paramount Studios that a motion picture based on Star Trek would be filmed.
With the original cast reassembled, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was under way. Although the final result was not the movie that fans expected, it was still a huge financial success. It seemed to DeForest that he was not done with the role that made him famous around the world. Not by a long shot. A total of six feature films were made starring the infamous crew of the starship Enterprise and Dr. McCoy was a prominent member of all of them.
Throughout his entire career, though the difficult times and the successes, Carolyn remained a devoted wife to DeForest. Their marriage lasted over 53 years. On June 11, 1999, DeForest Kelley passed away from stomach cancer at the age of 79. Carolyn passed away 5 years later in October of 2004.