Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"De, don't die! But if you die - give me your hair!"

Our tireless Internet research team recently stumbled across a DeForest Kelley fan site, which contained some rather remarkable and moving Bill Shatner toupologically-related passages. After a little extra research, we managed to confirm their authenticity and also identify their source: the biography From Sawdust to Stardust: The Biography of DeForest Kelley, Star Trek's Dr. McCoy.

First, a few steps back... As hard as it is to believe, DeForest Kelley, alias Dr. "Bones" McCoy from Star Trek, hasn't been with us since June 11th 1999, when the actor passed away aged 79 after complications related to stomach cancer.

Even ardent fans of Bill Shatner will admit that because of his complex and extravagant personality, you'll find plenty of people out there who aren't particularly fond of the guy. DeForest Kelley was the opposite. Contented, mild-mannered, totally un-celeb, a gentleman - there really may not be a person on this planet who has ever had a really bad word to say about him.

So what kind of a relationship did this vastly contrasting pair of actors have?

De Kelley and his turtle (image sourced here).

Judging from the wealth of mostly Trek-related behind-the-scenes materials out there, we'd guess that Bill Shatner and DeForest Kelley weren't close in a Nimoy-Shatner brotherly kind of way (more like McCartney-Harrison than McCartney-Lennon). We suspect that deep down Bill Shatner was both puzzled by and also rather terrified of Kelley's internal contentment. For Bill Shatner, life is about running until that inexplicable terror known as death finally catches up with you - hence, you must never ever stop or even slow down.

How could De be so contented? Happily married for more than five decades to his wife Carolyn. Mostly retired at a relatively young age after a long career, asides from Star Trek, playing heavies in Westerns. Happily reciting his poetry at Star Trek conventions. As a commenter at one blog we stumbled across put it: "Save for smoking like a fiend he didn't do drugs, never trashed a hotel room or got caught with a 15 year-old Taiwanese hooker or with 3 pounds of uncut heroin in his suitcase or went into a rant condemning Zionists and taxidermists as the twin scourges of the Earth on an awards show, etc."

De Kelly and his dog (image sourced here). Click here for a Bill Shatner, De Kelley dog story.

Yet, for all of their vastly different approaches to life, we can't help but think that were De (pronounced dee) Kelley alive today, Bill Shatner and he would have developed a far deeper bond. As Bill Shatner has grown older, as some of his demons have eased and both toupological and marital stability have cemented themselves in his life, he may have found his relationship with his friend (they certainly were friends) deepening; the appeal of this wise old eternally unperturbed dude growing. And De would no doubt continue to be rather in awe of Bill Shatner's energy.

There's anecdotal evidence that the pair did grow closer in the final years of De Kelley's life, particularly as a result of the considerable time they spent together on 1991's Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (it's worth noting that Bill Shatner and Leonard Nimoy didn't really become close friends until the Trek movie years either; the original series was pretty much three years of hard work, followed by "adiós!"). The aforementioned book (also quoted at the De Kelley site) notes:

"During these nights [they shot all night long] Shatner and Kelley got to know each other better than they ever seems however, that Shatner found out what it was with Kelley during those long nights and days of shooting. From then on, there was an undeniable devotion in Shatner's already high regard for his older brother."

Our team hasn't yet read the entire book, so we're not quite sure what is being referred to here. Perhaps an allusion to De Kelley's health...

Earlier in the book, Bill Shatner recalls meeting De Kelley for the first time back in 1966, and we get our first hair reference:

Shatner later recalled [on meeting De]..."I was an admirer of his work. I had seen him in several things. I always loved the way he looked. I wanted to look like him, with his hair combed that way and his lean build and his unique way of talking."

William Shatner and DeForest Kelley first shared screen time in the Star Trek episode "The Corbomite Maneuver". Image via

For Bill Shatner to admire someone else's hair and to openly state it is a very rare occurrence indeed. Of course, the actor isn't revealing anything to those not in the know. But to the rest of us, the statement presents yet another toupological morsel to add to the overall puzzle. De Kelley was almost eleven years older than Bill Shatner, yet his hair was his own. It's no wonder Bill Shatner found this admirable!

The famous Trek triangle. Shatner-Nimoy-Kelley.

Atlanta, Georgia-born DeForest Kelley spent the last few months of his life in the Motion Picture and Television Fund hospital in Woodland Hills, California (not too far from his home in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles) progressively weakened by terminal cancer. From Sawdust to Stardust notes that during this time, an old friend came to visit:

"And after his death, Anja [Schilling, a German fan cited in the book] recalls [...] Bill said that he visited De at the hospital and told him, 'De, don't die! But if you die - give me your hair!' That's very typical for Bill. He hides his sorrow behind jokes. I learned to know know him is as hard as to like him...Sometimes it's too difficult to get him. He's a man with a thousand faces. But we saw his sorrow, and we heard it through the jokes he made. And later when we got our autographs from him, we saw it in his eyes."'

A nervous toupee-related joke from Bill Shatner, and once again noteworthy for the actor's apparent decision to share it with a third person after the fact. But imagine the scene itself. Was Bill Shatner trying to use the energy that his toupee inspires to reinvigorate his dying friend? Did it work at least momentarily?

How did De respond? Perhaps he felt a little chilly and retorted "If it gets any colder in here, I'm gonna need your hair to use as a hat!" Maybe Bill, suddenly dead serious, looked his friend in the eyes and said "Of course...any time."

Although, come to think of it, the "Denny Katz" was born around the same time as De Kelley's passing. Might it really have been made of something that his friend donated to him?


In a 2002 post on his website marking the 3rd anniversary of DeForest Kelley's passing, Bill Shatner wrote of his final encounter with the actor (obviously no mention of the hair joke) and revealed a pretty cool-sounding idea De had expressed:

...I visited him when he was in the hospital shortly before he passed away. Instead of succumbing to fear and resignation, what he wanted most of all was to make a western with Leonard and me! It was on that note that I left him and he left us a few days later. I've never forgotten how his optimism spoke of his true character, even in the most difficult and awesome of moments.

I will miss Dee with all my heart. Star Trek will miss him and his family and friends will miss him. I know you will miss him, too.

Hear, hear!!


  1. sort of shat toup releated , Nu Kirk shows his Trek sequel hair complete with pointed sideburns:

    same blondey rinse as the first movie to emulate the JK lace which had a blondy brown colour during Season 1/2.

    also showing some signs of minor temple recession - again like the JK lace (apt considering Pine Kirk will be closer in age to season 1 Kirk in the new movie)

    if they set a 3rd movie around the post 5 year mission/TMP era i wonder if Pine will dye and perm up for a TJ curly?

  2. It's possible that people relate to this particular facet of Bill Shatner. That there lurks a bit of compassion and humanity underneath the persona of a petty, jealous, mean-spirited, condescending, egotistical and insecure actor.

  3. Oh god. So many emotions, especially considering that Kelley and Shatner are two of my favorite actors.

  4. Ratty Lost Year PieceFebruary 6, 2012 at 9:12 AM

    No Bones about it, Bill took awhile to see De Forest for the toupees.

  5. Tom Snyder's GhostFebruary 6, 2012 at 9:17 AM

    If you want to start hair comments...

  6. Shats own real syrupFebruary 8, 2012 at 8:55 PM

    An interesting point about all this, deforest kelleys hair, was a toupee from at least 1955 I have seen him in photos, in the 1940's his hair was thinning in his late 20's early 30's. And lets be honest, his hair looks like a toup. So maybe bill was joking about de forest's toupee. I used to think his hair was real, but after looking up a few things, no both de forest and bill wore toups.

    1. Not true. I was De's personal assistant and caregiver at the ens of his life. His hair was real, thick and still mostly dark when he passed away. (Carolyn and I both got locks of his hair after his passing. NO TOUPEE!) Bill was right to envy De's locks.

  7. @Shats own real syrup - Thanks for your comment!

    We're not sure there's much evidence to support the idea that De Kelley wore a toup. Interestingly, the book we describe, "From Sawdust to Stardust" contains quite a few references to the actor's hair; how he grew it long for some roles and cut it short for others with De Kelley quoted on this a couple of times too.

    At, these quotes can be glanced over using the "search inside" function while logged in. Of course, this isn't really conclusive proof either, but it's certainly evidence worth examining. -ST

  8. I have also heard that DeForest Kelley's hair is a toup so was surprised by this post.

  9. Nimoy, Kelley and Shatner. Only one of them wore a toup. Can you guess who it was?

  10. I remember a blurry photo in, I think, "The National Enquirer" in the '90s. It purportedly showed Shatner on a hotel balcony, getting a breath of air. He was thick in the middle, with lots of skin on top of his head. His hair looks thin now. Could he have had the replacement surgery? He's stayed so busy, I don't know how much time he could spare away from cameras or out of public view. Whatever, he's the Shat!

  11. Thanks for your comments!
    We've been encouraging non-Google-registered commenters to select the "Name/ URL" option in the "Comment as" tab and type in a username (anything at all). This helps other commenters to know who is saying what (avoiding multiple instances of "Anonymous"). Thanks! -ST

  12. Deforest Kelley wanted to do a Western with Bill & Leonard?They already did!Wagon Train to the Stars:Star Trek.RIP,Mr. Kelley.

  13. Again, not true about De wearing a toupee. I was De's personal assistant and caregiver at the ens of his life. His hair was real, thick and still mostly dark when he passed away. (Carolyn and I both got locks of his hair after his passing. NO TOUPEE!) Bill was right to envy De's locks.

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  15. I've seen De and shook hands with him and his hair and everything else about him was genuine. He was McCoy, but not a trained doctor and in pain with arthritis a lot. Only got 30 seconds with him and tried to say it with a look and like to put it better. I think I got it across. One of the good guys and as safe as you can get, all seven stone of him