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Leonard McCoy

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Title: Leonard McCoy  
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Subject: Star Trek crossovers, Uhura, Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek (film), Star Trek: The Original Series
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Leonard McCoy

Leonard McCoy
DeForest Kelley as Leonard McCoy in a publicity photograph for the original Star Trek
Species Human
Posting Chief Medical Officer, USS Enterprise and USS Enterprise-A
  • Lieutenant commander
  • Commander
  • Admiral
Portrayed by
First appearance The Man Trap (TOS)

Leonard H. "Bones" McCoy is a character in the American science fiction franchise Star Trek.[1] First portrayed by DeForest Kelley in the original Star Trek series, McCoy also appears in the animated Star Trek series, six Star Trek movies, the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in numerous books, comics, and video games.[2] Karl Urban assumed the role of the character in the 2009 film Star Trek,[3] and its 2013 sequel Star Trek Into Darkness.


McCoy was born in Georgia, January 20, 2227.[4] The son of David,[5]:257–258 he attended the University of Mississippi[2] and is a divorcé.[6] In 2266, McCoy was posted as chief medical officer of the USS Enterprise under Captain James T. Kirk who often calls him "Bones".[2] McCoy and Kirk are good friends, even "brotherly".[5]:146 The passionate, sometimes cantankerous McCoy frequently argues with Kirk's other confidant, science officer Spock,[1] and occasionally is bigoted toward Spock's Vulcan heritage.[7] McCoy often plays the role of Kirk's conscience, offering a counterpoint to Spock's logic.[1] McCoy is suspicious of technology,[8] especially the transporter;[2] as a physician, he prefers less intrusive treatment and believes in the body's innate recuperative powers.[1] The character's nickname, "Bones", is a play on sawbones, an epithet for physicians,[9] in particular, those qualified as surgeons.[10] (Although, upon first meeting Kirk, McCoy states that he was once married, but his wife took everything, leaving him "with nothing but his Bones".)

Kirk orders McCoy's commission reactivated in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979);[2] a resentful McCoy complains of being "drafted".[11] Spock transfers his katra—his knowledge and experience—into McCoy's mind before dying in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982).[2] This causes mental anguish for McCoy, who in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) helps restore Spock's katra to his reanimated body.[2] McCoy rejoins Kirk's crew aboard the USS Enterprise-A in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986).[2] In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, McCoy (through the intervention of Spock's half-brother Sybok) reveals that he helped his father commit suicide to relieve him of his pain. Shortly after the suicide, a cure was found for his father's disease, and McCoy carried the guilt about it with him for the rest of his life. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), McCoy and Kirk escape from a Klingon prison world, and the Enterprise crew stops a plot to prevent peace between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire.[2] Kelley reprised the role for the "Encounter at Farpoint" pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987), insisting upon no more than the minimum Screen Actors Guild payment for his appearance.[12]

In the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Survivor", McCoy mentions he has a daughter. Chekov's friend Irina in the original series episode "The Way to Eden" was originally written as Dr. McCoy's daughter Joanna, but changed before the episode was shot.[13]

Alternate timeline

Karl Urban as McCoy in Star Trek (2009)

In the 2009 Star Trek film, which takes place in an "alternate, parallel" reality,[14] McCoy and Kirk become friends at Starfleet Academy, which McCoy joins after a divorce that he says "left [him] nothing but [his] bones." This line, improvised by Urban,[15] explains how McCoy came to be known as Bones. McCoy later helps get Kirk posted aboard the USS Enterprise.


Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had worked with Kelley on previous television pilots,[16] and Kelley was Roddenberry's first choice to play the doctor aboard the USS Enterprise.[17] However, for the rejected pilot "The Cage" (1964), Roddenberry went with director Robert Butler's choice of John Hoyt to play Dr. Philip Boyce.[18] For the second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (1966), Roddenberry accepted director James Goldstone's decision to have Paul Fix play Dr. Mark Piper.[19] Although Roddenberry wanted Kelley to play the character of ship's doctor, he didn't put Kelley's name forward to NBC; the network never "rejected" the actor as Roddenberry sometimes suggested.[17]

Kelley's first broadcast appearance as Doctor Leonard McCoy was in "The Man Trap" (1966). Despite his character's prominence, Kelley's contract granted him only a "featuring" credit; it was not until the second season that he was given "starring" credit, at the urging of producer Robert Justman.[20] Kelley was apprehensive about Star Trek '​s future, telling Roddenberry that the show was "going to be the biggest hit or the biggest miss God ever made".[5]:146 Kelley portrayed McCoy throughout the original Star Trek series and voiced the character in the animated Star Trek.[1]

Kelley, who in his youth wanted to become a doctor,[21] in part drew upon his real-life experiences in creating McCoy: a doctor's "matter-of-fact" delivery of news of Kelley's mother's terminal cancer was the "abrasive sand" Kelley used in creating McCoy's demeanor.[5]:145 Star Trek writer D. C. Fontana said that while Roddenberry created the series, Kelley essentially created McCoy; everything done with the character was done with Kelley's input.[5]:156

"Exquisite chemistry" among Kelley, William Shatner, and Leonard Nimoy manifested itself in their performances as McCoy, Captain James T. Kirk and science officer Spock, respectively.[5]:154 Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura, referred to Kelley as her "sassy gentleman friend";[5]:154 the friendship between the African-American Nichols and Southern Kelley was a real-life demonstration of the message Roddenberry hoped to convey through Star Trek.[5]:154

For the 2009 film Star Trek, writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman saw McCoy as an "arbiter" in Kirk and Spock's relationship.[22] While Spock represented "extreme logic, extreme science" and Kirk symbolized "extreme emotion and intuition", McCoy's role as "a very colorful doctor, essentially a very humanistic scientist" represented the "two extremes that often served as the glue that held the trio together."[22] They chose to reveal McCoy befriended Kirk first, explaining the "bias" in their friendship and why he would often be a "little dismissive" of Spock.[22] Urban said the script was "very faithful" to the original character, including the "great compassion for humanity and that sense of irascibility" with which Kelley imbued the character.[23] Urban trained with a dialect coach to create McCoy's accent.[23] Urban reprised the role in its 2013 sequel Star Trek Into Darkness.[24]

Reception and cultural impact

McCoy is someone to whom Kirk unburdens himself and is a foil to Spock.[20] He is Kirk's "friend, personal bartender, confidant, counselor, and priest".[25] Spock and McCoy's bickering became so popular that Roddenberry wrote in a 1968 memo "we simply didn't realize ... how much the fans loved the bickering between our Arrowsmith and our Alien".[26] Urban said McCoy has a "sense of irascibility with real passion for life and doing the right thing", and that "Spock's logic and McCoy's moral standing gave Kirk the benefit of having three brains instead of just one."[27] Jennifer Porter and Darcee McLaren wrote that McCoy is an "unintentional"[7] example of how "irrational prejudices and fixations, wishful thinking and emotional reasoning, denial and repression, and unresolved neurotic disturbances" compromise "scientific rationality" in Star Trek.[28]

An Illinois con artist scammed $25 million in investments for a non-existent "McCoy Home Health Tablet" medical device.[29]

Kelley said that his greatest thrill at Star Trek conventions was the number of people who told him they entered the medical profession because of the McCoy character.[30]

With regard to the 2009 film, The Guardian called Urban's performance of McCoy an "unqualified success",[31] and The New York Times called the character "wild-eyed and funny".[32] said Urban came closer than the other actors to impersonating a character's original depiction.[33]

"He's dead, Jim."

Twenty times on the original Star Trek, McCoy declares someone or something deceased with the line, "He's dead", "He's dead, Jim", or something similar. The phrase so became a catchphrase of the character that Kelley joked that the line would appear on his tombstone,[34][35][36] but disliked repeating such lines[5]:166 and refused to say it in The Wrath of Khan when Spock is near death. Kelley and James Doohan (Scotty) agreed to swap their lines, so McCoy warns Kirk against opening the engineering doors while Scotty says "He's dead already".[5]:249[37]

The line has entered popular culture as a general metaphor, with uses as diverse as descriptions of an unresponsive electronic circuit,[38] an example of how to add an audio file to function as an alert sound in a computer system,[39] and an illustrative quote regarding how to know if one's opponent has been destroyed in an action hero game.[40] USC Literature Professor Henry Jenkins cited Dr. McCoy's "He's dead, Jim" line as an example of fans actively participating in the creation of an underground culture in which they derive pleasure by repeating memorable lines as part of constructing new mythologies and alternative social communities.[41] Google Chrome uses the phrase as an error message when Google Chrome either is terminated with the task manager, or Chrome runs out of memory, and is a common error.[42]

"I'm a doctor, not a..."

Another of McCoy's catchphrases is his "I'm a doctor, (Jim) not a(n)..." statements,[43] delivered by Kelley 11 times[5],:166 and twice (by Karl Urban) in later films. McCoy repeats the line when he must perform some task beyond his medical skills, such as the "classic moment" when he is confronted with the unusual silicon-based Horta alien in "The Devil in the Dark" (1967), saying, "I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer."[44] The phrase also appears in the 2009 film, in which McCoy (Karl Urban) says "I'm a doctor, not a physicist" to Spock. Similarly, in 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness, McCoy (Urban again) tells Spock, "Damn it, man, I'm a doctor, not a torpedo technician!"

The line or some variation has been used by Dr. Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig) from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, The Doctor (Robert Picardo) from Star Trek: Voyager, two other Emergency Medical Holograms (one in Star Trek: First Contact (Picardo) and the other in the Voyager episode "Message in a Bottle" (Andy Dick) and Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley) from Star Trek: Enterprise. It has also made its way into many other shows such as Stargate Atlantis,[45] Robot Chicken,[46] Terra Nova,[47] Family Guy, Once Upon a Time, and Friends, as well as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. In a parody sketch titled "The Restaurant Enterprise", on an episode of Saturday Night Live, Kirk (guest host William Shatner) directs McCoy (Phil Hartman) to help a man who's choking. McCoy snaps, "Dammit, Jim! I'm a doctor, not a ... (suddenly realizes the situation; slightly embarrassed) Oh ... oh, sure." On an episode of In Living Color, one parody sketch lampoons the advanced age of the principal Star Trek actors. McCoy appears as a skeleton in a wheelchair, and quips, "Dammit, Jim! I'm a corpse, not a doctor!" DeForest Kelley himself parodied the phrase for a Trivial Pursuit commercial ("How should I know? I'm an actor, not a doctor").[48][49]


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  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i  
  3. ^ "And Karl Urban as McCoy!".  
  4. ^ Mandel, Geoffrey (1980). USS Enterprise Officer's Manual. 201W 18th St. Apt 20A, New York, NY. 10011: Interstellar Associates. p. 21. 
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  6. ^  
  7. ^ a b Porter, Jennifer E.; McLaren, Darcee L. (1999). Star Trek and Sacred Ground. SUNY Press. p. 58.  
  8. ^ Bruno, Mike (2007-10-18). "Abrams' 'Trek' Casts Kirk and Bones".  
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  11. ^ Screenplay by Harold Livingston, story by  
  12. ^ Nemeck, Larry (2003-01-07). Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion.  
  13. ^ Joanna precursor to "The Way to Eden"
  14. ^ Burr, Ty (2009-05-05). "Star Trek". The Boston Globe. p. 1. Retrieved 2009-05-06. 
  15. ^ Star Trek DVD commentary
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  23. ^ a b "Karl Urban". 2008-01-17. Retrieved 2009-01-26. 
  24. ^ "‘Dredd 3D’ Star Karl Urban: ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ Will Be ‘Epic’, ‘Emotional’ (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO)". Celebuzz. 2012-09-22. Retrieved 2013-05-25. 
  25. ^  
  26. ^ Davis, Lauren (2013-09-07). "Gene Roddenberry's 1968 memo on improving Star Trek's characters". io9. Retrieved 2013-09-07. 
  27. ^ "Urban On Star Trek & McCoy". Sci Fi Pulse. 2008-07-18. Retrieved 2009-01-26. 
  28. ^ Porter, Jennifer E.; McLaren, Darcee L. (1999). Star Trek and Sacred Ground. SUNY Press. p. 51.  
  29. ^ Hopper, Tristin (2013-12-23). "'"Howard Leventhal impersonated Health Canada to fool people into investing in bogus Star Trek-inspired 'medical tricorder.  
  30. ^  
  31. ^ Hoad, Phil (2009-04-21). "JJ Abrams's Star Trek: we have liftoff". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2009-04-22. 
  32. ^ Dargis, Manohla (2009-05-08). "A Franchise Goes Boldly Backward". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  33. ^ Stevens, Dana (2009-05-06). "Go See Star Trek".  
  34. ^ Porter, Jennifer E. (1999). "Darcee L. McLaren". Star Trek and Sacred Ground: Explorations of Star Trek, Religion, and American Culture. SUNY Press. p. 127.  
  35. ^ Amesly, Cassandra (1990). "How to Watch Star Trek". Cultural Studies: Volume 3, Number 3. John Fiske (ed.). Routledge. pp. 68–69.  
  36. ^ Kaplan, Anna L. (October 1999). "Obituary: DeForest Kelley". Cinefantastique 31 (8): 62. Retrieved 2009-04-07. Dr. McCoy's signature lines, "He's dead, Jim", and "I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer", will never be forgotten. In fact, Kelley joked that the line, "He's dead, Jim", would be written on his tombstone. 
  37. ^ Greenberg, Allen (May 1992). "Install Long and Prosper". Computer Gaming World. p. 46. Retrieved 2013-11-24. 
  38. ^ Miller, Michael (2000). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Home Theater Systems. Alpha Books. p. 210.  
  39. ^ Pogue, David (2002). Mac OS X: The Missing Manual. O'Reilly Press. p. 210.  
  40. ^ Borgenicht, David (2002). The Action Hero's Handbook. Quirk Books. p. 42.  
  41. ^ Jenkins, Henry (1992). Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture. Routledge. p. 76.  
  42. ^ """Google Chrome errors and crashes: "He's Dead, Jim!. Google Chrome Help. Google Support. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  43. ^ Butt, Miriam; Wohlmut, Kyle (2006). "The Thousand Faces of Xena: Transculturality Through Multi-Identity". Globalization, Cultural Identities, and Media Representations. Natascha Gentz (ed.), Stefan Kramer (ed.). SUNY Press. p. 83.  
  44. ^ Lass, Martin; Hilder, Rickie (2002). "The Discovery of Chiron". Musings of a Rogue Comet: Chiron, Planet of Healing (2nd ed.). Galactic Publications. p. 212.  
  45. ^ "The Brotherhood". Stargate: Atlantis. Season 1. Episode 14. 2005-01-03. Sci Fi Channel.
  46. ^ "The Munnery". Robot Chicken. Season 2. Episode 12. 2006-09-24. Cartoon Network.
  47. ^ "Now you see me". Terra Nova. Season 1. Episode 10. 2011-11-28.
  48. ^ "I'm a doctor, not a... Dr Leonard McCoy's much-parodied signature phrase".  
  49. ^ Stuart Elliott (1992-09-22). "THE MEDIA BUSINESS: Advertising; Giving Familiar Brands a Second Chance".  

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