But on the day he actually passed away, the sun was shining in southern California. And it became very busy, very fast.
I was in charge of calling the 12 people on his list that needed to be notified of his death before the information assaulted the airwaves. The publicist at the hospital said she would release the news at 3 p.m., so I had just under three hours to help Carolyn back to her room, process the loss myself, and make those calls. It was a very short three hours.
None of the people on De's call list had been given any notice that he was in precarious health -- I'm sure to alleviate their pain until the last possible second, and perhaps to keep the news from leaking out that he was seriously sick at all. (22K+ cards and notes -- which we received after his passing -- would have put him over the edge, for sure, because he was always so good about responding to everyone who cared enough about him to reach out to him.)
So I had to make the calls, introduce myself, and diplomatically find a way to deliver devastating news. The call list included his two nephews.
The shock in every voice was palpable over the phone. "What?! I can't believe it? What happened?! I didn't even know he was sick!"
So every call took a minimum of five minutes, except when I had to leave voicemail messages. De didn't want anyone who was close to him to find out about his passing while driving a car or by turning on the television...
I turned all the PR stuff over to AC Lyles at Paramount. He would know what to say. I didn't have time or the inclination to face cameras, questions and the further distress of saddened reporters. (When I watched the news late that night, I could see that, although the reporters were professional, they were very sad and surprised to hear the news.)
I wanted to go to the vigil near his star that night... felt I should be there since I was his star polisher.. but it had been a very, very long day and I was exhausted. Unable to sleep, but exhausted. So exhausted that as I left Carolyn that night to drive home, the thought crossed my mind as I exited her hospital room, "Oh, wait. I still need to go over and say goodnight to De..." Crazy. I suppose predictable, too.
While we waited for the fellow from the Neptune Society to arrive to pick up De's body, I sat with Carolyn part of the time and cleaned De's room part of the time (at Carolyn's request, so things wouldn't be vulnerable to theft, souvenirs, what have you). It was eerie cleaning up in the room where his body lay. One thing I noticed, the few times I looked over at him, was how peaceful he seemed. The lines in his face were relaxed, smooth. I thought about how hard it must have been for him these past months (indeed, two years) to be constantly concerned about what would happen to Carolyn following his passing. This couple was in love, top to toes; it filled the room as they struggled to keep a lid on the inescapability of his leavetaking.
When the Neptune Society driver arrived, about 4 pm, I left Carolyn's room to help him move De from the bed to the gurney (or whatever you call the contraption that funeral folks use), then accompanied his body as the man pushed the cart down the long hallways to his van. Nurses stopped what they were doing, turned with respect to the event. Some said, "Goodbye, De.." "Thank you, De." "God bless you, De," as we passed. The lump in my throat got bigger; my eyes were swimming.
As we exited the building, TV helicopters hovered overhead. I told the Neptune guy, "I know he can't feel anything, but be gentle with him." He said, "Oh, I will! We are with everyone. But I have to tell you.. this one is special to me, too. I've picked up some famous people -- Mayor Sam Yorty included -- but Mr. Kelley... well, I'll never forget this day."
Neither will I. Neither will I.
If I could, I suppose I would, because absolutely every other memory I have of that man is happy, hopeful, humorous and beyond human description. I put a lot of the good stuff into my first book about De. Those of you who have read it now know him about as well as I did all along the way. And I hope you were all blessed by it.
The last part was hard to read, I know (even though I was very careful as I wrote it) because it was hard to live through. But live through we do... because it's what we have to do, and for no other reason. If losing someone we love doesn't hurt, something is very wrong.
Carolyn and I were "prepared" to lose him, but we weren't ready to lose him. The rest of the world, in a very real sense, was in the same boat with us eleven years ago today.
I'm happy to say that on most days of the year his passing is the farthest thing from my mind. What he brought to this planet remains. That's why people email me from all over the world on his birthday and on this day to tell me they're with me in solidarity: heart, mind and spirit.
DeForest Kelley: You brought love, grace and joy to the world, much like another Fellow you're with today. I hope you look down occasionally and grin that wonderful grin. It lit up the world.
"He isn't really dead, you know... as long as we remember him."
DE: WE REMEMBER YOU -- WITH LOVE AND THANKS!