As a studio page, production assistant, script coordinator, convention organizer and Jack of all trades for Star Trek, Eric Stillwell got to meet a lot of Star Trek legends. He’s hung out with the entire cast of The Next Generation (TNG) at Star Trek conventions and onset. He once met Bono with Whoopi Goldberg and Wil Wheaton. He’s lunched with Mark Lenard. So, when he says that Deforest Kelley was his “favorite actor” in the Star Trek universe, he’s speaking from a lot of experience.
Stillwell finally got the opportunity to work with Kelley on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. However, that wasn’t the first time he’d met the actor. Years before, a random, hometown connection brought the two together.
It’s a Small World
Stillwell spoke to Heavy in February and explained the random chain of events that led to his first meeting with Kelley. When Stillwell was in high school, he always got his hair cut at the same place, by the same stylist. During their appointment one day, his stylist, who knew that he was a Star Trek fan, said that she had another client who knew Kelley personally. His stylist arranged her schedule so that Stillwell and this other client would come in at the same time.
She connected them and they chatted about Kelley. The friend wrote to Kelley and mentioned her meeting with Stillwell. A while later, Stillwell received a package from none other than Kelley himself, which included a personal letter and an autographed photo.
A Heartwarming Meeting in a Weekend of Chaos
Old-school Trek fans might know about the very last HoustonCon. It’s basically Star Trek‘s equivalent of Fyre Festival. It was advertised as the coolest, most extravagant Star Trek convention ever. The entire cast of Star Trek: The Original Series was supposed to be there. However, according to The Houston Chronicle, the convention was neither cool nor extravagant.
Con-goers arrived at the hotel where the convention was being held and found out they were expected to pay for their rooms, which they were told was covered by their ticket package. The convention organizers only sold a little over 2,000 tickets when they were expected to sell over 50,000. They didn’t even have enough money to fully pay the guests they’d invited. The panels that were supposed to be packed with starstruck fans were nearly empty. The convention was such a failure that a documentary was made about it, the teaser for which can be seen above.
Stillwell was at that convention, which he described as “a disaster.” He and his friends spent the money on plane tickets so they could attend, expecting the weekend of their lives, like so many others. Instead, they experienced a “nightmare convention,” in Stillwell’s own words.
However, there was one bright spot of the weekend for Stillwell. He finally got to meet Kelley in person.
“I introduced myself as Eric from Eugene, Oregon, and he said ‘Oh you’re Norma’s friend!’ He remembered! And he was always like that, every time I saw him.”
Stillwell went on, describing Kelley as “super sweet.” Stillwell and Kelley crossed paths at many more conventions down the road. Stillwell worked for Creation Entertainment and eventually started his own convention company, Horizon Conventions.
Those close to Kelley often spoke about much he enjoyed meeting and communicating with fans. According to a close friend of Kelley’s, Kristine M. Smith, Kelley continued to personally answer all of his fan mail even after his health declined.
Kelley passed away from stomach cancer in 1999. He was 79 at the time.