An Oft-Depicted Legend

John Henry “Doc” Holliday at at 20, when he graduated from dentistry school.

There are some figures in history who, while they were real people, have achieved legendary status. And sometimes that legendary status has a kernel of truth behind it but has grown well beyond the reality of the person. One such figure from the Old West is Doc Holliday.

John Henry Holliday was born in Georgia in 1851 and by age 20 had earned a degree in dentistry, thus the famous “Doc” moniker. Unfortunately for him, he soon thereafter was diagnosed with tuberculosis due to the fact he’d helped care for his mother when she had the disease. Hoping the drier climate of the American Southwest would help alleviate some of his symptoms, he moved there and became a gambler. During a stay in Texas, he saved Wyatt Earp’s life and a legendary friendship was born–a friendship that would lead to the O.K. Corral and the events that made both men famous.

Melanie Scrofano as Wynonna Earp and Tim Rozon as Doc Holliday.

Despite Holliday’s reputation as an accomplished gunslinger, researchers have since determined that it’s likely he only killed one or two men during his short life of 36 years. But that hasn’t stopped the myth of the man from being repeated and embellished since his lifetime. He’s been immortalized in numerous pieces of fiction, in song and in a seemingly endless array of movies and TV programs. Famous names such as Cesar Romero, Kirk Douglas, Willie Nelson, Dennis Quaid and Val Kilmer have portrayed Holliday, and just this past week news broke that Jeremy Renner will be the latest in that list to play the man, this time in a biopic based on Mary Doria Russell’s books.

Me with the cast of Wynonna Earp at DragonCon 2017.

Holliday has even made appearances in sci-fi/fantasy stories such as a 1966 episode of Doctor Who, a 1968 episode of Star Trek and my personal favorite, the current SyFy show Wynonna Earp, in which actor Tim Rozon plays Holliday to perfection. In this reimagining of the Earp/Holliday story, based on the comic book series of the same name, Wynonna Earp is the great-great-granddaughter of Wyatt. On her 27th birthday, Wynonna officially becomes the “Earp heir” and inherits the ability to return revenants, or the reincarnated outlaws that Wyatt killed, back to hell using Peacemaker, the revolver with a 16-inch barrel that once belonged to her famous ancestor. In this telling, Holliday has been cursed with immortality, thus his lack of aging between the time he ran with Wyatt Earp and now when he’s helping Wyatt’s great-great-granddaughter with her duties.

Are you a fan of Earp/Holliday tales? If you’re a Doc fan, what has been your favorite incarnation?

Trish Milburn
Trish Milburn is the author of nearly 40 romance, suspense, paranormal, women's fiction and young adult titles. She's a two-time winner of the Golden Heart Award and the recipient of Romance Writers of America's top award for service, the Emma Merritt Award. She's a big sci-fi geek girl, loves seeing new places, and has been known to cosplay on occasion. She's always loved westerns, so considering her other love is sci-fi it's no wonder her all-time favorite TV show is Firefly, which blends the two genres. Check out her books, links to various social media and sign up for her newsletter at http://www.trishmilburn.com/
Updated: August 26, 2018 — 2:23 pm

15 Comments

  1. Tom Rozon is doing a fine job in this new version.

    1. I agree. He’s got the charm, the mannerisms, the humor down.

  2. I love Earp/Holiday takes, I live 80 miles from Dodge City Kansas, so the history of this duo is all around me. Great blog and neat to hear about his great- great granddaughter. Thanks for an excellent blog.

    1. I’d love to visit Dodge City. It’s been on my list for years, but every time I’ve been anywhere near I was pressed for time.

  3. I enjoyed your post today. My ex’s brothers used to do western shows and portrayed Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp.

    1. Oh, cool. Where did they do these? On TV or live?

  4. Loved Val Kilmer, but I’m looking forward to Jeremy Renner.

    1. I feel the same. I need to re-watch Tombstone. I haven’t watched it in a long time.

  5. Kirk Douglas is how I visualize Doc Holliday since my introduction to Doc Holliday was watching the movie Gunfight at the OK Corral with my Daddy. It starred Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc. Thanks for sharing this post.

    1. I need to go back and watch that one, too. I looked on Wikipedia for the list of who all had portrayed him, and the list is quite lengthy.

  6. Tombstone is one of my favorite movies! Thank you for this fun post!

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Caryl. I think Val Kilmer will always be Doc to me. Oh, and Iceman from Top Gun. 🙂

  7. I do enjoy the stories about them but watch very few movies.

  8. This was so interesting! Thanks, Trish.

  9. I think I liked the Kevin Costner version of Wyatt Earp the most that puts Dennis Quaid in the top spot for Doc. I did enjoy Tombstone and Kurt Russell, but not so much for Val Kilmer for some reason I can’t pin down, though his performance was memorable.

    I keep missing Dodge City on my trips west too! Thanks for an interesting post!

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