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.
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.
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?