Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday in Tombstone

Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday in Tombstone

Tombstone is arguably the greatest Western movie ever made and it was inspired by true events that occurred in Tombstone, Arizona in the 1880s. The film immortalized the epic tandem of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday as they were getting rid of the cowboys that were wreaking havoc in the town. Portrayed by Val Kilmer, Doc Holliday is only a supporting role in the film, but the legendary actor delivered a career-defining performance that was definitely worthy of an Oscar. 

Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday

The role of Doc Holliday for the movie Tombstone (1993) was not originally offered to Val Kilmer but to Willem Dafoe. However, Dafoe was deemed an unlikely choice for the role due to his controversial portrayal as Jesus in the film The Last Temptation of Christ. As the saying goes, one man’s loss is another man’s gain and such a gain for Val Kilmer. Kilmer eventually took the role and proved to the viewers that he was the ‘Huckleberry’ for the role of Doc Holliday.

As an actor, Kilmer has impressive credentials being the youngest student who landed a spot in Juilliard School’s Drama Division which is one of the finest acting schools in North America. Aside from his education, Kilmer also has an incredible work ethic as he is known for meticulously and extensively preparing for every role that he portrays. When Kilmer accepted the role of Doc Holliday, he prepared for the role by researching and practicing the accent of a southern aristocrat. Doc Holliday may be a gunslinger and a gambler, but he was also a dentist and a very educated man. To say that Kilmer nailed the role of Doc Holliday is an understatement.

3 of Doc Holliday’s Iconic Taglines

Tombstone is one of the most quoted movies of all time and for good reasons. And of all the taglines in the movie, Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday delivered the most chilling and memorable of them all. Here are three (3) of the most iconic taglines that helped the film in gaining a solid loyal following all through these years. 

“I’m your huckleberry!”

It is without a doubt Tombstone’s most famous quote and Kilmer owned the line that he even used it for the title of his memoir. “I’m your huckleberry!” simply means “I’m your man” which was inspired by Mark Twain’s fictional book character, Huckleberry Finn.

“Isn’t that a daisy?”

It is yet another one of Doc Holliday’s witty southern slang that was immortalized by Val Kilmer’s stellar performance. “Isn’t that a daisy?” means “Isn’t that marvelous?” and was actually a common slang in the south in the late 1870s.

“Not me. I’m in my prime.”

When Johnny Ringo asked Doc Holliday if he’s retired in one of the movie’s most iconic scenes, the latter answered, “Not me. I’m in my prime.” Despite Doc Holliday’s declining health, he still continued to be a formidably impressive person and that impressed the audience, to say the least.

Val Kilmer’s Career Before and After Tombstone

Before Val Kilmer delivered his most stellar performance as Doc Holliday in Tombstone, he first played Tom “Iceman” Kazansky in the movie Top Gun (1986). Although he did not like the character at first, Kilmer had to commit which worked well for him because it helped him gain more popularity as an actor who was pretty new to the industry. Iceman is the rival of Maverick played by Tom Cruise and in 2022, Kilmer went trending once more as he reprised his role in the movie’s second installment entitled Top Gun: Maverick. 

In 1991, Kilmer portrayed Jim Morrison in the American biographical musical film, The Doors. Morrison was a rock icon in the 1960s whose larger-than-life image was excellently portrayed by Kilmer.

After Tombstone, Kilmer became Batman as he replaced Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne in Batman Forever (1995). The movie was directed by Joel Schumacher who cast Kilmer after seeing Adam West playing Doc Holliday on television in 1959 then later playing Batman in 1966. 

In 2005, Kilmer starred in the movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang alongside Robert Downey Jr. The neo-noir black comedy crime film features a few memorable quotes and a pitch-perfect tandem of two unlikely heroes.

What is the implication of the Latin phrases spoken by Doc and Ringo?

The exchange of Latin dialogues between Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo is an iconic scene that left the viewers in awe. Most fans went all out in translating the dialogue into English only to gain more questions than answers. This is because the implication of the Latin phrases spoken by Doc and Ringo should not be translated literally. When Doc said, “Credat Judaeus Apella, non ego,” it literally means “Let the Jew Apella believe it, not me” but it actually implies that Ringo should talk to someone who cares. Then Ringo replied, “Juventus stultorum magister” which suggested that Doc needs someone experienced to teach him a lesson. The dialogue ended when Doc answered, “In pace requiescat!” which means “it’s your funeral.”

Did the O.K. Corral gunfight scene really happen?

The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is the most defining moment in the Wild West which did actually happen in 1881. Doc Holliday as well as the other participants in the infamous gunfight were so quick with their guns that they were able to fire around 30 shots in just 30 seconds. 

How did Doc Holliday die?

In the movie, Wyatt Earp went to the Colorado sanatorium to visit Doc Holliday where he witnessed his friend’s death which is historically inaccurate. Earp was not on Holliday’s deathbed and only learned about his passing a few months later.

Conclusion

Indeed, Kilmer’s Doc Holliday is one of the most iconic characters in movies and no other actor portrayed the Doc nearly as well as Val Kilmer. He delivered an unrivaled performance that any other actor who will portray Doc Holliday will have much bigger shoes to fill. Kilmer may have been snubbed by the Academy for this role but the recognition that he received from actual viewers was phenomenal. In his career that spans over four (4) decades, Kilmer’s performance as Doc Holliday gave birth to a legend and his iconic lines will live on for decades more.

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