John Henry Holliday was born on August 14, 1851 in Griffin Georgia. His father was a pharmacist, planter, lawyer, and major for the Confederate Army. His parents lost their daughter before him and in 1866 his mother died. Three months later, his father remarried and they moved to Valdosta, Georgia. His father quickly became a big figure in the town by becoming mayor and joining local organizations.
When he grew older, John chose dentistry as a profession. In 1870, he enrolled in a school of dentistry and wrote his thesis "Disease of the Teeth". His two year apprenticeship was under Dr. L.F. Frank. In 1872, John earned his Doctor of Dental Surgery and opened a dental office in Atlanta with a fellow graduate.
Unfortunately, he found out that he had tuberculosis and was told my many doctors that he only had months to live, although he might gain some time in an arid climate. He moved to Dallas, Texas and found a position at a local dental office. However his coughing made him unable to continue his practice and he began to look for other ways to live.
He became an avid gambler and learned the way of the gun by practicing with a six-shooter. On January 2, 1875, he had an argument with a saloon keeper that resulted in a gunfight, but neither men struck their targets. However, a few days later he killed a well known citizen, forcing him to flee Dallas under the pursuit of lawmen.
His next stop was Jackson, where he became a card dealer. After killing several people, including a soldier from nearby Fort Richardson, he soon found a number of law enforcement agencies on his tail. He went to Denver, leaving several dead men in his wake.
In Denver, he changed his name to Tom Mackey and dealt cards at a place called Babbitt's House. He was able to lay low for a while until he got into an argument with a man named Bud Ryan. In the fight, Doc used a knife to badly mangle Ryan's head and neck. Ryan did not die, but Doc was forced to run once again, going to Wyoming, New Mexico, and back to Fort Griffin in Texas.
In Fort Griffin, he met a woman named "Big Nose" Kate, who was a prostitute and saloon dancer. She was known for her big nose, but she was very beautiful in spite of it. He met her while dealing cards at Shanssey's saloon, also meeting Wyatt Earp. Doc helped Wyatt to find evidence on a man wanted for train robbery and the two became friends.
Doc got into even more trouble over a card game with a brute named Ed Bailey. Bailey kept picking up the discards and looking through them, breaking common law in Western saloons which makes a player forfeit the pot. After several warnings from Doc, Bailey looked through the discards once again and Doc promptly raked in the pot. Bailey pulled his pistol and Doc slashed him with his knife, disemboweling him.
Doc stuck around town and was arrested, with a number of people in town calling for his death. His girlfriend, Kate, set fire to a shed and attracted the attention of the entire town. During the distraction, she went into the jail and held the guard at gunpoint as she freed Doc. After Doc's escape the pair fled the town on stolen horses.
Doc and Kate tried their hands at legitimate living, with Doc setting up his dentistry practice in Dodge City. However, Kate couldn't handle the solitude and went back to working at the saloon, breaking up with Doc. Soon after, Doc took up a job dealing cards at the Long Branch Saloon.
One night, he heard that Wyatt Earp was in town, cornered by a bunch of Texas cowboys. Doc ran into the building, where two men had their guns trained on Wyatt, daring him to draw. Doc ran in screaming profanity and waving his gun, causing the men to turn their attention on him. With the distraction, Wyatt struck the leader over the head and disarmed the others.
After an argument with Kate, Doc took off for Trinidad, Colorado. A young man named "Kid Colton" harassed Doc into a fight and Doc dropped him with two shots. He fled immediately to Las Vegas, New Mexico. In 1879, he started up his dentistry practice again, but it closed not long after. He bought a saloon on Center Street, but soon got into a fight with a man named Mike Gordon. After killing Gordon, a lynch mob gathered, looking to hang him.
Doc fled to Dodge City, only to find that his friend Wyatt had moved on to Tombstone in Arizona. He stopped a number of places along the way, including Prescott, where he met one of Wyatt's brothers, Virgil. While Doc was making an amazing run at a poker table in Prescott, Kate showed up. The two left town for Tombstone with $40,000 in gambling money just won from the citizens of Prescott.
In Tombstone, Kate opened the town's first brothel with several girls and some booze. Doc took up his old habit of gambling, hanging out with the Earp brothers, who were caught up in a war with the Cowboy gang. Doc found himself getting into the same war after a gunfight with a Cowboy named Johnny Tyler at the Oriental Saloon.
Kate and Doc began to fight more and more. Kate began to get abusive, coming home drunk and in a violent rage. At that point, Doc threw her out, but things took a turn for the worse when she signed an affidavit saying that Doc had robbed a stagecoach. After sobering up, she confessed that she had lied and charges were dropped. Doc gave her some money and put her on a stagecoach leaving town.
Tensions with the Cowboys came to a head on October 26, 1881, when a confrontation at the O.K. Corral occurred. The Cowboys had threatened to kill the Earps and Doc if they didn't leave town, but the group refused. They knew that the Cowboys were gathered at the Corral and armed, which broke a law in town. By the end of the fight, Joseph Clanton, Robert McLaury, and Thomas McLaury (all members of the Cowboys) were dead. Morgan Earp had been hit in both shoulders, Virgil in the leg, and Doc in the hip.
On March 18, 1882, the Cowboys fired a shot into a saloon where Morgan Earp was playing pool, killing him. His body was sent back to California to be buried and the group decided to leave town. At the Tucson train station On March 20th, they encountered Ike Clanton and Frank Stilwell and Wyatt killed both of them.
Wyatt teamed up with Doc and some other men to become a federal marshals with a goal of destroying the Cowboy gang. By March 24th, the posse had killed Curly Bill, the leader of the gang, and a number of other members. Satisfied with their redemption, Doc and Wyatt went to Denver.
Shortly after arriving, Doc was arrested by Perry Mallan and spent some time in prison. He was eventually released and left for Leadville, Arizona. He ran into old foes, Billy Allen and Johnny Tyler, both from Tombstone. On August 19, 1884, Doc went into Hyman's Saloon and stood at the end of the bar. As Allen walked across the bar towards him, Doc killed him. Since he had been publicly threatened by Allen, no charges were pressed.
In May of 1887, he went to Glenwood Springs to try using sulfur vapors to clear his tuberculosis symptoms. However, he spent his last days in bed, often delirious. On November 8, 1887, he woke up and and drank down a glass of whiskey. After saying "this is funny," he died. His body was buried in the same town, leaving behind his legend for eternity. In all, he claimed to have been shot five times and people had attempted to hang him four times.
He was later portrayed by Val Kilmer in the movie "Tombstone" and Dennis Quaid in the movie "Wyatt Earp".