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On Sept. 30, 1955, 24-year-old actor James Dean, whose career had just begun to take off, died in a tragic car accident while en route to an upcoming auto race in Salinas, California, on Oct 1, 1955. The actor, who had made his name as a rebel on-screen and off, had already garnered acclaim for his performance in 1955’s East of Eden, which was based on the novel by John Steinbeck. It was the first of his three leading roles and the only film released prior to his untimely death. The actor died when his Porsche Spyder convertible struck another vehicle near the small town of Cholame, CA. On the 60th Anniversary of Dean’s tragic death, it is important to review the details of the iconic actor’s life, death, and his all-too-brief career.
In addition to the East of Eden, which was released in April 1955, Dean had starred in two other films that had not yet been released at the time of his death, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. In Rebel Without a Cause, which was released in October of 1955, the actor played an emotionally troubled and rebellious teenager named Jim Stark. This is the role that made Dean an icon and he is most closely associated with by Hollywood as well as his fans. This may be because of some of the parallels between the character and actor. For Dean, as for Jim Stark, life ended far too early. In Giant, which was released in November of 1956, the actor played ranch hand-turned-oil man Jett Rink in the sweeping epic about life on a sprawling Texas cattle ranch. Moreover, the actor played opposite Hollywood heavyweights such as Rock Hudson (Magnificent Obsession), Elizabeth Taylor (The Last Time I Saw Paris), and young, upstart actor Dennis Hopper (Rebel Without a Cause).
The films Rebel Without a Cause and Giant, along with the circumstances of his violent death, would cement James Dean’s image as a Hollywood icon and rebel for generations to come. Following his death, Dean received two posthumous Oscar nominations for his performances in the East of Eden (1955) and Giant (1956). At the time, he was the first actor ever to receive an Academy Award nomination posthumously. Although he did not win an Oscar for either film, he did win two posthumous Golden Globe Awards for Best Dramatic Actor – Special Achievement Award (1956) and World Film Favorite – Male (1957). Moreover, he was also awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Feb. 8, 1960.
The former stuntman had completed work on the George Stevens-directed Giant immediately prior to heading for the auto races in Salinas. The actor was not allowed to race while working on the film that would help make him a Hollywood icon. Many believed the actor was speeding when the car crash that claimed his life occurred. However, many years later, the events of the crash were re-constructed and it was proven otherwise. While he had received a speeding ticket only two hours before, the actor was not speeding at the time of the crash. Dean was killed almost immediately from the impact of the crash via a broken neck.
The death of a rebel occurred on Sept. 30, 1955, when actor James Dean died in a tragic car accident while traveling to an upcoming auto race in Salinas, CA. He was 24 years old at the time. The actor, who had made his name as a rebel on-screen and off, had already garnered acclaim for his performance in 1955’s East of Eden, which was based on the novel by John Steinbeck and the first of his major films to be released. It was the first of his three leading roles and the only film released prior to his untimely death. The actor died when his Porsche Spyder convertible was involved in a car accident with another vehicle near the small town of Cholame, CA. On the 60th Anniversary of Dean’s tragic death, it is important to review the details of the iconic actor’s brief career, violent death, and highly publicized funeral, which transformed him into a cult icon for the ages.
Written and Edited by Leigh Haugh
The Telegraph–James Dean’s Legend Lives on – but What About the Films?
San Jose Mercury News–James Dean’s Death 60 Years Ago: Details of the Crash Sept. 30, 1955
Trivia Today–Trivia Questions About the Death of James Dean