Thursday, October 2, 2014
September 30: James Dean dies in a crash on this date in 1955
No car crash involving a celebrity has ever touched our culture the way James Dean's death on this date in 1955 did. At 24 years old, Dean was Hollywood's next great star — "Giant" was about to wrap; "Rebel Without A Cause" had made him a teen icon and "East of Eden" had already been shot — and had been pursuing his racing career when his Porsche 550 Spyder was hit by a Ford Tudor sedan outside Blackwells Corner, Calif.
The crash flipped the Porsche; Dean was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. The crash shocked the nation, and its lore grew over the decades; Dean's passenger, mechanic Rolf Wütherich, survived but was badly injured, and suffered psychological problems for years.
Even the parts of the car salvaged for use in other vehicles were at one point thought to be cursed; the mangled chassis of the Porsche disappeared several years later. And while he was shooting "Giant," Dean would also sit for a public safety announcement promoting safe driving, which still has an eerie power today: