This Date In History: James Dean Is Killed In A Car Crash (1955)

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On this date in 1955, a movie legend was killed in a car accident. James Dean one of the most iconic movie actors of all time died when the driver of another car crashed into his automobile. A 23-year-old student had driven at speed into Dean’s Porsche. Dean was killed in the accident but his mechanic Rolf Wütherich was badly injured but survived. The driver of the car that smashed into Dean’s Porsche was able to escape with only minor bruises and cuts.

Dean was still not a major star at the time of his death. Only one of his films had opened and that was the movie based on John Steinbeck’s classic novel ‘East of Eden’. Shortly after the death of Dean, two more of his films were released and they were great hits. They were Rebel without a Cause and ‘Giant’. The former became perhaps the best-known film of the 1950s and it seemed to express the feelings of a whole generation, growing up in the post-war period. The movie is still regarded as the classic expression of teenage angst and rebellion.

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The intersection where Dean died is now named after him.

James Dean loved fast cars, they were his passion. He had just bought a brand new ten thousand dollar Porsche Spyder convertible. He and his passenger were on their way to a race in Salinas California, due south of San Francisco when the car hit his Porsche.

The car that crashed into him was driven by a young man who had earlier received a speeding ticket. However, the poor light was also a factor, the silver Porsche was very difficult to see in the twilight as roads were not particularly well-lit as the time.

Dean’s car was nicknamed the ‘little bastard’ and soon there was a rumor that it was cursed. As it was being rolled onto a back of the truck it rolled back and almost crushed to death a mechanic. The car was scrapped and used for spare parts. However, bad luck followed all those who used these parts in their cars. The engine, transmission, and tires, from Dean’s Porsche, were all used later in cars that were involved in fatal accidents. In one very peculiar incident, the chassis of the Porsche was being taken to a highway-safety demonstration by truck. The truck lost control for reasons unknown and furthermore, crashed, killing the driver. The chassis from Dean’s Porsche disappeared from the crashed truck.

Rolf Wütherich who survived the crash never recovered mentally. He felt guilty that he survived and his friend Dean did not. This lead him to have many personal problems and on one occasion he tried to kill himself and his then wife.

After his death, Dean’s reputation continued to grow and he is still revered by movie fans to this day.

 

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