James Byron Dean (February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955) was an American actor. He is a cultural icon of teenage disillusionment, as expressed in the title of his most celebrated film, Rebel Without a Cause (1955), in which he starred as troubled teenager Jim Stark. The other two roles that defined his stardom were loner Cal Trask in East of Eden (1955) and surly ranch hand Jett Rink in Giant (1956). Dean’s enduring fame and popularity rest on his performances in only these three films, in two of which he is in the leading role.
Dean’s premature death in a car crash cemented his legendary status. He became the first actor to receive a posthumousAcademy Award nomination for Best Actor, and remains the only actor to have had two posthumous acting nominations. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked him the 18th best male movie star on their AFI’s 100 Years…100 Stars list.
At the official coroner’s Inquest, held at the San Luis Obispo Court House on October 11, 1955, Turnupseed told the jury that he did not see the low-profile Porsche until after he was turning left onto Route 41. After other testimony by the CHP, and witnesses to the accident, the coroner’s jury retired to deliberate. It came back with a verdict of “accidental death with no criminal intent” finding Donald Turnupseed not guilty of any contributory wrongdoing in the death of James Dean. The deceased Dean was also found not guilty of any criminal intent or contributory wrongdoing for the accident.
Although not charged with any offense, Turnupseed had nevertheless been dealt a devastating blow that would haunt him for the rest of his life. Turnupseed granted just one interview to the Tulare Advance-Register newspaper immediately following the crash, but after that he refused to speak publicly about the accident. Turnupseed went on to own and operate a very successful family electrical contracting business in Tulare. He died at the age of 63 from lung cancer in 1995.
Rolf Wütherich, after having several complicated surgeries on his hip and femur, went back to West Germany in 1957 with psychological and legal problems. He worked with the Porsche factory’s testing department and international rally and racing teams during the 1960s. Wütherich had been one of the first employees of Porsche, and worked for the factory eighteen years before being terminated.[when?][why?] He died in July 1981, in Kupferzell, West Germany, in another auto accident when he lost control of his car and crashed into a residence. Like James Dean in the previous crash, Wütherich had to be extricated from the wreck and died at the accident scene. He was 53 years old.
There is an ironic epilogue to James Dean’s fatal crash: while filming Giant, Dean also filmed a short Public Service Announcement (PSA) with actor Gig Young for the National Safety Council. It featured James Dean dressed as the young “Jett Rink” talking about how driving fast on the highway can be more dangerous than racing on the track. At the end of the segment, instead of saying the catch phrase “The life you save may be your own”, Dean ad-libbed the line “The life you might save might be mine“.
Dean’s funeral was held on October 8, 1955 at the Fairmount Friends Church in Fairmount, Indiana. The coffin remained closed to conceal his mutilated corpse. An estimated 600 mourners were in attendance, while another 2400 fans gathered outside of the building during the procession.
Dean is buried in Park Cemetery in Fairmount, Indiana, less than a mile from where he grew up on his aunt and uncle’s farm. In 1977, a Dean memorial was erected in Cholame, California. The stylized sculpture is composed of stainless steel around a tree of heaven growing in front of the former Cholame post office building. The sculpture was designed in Japan and transported to Cholame, accompanied by the project’s benefactor, Seita Ohnishi of Kobe, Japan, a retired businessman and devoted Dean fan. Ohnishi chose the site after examining the location of the accident, less than a mile away. The original Highway 41 and 46 junction where the accident occurred is now a pasture, and the two roadways were realigned over the decades to make them safer. On September 30, 2005, the junction at Highways 46 and 41 was dedicated as the James Dean Memorial Junction as part of the State of California’s official commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death.
The dates and hours of Dean’s birth and death are etched into the sculpture, along with a handwritten description by Dean’s friend William Bast of one of Dean’s favorite lines from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry‘s The Little Prince: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
- February, 08, 1931
- Marion, Indiana
- September, 30, 1955
- Cholame, California
Cause of Death
- Auto accident
- Park Cemetery
- Fairmount, Indiana