James Dean Cause Of Death, James Dean – cause of death: Traffic collision, James Dean was arguably one of the freshest young faces on the Hollywood scene in the 1950s. But because he died at such a young age he was probably known more for the films he didn’t make, than the ones he did. With just a scant three movies filmed and only one released before his death, it’s quite impressive that his legacy still burns so brightly. In fact James Dean’s popularity remains higher in death than it did during his short life.
James Byron Dean was raised on a farm in Marion, Indiana on February 8, 1931 to Winton and Mildred Dean. Winton would eventually leave the farming life behind for a career as a dental technician and move his family to Santa Monica, California. Dean would enroll in Brentwood Public School.
Mildred would die when James was only nine years old, prompting his father to send James to live with his Aunt Ortense Winslow in Fairmount, Indiana where James would, ironically, receive a Quaker upbringing. James would eventually enroll at Fairmount High School (Class of ’49) where his drama teacher encouraged him to enter a public speaking contest. He would not only win the contest, but would eventually take the state championship in public speaking. James would graduate from Fairmount High School in 1949 and move back to California with his father and stepmother.
Encouraged to pursue a career in law, The young Dean would enroll at Santa Monica City College, where he would eventually transfer to UCLA and change his major to drama. His decision to pursue acting over law would anger his father and lead to a spat, resulting in Dean being thrown out of his father’s house.
While struggling as an NBC page, Dean’s roommate, actor William Bast, would eventually get Dean a spot as an extra in a Coca-Cola television commercial followed by a brief spate as a stunt tester in the Television game show Beat the Clock. But Dean would eventually drop out of college and was forced to take small jobs to pay his bills.
Heeding the advice of actor James Whitmore, Dean would move to New York City in the fall of 1951 to not only “find himself” but to pursue a career in stage acting. Dean would audition for and receive a role in Broadway’s See the Jaguar, marking his Broadway debut. But the show was a flop. Before receiving his next role in Broadway’s The Immoralist, Dean would do a great deal of television work including Kraft Television Theater, Studio One, General Electric Theater and others.
While working in New York, Dean would receive the opportunity of a lifetime. Director Elia Kazan would hire him for East of Eden (1955) in which he would play Cal Trask, a role that would ring true with teenage moviegoers throughout the country, cementing James Dean as a new Hollywood hero. While shooting his Academy award nominated role in East of Eden, Dean would fall in love with the beautiful Italian import Pier Angeli, then a rising young star in the MGM studio system. The two mixed like oil and water however, forcing Angeli to break off the relationship before she announced her marriage to singer Vic Damone. This rejection would only strengthen Dean’s resolve, sinking him headfirst into his acting career.
James Dean would film two more movies, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant, the first of which would propel him into the stratosphere as not only a major Hollywood actor, but also as a new spokesperson for the entire teen generation. James Dean was now more popular than Marlon Brando.
Always the rebel, Dean’s real life hobbies would reflect his daredevil on-screen enthusiasm. In addition to collecting guns and riding motorcycles, Dean loved his car, a silver Porsche 550 Spyder that he nicknamed “Little Bastard.” But unfortunately, “Little Bastard” would turn on him on a cool September evening.
In the early afternoon hours of September 30, 1955, Dean would head out with Porsche factory mechanic, Rolph Weutherich to an auto rally in Salinas, California. Dean and the “Little Bastard” were pulled over for speeding by a Bakersfield police officer, who issued a citation for doing 65 in a 55 and cautioned Dean to slow down and be careful. Dean and Rolph would continue their journey to the Salinas rally and headed out on Highway 466 towards Cholame, California, unaware of their fate that lie before them.
Meanwhile, near Paso Robles, 23 year-old Cal Poly student, Donald Turnupseed was heading home in his 1950 Ford Tutor. He was making a left turn at the intersection of Highways 41 onto State Route 466 (later State Route 46) unaware of the Spyder approaching from the opposite direction. At the last moment, Turnupseed pulled back to the right to get out of the path of the approaching Dean. James Dean yelled to his friend seated next to him “He’s Got to See Us.” (Some sources cite the quote as, “That guy’s gotta stop… He’ll see us.”)
“Little Bastard” plowed into the broad side (read this report and this one from our lovely Morbidly Hollywood readers, that contain further information about the details of how the two cars impacted one another) of the Ford Tutor. “Little Bastard” and its occupants would come to rest near a telephone pole fifteen feet off the road.
Contrary to the reports that have since stated Dean’s speed in excess of 80 miles per hour, California Highway Patrol officer Ron Nelson (one of the first law enforcement officers on the scene) said “the wreckage and the position of Dean’s body indicated his speed at the time of the accident was more like 55 mph.”
Rolf, thrown from the car, survived with a broken leg and serious head injuries, but he would survive. Donald Turnupseed, escaped the accident with only a gashed forehead and bruised nose. But James Dean, America’s rebel without a cause, would suffer fatal injuries, including a near decapitation. His body would be taken via ambulance to Paso Robles War memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival by Deputy Coroner Paul E. Werrick. The Coroner’s report would list Dean’s death as broken neck, multiple fractures of upper and lower jaw, multiple fractures of left and right arm and other internal injuries caused by a 2 car collision. James Dean was but 24 years old.
Kuehl’s Funeral Home in Paso Robles, California would prepare the badly mangled body for its return back home to Indiana. His funeral would take place at the Fairmount Friends Church on October 8, 1955.
James Dean is buried in Fairmount’s Park Cemetery where his tombstone has been stolen 3 times, the last in July of 1998.
Ironically, Rolf Weutherich would be killed in a car accident in 1981, after surviving several failed suicide attempts. Donald Turnupseed would die in 1995 of lung cancer.