The recent tragic death of up-and-coming movie star Heath Ledger reminded all of us how mortal we are. Over the years many actors have died before their time. The most notable to my memory being the death of James Dean, an immense talent, who’s life was like a shooting star, brilliant but short
James Dean starred in only three feature films:
East of Eden, 1955: played Cal Trask and film was based on the John Steinbeck’s 1952 novel of the same name. The book has recently been on Oprah’s book club list and is experiencing a revival.
Rebel Without a Cause, 1955: played a rebellious teenager. This film defined him. His co-star was Natalie Wood who also died before her time in later years.
Giant, 1956: played Jett and had to age himself for the role. Co-stars were Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor.
Dean was killed in a car accident on September 30, 1955 while driving his Porsche at high speed. Alcohol and drugs were not factors, speed was. He was 25 years old.
He was the first person to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. This was for East of Eden. He received his second Academy Award nomination for Giant, also posthumously. He did not win on either occasion, but to be nominated two out of three starring roles is incredible.
James Dean because of the rebellious characters he played in these films and his death in a fast car at a young age, has become a cult figure. At right is the postage stamp issued by the United States Postal Service in 1996 to honor Dean.
Like the song says, “only the good die young”, or so it seems at times.