Born: February 8, 1931
Died: September 30, 1955
The giant screen icon’s last words? “That guy’s gotta stop. He’ll see us.”
On September 30, Dean and his mechanic took off in the actor’s custom-made Porsche Spyder 550 headed for a car race at Salinas, California. At 3:30 p.m., Dean was ticketed in Kern County for doing 65 miles-per-hour in a 55 miles-per-hour zone. After stopping at Blackwell’s Corner in Lost Hills for fuel, Dean was driving west on U.S. Route 466 near Cholame, California, when a black-and-white 1950 Ford Custom Tudor coupe, driven from the opposite direction by 23-year-old Cal Poly student Donald Turnupseed, attempted to take the fork onto State Route 41.
The late-afternoon sun blinded him, and he crossed into Dean’s lane without seeing him; the two cars hit almost head-on. A heavily-breathing Dean, almost decapitated in the crash, was placed into an ambulance and taken to Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 5:59 p.m. Turnupseed received a gashed forehead and bruised nose and was not cited by police for the accident. “I didn’t see them, I swear I didn’t,” he moaned again and again.
The day before Dean’s death, Hollywood writer James Bacon recalls seeing the actor doing 80 miles an hour on a Los Angeles street before screeching to a halt. As the actor got out of his Porsche Spyder, Bacon said, “Jimmy, that’s a good way to keep from growing old.”
Dean shot back: “Who wants to grow old?”
Perhaps even more ironic: During the filming of Giant, Dean filmed a short promotional interview with actor Gig Young about the dangers of speeding. “The lives you might save might be mine,” he ad-libbed. The footage, part of a Warner Bros. shorts series, never aired, but is one of the more popular YouTube destinations.
Morbid Curiosity, By Alan W. Petrucelli