James Byron Dean (February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955) was an American actor. He is remembered as a cultural icon of teenage disillusionment and social estrangement, 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).
After his death in a car crash, Dean became the first actor to receive a posthumous Academy 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 of Golden Age Hollywood in AFI's 100 Years...100 Stars list.
On September 30, 1955, Dean and his Porsche factory-trained mechanic, Rolf Wütherich, were at Competition Motors in Hollywood preparing the "Little Bastard" for the weekend sports car races at Salinas. Dean originally intended to tow the Porsche behind his Ford station wagon, driven by Hickman and accompanied by professional photographer Sanford H. Roth who was planning a photo story of Dean at the races for Collier's magazine. Because the Spyder did not have enough "break-in" miles prior to the race, Wütherich recommended that Dean drive it to Salinas to get more "seat time" behind the wheel. The group had coffee and donuts at the Hollywood Ranch Market on Vine Street across from Competition Motors before leaving around 1:15 p.m. PST. They stopped at the Mobil station for gas on Ventura Blvd. at Beverly Glen Blvd. in Sherman Oaks around 2:00 p.m. The group then headed north on the Golden State Freeway and then over the "Grapevine" toward Bakersfield.
At 3:30 p.m., Dean was stopped by California Highway Patrolman O.V. Hunter at Mettler Station on Wheeler Ridge, just south of Bakersfield, for driving 65 mph (105 km/h) in a 55 mph (89 km/h) zone. Hickman, following the Spyder in the Ford with the trailer, was also ticketed for driving 20 mph (32 km/h) over the limit, as the speed limit for all vehicles towing a trailer was 45 mph (72 km/h). After receiving the citations, Dean and Hickman turned left onto SR 166/33 to avoid going through Bakersfield's slow 25 mph (40 km/h) downtown district. SR 166/33 was a known short-cut for sports car drivers going to Salinas, called "the racer's road", which took them directly to Blackwells Corner at U.S. Route 466 (later SR 46). At Blackwells Corner, Dean stopped briefly for refreshments and met up with fellow racers Lance Reventlow and Bruce Kessler, who were also on their way to Salinas in Reventlow's Mercedes-Benz 300 SL coupe. As Reventlow and Kessler were leaving, they all agreed to meet for dinner in Paso Robles.
At approximately 5:15 p.m., Dean and Hickman left Blackwells Corner, driving west on Route 466 toward Paso Robles, approximately 60 miles (97 km) away. Dean accelerated in the "Little Bastard" and left the Ford station wagon far behind. Further along on Route 466, the Porsche crested Polonio Pass and headed down the long Antelope Grade, passing cars along the way toward the junction floor at Route 466 and Route 41. At approximately 5:45 p.m., a black-and-white 1950 Ford Tudor driven at high speed was headed east on Route 466 just west of the junction near Shandon. Its driver, 23-year-old Cal Poly student Donald Turnupseed, made a left turn onto Route 41 headed north, toward Fresno. As Turnupseed's Ford crossed over the center line, Dean (clearly seeing an imminent crash) apparently tried to steer the Spyder in a "side stepping" racing maneuver, but with insufficient time and space, the two cars crashed almost head-on. A witness, John Robert White, reportedly saw the Spyder smash into the ground two or three times in cartwheels, and landing in a gully beside the shoulder of the road, northwest of the junction. The sheer velocity of the impact sent the much-heavier Ford broad-sliding 39 feet (12 m) down Route 466 in the westbound lane. The accident was witnessed by a number of passersby who stopped to help. A woman with nursing experience attended to Dean and detected a weak pulse in his neck, but according to the woman, "death appeared to have been instantaneous".
California Highway Patrol (CHP) Captain Ernest Tripke and his partner, Corporal Ronald Nelson, had been finishing a coffee break in Paso Robles when they were called to the scene of the accident at the Route 466/41 junction. Before Tripke and Nelson arrived, Dean had been extricated from the Spyder's mangled cockpit, his left foot having been crushed between the clutch and brake pedal. He was severely injured as his vehicle took the brunt of the crash, suffering a broken neck and massive internal and external injuries. Nelson witnessed an unconscious and dying Dean being placed into an ambulance, and a barely conscious Wütherich, who had been thrown from the Spyder, lying on the shoulder of the road next to the wrecked vehicle. Dean and Wütherich were taken in the same ambulance to the Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital, 28 miles (45 km) away. Dean was pronounced dead on arrival at 6:20 p.m. by the attending emergency room physician, Dr. Robert Bossert. The cause of death listed on James Dean's death certificate is listed as a broken neck as well as multiple fractures of the upper and lower jaw along with both right and left arms broken as well as internal injuries. Warren Beath wrote that Dean had died in the arms of his friend, Bill Hickman. Despite reports of Dean's speed being around 85 mph (137 km/h), Nelson estimated that the actual speed was around 55 mph (89 km/h), based on the wreckage and position of Dean's body.
Wütherich survived with a broken jaw and serious hip and femur injuries that required immediate surgery. Turnupseed was only slightly injured with facial bruises and a bloodied nose. After being interviewed by the CHP, Turnupseed hitch-hiked in the dark to his home in Tulare. Hickman and Roth arrived at the accident scene approximately ten minutes after the crash. Hickman assisted in extricating Dean from the wreckage. Roth took photographs of the accident scene (which were acquired by Seita Ohnishi, a retired Japanese businessman who would later erect a memorial near the site).
Some sources give Dean's last known words — uttered right before the impact when Wütherich told Dean to slow down as the Ford Tudor pulled into their lane — as, "That guy's gotta stop ... He'll see us". Raskin believes that any report about Dean and Wütherich communicating prior to the crash is pure conjecture. According to the coroner's deposition taken of Wütherich in the hospital, and later in a 1960 interview given to an official Porsche magazine, Christophorus, he couldn't recall any of the exact moments leading up to and after the crash.