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Honoring James Dean, 50 Years after His Death

A meticulous reproduction of the customized Porsche Dean was driving on that fateful day.
Steve Proffitt, NPR
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A meticulous reproduction of the customized Porsche Dean was driving on that fateful day.

Fifty years ago this Friday, actor and icon James Dean died in a car crash on a rural road near the central California town of Cholame.

He was just 24, and even though he had only acted in three movies he was considered a superstar. Two of those films were released after his death, including his best-known film, Rebel Without a Cause.

By 1955 James Dean had developed a passion for auto racing. On the day he died, he was driving a hot little German sports car, a Porsche 550 Spyder with an all-aluminum body and an engine just behind the two seats. He and his mechanic were headed to Salinas, where he planned to race the Spyder for the first time.

His death may have served to add to his legend. Day to Day senior producer Steve Proffitt reports that, two generations later, Dean's legend shows no sign of aging.

"In death, James Dean never had to lose his hair, never had to lose his cool," says Proffitt. "And 50 years after that car crash in Cholame, he has something we'll never have again -- our youth."

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Steve Proffitt
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