Iconic actor James Dean would have turned 86 today if his life hadn't been cut short by a car accident on Sept. 30, 1955. Dean was only 24 years old and had an illustrious Hollywood career ahead of him. But perhaps the most chilling part of his death is that it was foreshadowed in a Public Service Announcement that he recorded on the topic of keeping the roads safe.
While filming Giant, which would be released posthumously in 1956, Dean took time off from the set the appear in the PSA in costume as the surly ranch hand Jett Rink. While fidgeting with a lasso, he spoke about the dangers of drag racing.
"I'd like your opinion about fast-driving on the highway," the announcer says to Dean, who had a reputation as a speed freak on and off racetracks. "Do you think it's a good idea?"
"I used to fly around quite a bit, you know -- took a lot of unnecessary chances on the highway," Dean says. "[N]ow when I drive on the highways I'm extra cautious. Because no one knows what they're doing half the time...On a [race] track, there are a lot of men who spent a lot of time developing rules and ways of safety. And I find myself being very cautious on the highway. I don't have the urge to speed on the highway. People say racing is dangerous, but I'll take my chances on the track any day than on a highway."
He would become a casualty of the highway later that year when his Porsche Spyder 550 (nicknamed Little Bastard) collided with a Ford Tudor sedan driven by college student Donald Turnupseed. Turnupseed cut Dean off at an intersection in Cholame, California, but the accident was blamed on Dean at the time for speeding. But in 2005, Ron Nelson -- the California Highway Patrol Officer who arrived at the scene of Dean's accident -- told the Los Angeles Times that the accident was Turnupseed's fault and that Dean was actually driving around 55 mph.
If that's the case, then the end of Dean's PSA is truly haunting.
"Do you have any special advice for the young people who drive?" the announcer asks as the actor gets up to leave the set.
"Take it easy driving," Dean says. "The lives you might save might be mine."
Banner image: Natalie Wood and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (wikipedia.org)