I guess I was an impressionable teen (like most are), and James Dean came along at just that time and made a lasting impression on me. A lifelong lasting impression. I still remember him as he was in "Rebel Without a Cause" and "East of Eden" and "Giant". A star that burned so brightly and was so quickly extinguished.
Yes, his mortal life was extinguished but not his status as a cult hero, and even though it has been over 50 years since his death, his worldwide fame is legendary. After all, it was a Japanese businessman, Seita Ohnishi, who erected a memorial at the site of his death in Cholame, CA, on Hwy 46 near Paso Robles. Back on September 30, 1955, when the accident occurred, it was known as Hwy 466.
The State of California has even erected a couple of their own signs:
Jimmy (as his friends called him) started out the day in Los Angeles and with his mechanic and a stationwagon entourage (see car at left) was planning to drive to Salinas to race his Porsche Spyder.
It was a horrible accident, according to all accounts. Jimmy was driving west on Hwy 466 (now Hwy 46) when a car turned left in front of him onto Hwy 41. Jimmy was the only fatality, but it is a miracle that his passenger, his mechanic, Rolf Wütherich, survived. The other driver, Donald Turnupseed, had minor injuries.
This is the view of the road where Donald Turnupseed made his fatal left-hand turn.
Whenever I drive to Paso Robles on Hwy 46, I always make sure I have my Eagles song "James Dean" playing as I pass the memorial in Cholame. It's sort of my tribute to him.
Tomorrow, February 8th, would have been Jimmy's 78th birthday. He was only 24 when he died - only one of his movies (East of Eden) had even been released, but the world remembers James Dean as if he had made 100 movies instead of only three.
Wikipedia - James Dean
"Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today"
(Quote from the James Dean Official Website)