Hero: James Dean

The Rebel Hero

He got in a knife fight. Made khakis cool (just ask the Gap). He made the misunderstood rebel a teenage girl’s dream for generations. He's Hero: James Dean, and here's what you should know about him. As a kid, Dean was into bullfighting, car racing, and theatre, with a side of baseball and basketball on the side (quite a manly start, we’d say). As a teen, he moved to LA to pursue acting, but things really took off when he got to New York and he landed the lead role in the film version of John Steinbeck’s classic American novel, “East of Eden.” It would be one of the three—yes, just three—films Dean ever starred in before his untimely death. Dean completely nailed the role of Cal, a complex, emotional character—and much of his performance was improvised. He even went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for that performance in 1956, though he had already passed away.

It was the first official posthumous nomination for the Oscars ever. (Yes, he died very young—keep reading.) His next film, “Rebel Without a Cause” was probably the one he was best known for—a perfect encapsulation of teenage angst, filled with knife fights, young love and racing stolen cars off a cliff. It was released after his death, as was “Giant.” In fact, “East of Eden” was the only film ever released while Dean was alive. Starring alongside Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, Dean also got an Oscar nod for “Giant” posthumously. So what was it that so tragically claimed the life of a young rising star? Sadly, it was Dean’s love for speed. En route to a race in Salinas, California, Dean crashed his Porsche 550 Spyder on Route 466. He left behind a trail of devastated fans and a legacy of brilliant acting. We miss you, Jimmy Dean (no relation to the sausage).