James Byron Dean is a remarkable cultural icon. Despite dying in 1955 age 24, Dean still inspires fashion, film-makers and musicians to this day. Dean was an enigma who suffered great tragedy from a young age, losing his mother (who he was inseparable from) and was consequently raised by his uncle and aunt on their Indiana farm. This Indiana farm boy would grow up to be one of the most famous actors in the world, only appearing in three feature films, Dean did not even live long enough to see the premiers. His life was heartbreakingly cut short driving his ‘Porsche 550 Spyder’, after colliding with a student driving in the opposite direction. It would be this accident that would immortalise Dean forever.
Today it is James Dean the actor who is remembered but there was far more to this young man. Dean was a talented racing driver who would compete when not acting, despite the film industry demanding he sell his sports car and stop riding his motorbike. Dean’s creativity can also be seen in his sculptures and poetry, as well as being a keen bongo player. Dean was brilliantly portrayed by James Franco in a U.S. television film which displays this complex individual before his success in the film industry; Franco portrays Dean as artistic and erratic character who is in desperate need to be loved after the death of his mother and rejection from his father.
Dean’s influence on culture, fashion and music is highly visible. Tributes to the young actor can be easily found online, including Al Pacino, Elvis Presley and Jim Carey; all three admit to Dean’s impact on their careers. There are also numerous songs containing Dean’s name, most recently the opening lines of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Blue Jeans’ and Jay-Z’s ‘Allure’;despite the fact Jay-Z was born 14 years after Dean died. Fashion is also still influenced by the icon; Esquire magazine’s website contains a guide to ‘What James Dean Would Wear Today’, detailing which designers have produced products that would have been desirable to the actor today. Celebrities can also be seen wearing James Dean t-shirts; most likely the£160.00 ‘Dolce and Gabbana’ tribute t-shirt, recently worn by ex-footballer Robbie Savage on the BBC’s ‘Football Focus’.
Dean’s appeal is due to his remarkable acting ability, photogenic appearance and the raw emotional vulnerability throughout his performances. Those of you unfamiliar to Dean will find countless ‘Youtube’ tribute videos, containing scenes from ‘Rebel Without a Cause’,‘East of Eden’ and ‘Giant’; all of which show the young actor’s unquestionable ability. His tragic death has indisputably reinforced (if not increased) his popularity, just as the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Marilyn Monroe did; leading Dean to be the first actor to receive a posthumous Academy Award. He is also deemed a gay icon, although his own sexuality is ultimately unknown, as he had a long-term relationship with Italian actress Pier Angeli; it is generally accepted today that Dean was bisexual.
The quote most associated with Dean is “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today” and it is these words that likely resonate with his global fan base 57 years after his passing. I believe this icon would have gone on to become one of the greatest actors of all time, just as his peers Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor achieved in their considerably longer lives. I sincerely hope that those of you unfamiliar with Dean search for this real life ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ who continues to inspire generations of young actors and fans across the world.