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James Dean: Remembering the Icon on the Anniversary of his Death

Giant (1956)
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The "Rebel Without a Cause" actor died 56 years ago today.

James Dean’s acting career was cut tragically short when he died in a car crash on September 30, 1955. The actor, who was 24 years old at the time, was driving in his Porsche Spyder when he got into a head-on collision on a California highway.

Dean became an acting legend through his three starring film roles: East of Eden (1955), Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Giant (1956). He received two posthumous Academy Award nominations for his work in East of Eden and Giant.

PHOTOS: James Dean Remembered

James Dean was born in Indiana, spent a few years in Santa Monica, CA, in his youth, but after his mother died when he was nine, he was moved back to Indiana to be raised by his aunt. Dean moved back to California after high school, and attended UCLA until he decided to pursue an acting career full-time.

After acting in a series of television shows and some small parts in films, including Fixed Bayonets!, Sailor Beware, and Has Anybody Seen My Gal?, Dean got his first major starring film role in 1955’s East of Eden. He starred as the troubled Cal Trask, who competes against his brother for the attention of their father.

He took the angst-ridden character he’d developed and brought it into his most celebrated role, as 17-year-old Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause. He worked alongside Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, and Dennis Hopper and in the Nicholas Ray-directed film.

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Dean played an oil-rich Texan in his final film, Giant, which also starred Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson.

Even after Dean’s untimely death, his legacy has lived on. His image persists as representation of rebel coolness and “bad boy” attractiveness, often appearing in films and television shows, including Happy Days and Grease. A bust of Dean is located at The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, where Rebel Without a Cause filmed. A yearly festival is held at the Fairmount Historical Museum in Indiana.

View a gallery of images chronicling the life of James Dean here.