James Dean Filmed An Ironic PSA Just Weeks Before His Fatal Crash

In popular culture, sometimes there are people whose stars burn intensely bright before being extinguished. For example, Janis Joplin rose to stratospheric fame after her 1969 Woodstock performance, according to Biography, and then died of a drug overdose two years later. Similarly, Amy Winehouse hit it big in 2006, but then tragically died just five years later from alcohol poisoning.

Generations earlier than Winehouse, one young actor melted hearts across the world while up on the silver screen, only to die tragically in a car accident after having made only three films as the star: "East of Eden," "Rebel Without A Cause," and "Giant" (he also had a few TV roles and smaller, bit parts in other films, per IMDb). That actor was James Dean, or "Jimmy Dean" as his fans called him. He died at the young age of only 24 years old in a car crash. Ironically, just a few weeks before, Dean recorded a Public Service Announcement (PSA) about the dangers of careless driving.

James Dean's Fatal Car Crash

It wouldn't be unexpected for a young person who has suddenly come into a lot of money to blow it on, say, a fast car. James Dean certainly felt the need for speed and was known for tearing it up on the roads for a number of years before he died, having come into the possession of his first motorcycle at the age of 15, according to the book, "Legendary Motorcycles." And it wasn't just limited to goofing around on his bike. He also had a short-lived racing career with motorcycles and, later, cars, according to Palm Springs Life.

Racing on a track is one thing, but driving at breakneck speeds on the roads — in particular, the curvy mountain roads of Southern California — is another. And James Dean's failure to see the difference cost him his life. On September 30, 1955, according to History, Dean was driving his brand new Porsche Spyder convertible near Salinas, California when another driver turned in front of him. Whether or not speed played a role in the crash is uncertain. Witnesses to the accident reported that Dean hadn't been speeding, although just hours earlier he'd been given a speeding ticket. Based on the time of the ticket and how far away he was at the time of the crash, it is surmised that Dean was probably driving rather quickly. Further still, because of the light conditions, the driver of the other vehicle wouldn't have been able to see Dean's car regardless of how fast he was driving.

James Dean's PSA appearance

In an intensely-cruel irony — so cruelly ironic that legend-debunking website, Snopes, even had to confirm that it's true and not a rumor — just a few weeks before he died in a car crash (in which speed may or may not have played a role), James Dean recorded a public service announcement (PSA) against careless driving.

In the announcement, which can be seen here via YouTube, the host tells viewers that Dean is in the studio, fresh off the set of the movie he was filming that day, with Dean dressed in a cowboy outfit, complete with a lasso. The two men talk about racing, the host careful to specify that Dean raced on tracks as opposed to public roads, and then transition to Dean talking about his habit of "flying around" on the roads and taking unnecessary chances. Eventually, Dean delivers some advice to his audience: "Take it easy driving — uh, the life you might save might be mine," he says. When he died, the PSA seemed like a haunting foreshadow as to what Dean's fate would be.