There’s a chance that James Dean would have turned 80 years old today. There’s a chance that after starring in the three films that made him famous — East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, Giant — Dean’s career would have waned. But these are only chances. What we know is that James Dean is dead; he died in a car crash at the age of 24. We also know that he is one of the most celebrated pop culture figures of all time, right up there with Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. After the jump, learn more about the man whose brief life has come to represent what it’s like to be young and anxious in modern America.
1. Dean once said, “Being a good actor isn’t easy. Being a man is even harder. I want to be both before I’m done.”
2. While filming Rebel Without a Cause, Dean’s director, Nicholas Ray, 44, had an affair with his costar, Natalie Wood, who was 16. Also, Sal Mineo, a closet homosexual who played the role of John “Plato” Crawford, was hopelessly in love with Dean.
3. As a child, Dean would disassemble and then reassemble his bicycle over and over again.
4. Dean told more than one friend that he did not expect to live past 30. When discussing the risk involved in racing cars, he said: “What better way to die? It’s fast and clean and you go out in a blaze of glory.”
5. Dean was once suspended from high school for three days after attempting to throttle a heckler during one of his readings for an upcoming acting competition.
6. Before he was famous, Dean would sleep in his car if he couldn’t afford rent, and go on dates with gay men to get a free meal.
7. Dean died before the release of his most well-known film, Rebel Without a Cause.
8. While shooting Giant, Dean wore the same shirt for two weeks straight without washing it.
9. In high school, Dean was a champion pole vaulter.
10. The first Broadway show Dean starred in, See the Jaguar, closed after only six days.