• History

This Photo Shows James Dean Shortly Before His Death

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He was, according to the brief obituary he earned in TIME, the “most promising young cinemactor of 1955.” But that career was famously cut short on Sept. 30 of that year, when James Dean died “in a collision as he sped along a darkening highway in his silver Porsche Spyder sports car to enter a road race one week after he completed work in a new film, Giant; near Paso Robles, Calif.”

The untimely death—he was 24—made Dean even more of a celebrity than he had been, and lent a portentous air to every mile he drove that day in his supposedly cursed Porsche.

Among the haunting images of that day is the photograph above. One of the last known pictures of the star alive, it was taken at a gas station in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles, as Dean fueled up en route to the race he never made.

Read more about James Dean’s posthumous celebrity, here in the TIME Vault: Dean of the One-Shotters


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Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com