James Dean would have turned 80 today. Even though he passed away in a tragic car crash at the age of 24 in 1955, he remains one of the most iconic American actors of all time. Maybe that's because Hollywood was never the same after he starred as bad boy Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause.
American teens were heartbroken, and the movie industry mourned the loss. The actor was, in fact, the first to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and remains the only actor in history to have had two posthumous acting nominations.
Even those of us who were brought up on Beverly Hills, 90210 and Dawson's Creek owe James Dean for laying the groundwork for some of our favorite Hollywood bad boys. Did you love Jason Priestley, Luke Perry, or Joshua Jackson? Me too. But none of them wouldn't have had a leg to stand on if it weren't for James Dean. From whom do you think they got their "signature" furrowed brows, sideburns, tortured-sexy demeanor?
How about Robert Pattinson? Yeah, I know you Twilight fans don't think anyone can or ever could hold a candle to your beloved pale-skinned prince. But had you been a teen in the '50s, your walls would have been plastered with James Dean.
We can duke it out over R-Patz vs. Ryan Gosling vs. Ryan Reynolds, but the thing is, none of our modern-day heartthrobs can come close to James Dean status. Here's an example of why, from a letter written by Dean in 1952 to his family:
I have made great strides in my craft. After months of auditioning, I am very proud to announce that I am a member of the Actors Studio. The greatest school of the theater. It houses great people like Marlon Brando, Julie Harris, Arthur Kennedy, Mildred Dunnock ... It is the best thing that can happen to an actor. I am one of the youngest to belong. If I can keep this up and nothing interferes with my progress, one of these days I might be able to contribute something to the world.
It's one thing to be considered sexy, appealing, attractive, a heart-breaker. To appeal to the girls and the guys. But to be a gifted performer, with aims to bring something new to the table ... to the world ... well, that takes an actor's status to an entirely different level. Dean reached that level and surpassed it. Although he checked out far too young, no one can argue -- he certainly "contributed something to the world" that remains to this day.
Image via ElizaPeyton/Flickr