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October 1, 2013

Picture of James Dean in his Porsche Spyder in Hollywood the Morning of His Death, September 30, 1955

On the afternoon of September 30, 1955, while driving his new Porsche 550 Spyder to compete in a sports car race in Salinas, California, James Dean collided nearly head-on with a 1950 Ford Custom Coupe on a lonely road near Cholame, California. The impact destroyed the smaller and lighter Porsche, and Dean suffered massive injuries in the crash. His mechanic, Rolf Wüetherich, had been riding with Dean in the Porsche, and also suffered critical injuries in the accident. By the time an ambulance brought the pair to the nearest hospital, Dean was pronounced dead on arrival, while Wütherich survived with a broken jaw, a broken femur and a shattered hip.

James Dean in his Porsche Spyder in Hollywood the morning of his death, September 30, 1955. Riding with Dean is his mechanic, Rolf Wütherich. This photograph was taken by Roth, who rode in Dean's Ford station wagon behind Dean's Porsche on the way north to the Salinas road races.

The day of the crash is well documented, as professional photographer Sanford Roth was accompanying Dean for an article on the actor’s passion for racing in Collier’s Magazine. The image above, shot by Roth in Hollywood on the morning of the accident, shows a happy and confident Dean and Wütherich preparing for a weekend of racing and camaraderie. That this would be Dean’s final hours, or that Wüetherich was about to experience a life-shattering event, was clearly the furthest thing from either one’s mind. While other snapshots allegedly show Dean later in the day, the above image by Roth is believed to be the last “official” image taken of the actor before his fatal crash.

On Friday, April 5th, 2013, an 11×14-inch print of the shot, taken from Roth’s original contact sheet and mounted on foam core, sold for an impressive $1,500 at the Julien’s Hollywood Legends 2013 auction. Given that the pre-auction estimate was only $400 to $600, it’s clear that James Dean has lost little of his star power, even some 58 years after his untimely death.

1 comment:

  1. James Dean lives on 58 years later! Fact: This photo was not taken by Sanford Roth, but by a Competition Motors' public relations man, Carl von Delius at 1:45 pm PST on 9-30-55. The photographer Sanford Roth can be seen sitting in the 'shotgun' seat of the Ford station wagon behind James Dean's Porsche 550 Spyder. And, this photo was actually NOT the last taken of James Dean alive. Sanford Roth took the last photo of James Dean/Rolf Wutherich in the Porsche Spyder driving north on Sepulveda Blvd/Rt. 99 at approximately 2:30 pm PST. See James Dean At Speed ( for the real story with all the photos of the last day. Lee Raskin, Porsche/James Dean historian/author




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