Famous people have the ability to fascinate not only in how they lived, but also in how they died. Causes range from diseases like cancer and AIDS to drug overdoses and even murder. Sadly, many famous people pass away at a very young; before their potential was fully realized.
One cause of death for a long list of famous figures is pretty common for anyone: car accidents. However, that has not made them any less shocking, as the circumstances of fatal car accidents involving the famous range from the mundane to the controversial. Here are seven famous people that were tragically killed while traveling in an automobile.
1. James Dean
Hollywood icon James Dean died very much like he lived—fast and dangerous. The young actor embodied an entire generation of disaffected youth in the 1950s with his on-screen performance in Rebel Without a Cause. However, Dean’s life off the studio set wasn’t much different from the free-spirited loner he portrayed in the film’s starring role.
One of Dean’s passions outside of acting was the thrilling sport of car racing. On September 30, 1955, Dean chose to drive his infamous Porsche 550 Spyder, nicknamed “Little Bastard,” to a race rather than transport it on a trailer. While on U.S. Route 466 outside of Cholame, California, he approached an intersection as a car coming in the opposite direction crossed his path; they crashed head on. James Dean died 10 minutes later.
Only hours before the accident, Dean was given a ticket for speeding. Even more hauntingly, exactly one week prior, fellow actor Alec Guinness said to Dean regarding his new Spyder: “If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week.”
After his death, Dean was nominated for two Academy Awards, showing what more he could have achieved beyond his short career. Yet, it was his untimely death that immortalized his name in Hollywood and pop culture history. He was only 24 years old.
2. Princess Diana
Before she became known as the ‘People’s Princess,’ people knew her simply as Princess Di. The Princess of Wales lived a life filled with compassion, using her fame to raise awareness for humanitarian causes such as the ban and removal of land mines. Her fame also made her a popular target among the paparazzi, enveloping her life in endless controversy.
After her divorce with Prince Charles, Princess Diana was romantically involved with film producer Dodi Al-Fyed, whom she was travelling with in Paris on August, 30 1997. That night, while trying to lose a pack of photographers, their car entered the Alma Tunnel and crashed into a pillar. The 36-year-old Princess initially survived the crash, but passed away hours later. Al-Fayed and the driver were also killed.
The controversy that plagued her during her life continued in her death. People scrutinized the role the paparazzi played in the crash; and the toxicology reports showed the driver was intoxicated.
Even in death, the young and glamorous princess had the ability to touch lives. Proceeds from CD sales of Elton John’s emotional performance of “A Candle in the Wind” at her funeral went to charities Princess Diana supported. Meanwhile, the charity established in her name continues her humanitarian efforts to this day.
3. T.E. Lawrence
It can be easily said of author and adventurer T.E. Lawrence that he was only one man, but he lived the life of many. Lawrence extensively traveled the Middle East as a British liaison officer, and he famously helped the Arabs fight off the Turkish army during the Arab Revolt, earning him the name: Lawrence of Arabia. His story inspired the Academy Award-winning film of the same name.
In addition to getting into hairy geopolitical situations, Lawrence got his thrills from speed. While in the Middle East, he would race along the desert flats in a Rolls Royce. Retired at the young age of 46 in 1935, Lawrence still sought that adrenaline rush. One day, while returning home from the post office, he sped his motorbike close to 100 mph. He ultimately lost control of the vehicle and crashed, dying several days later.
His funeral was attended by many powerful world leaders, including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a testament to the fact that he will always be remembered as a hero.
4. Sam Kinison
Even those that have never seen stand-up comedian Sam Kinison, they have surely heard his trademark scream. Kinison took the comedy scene by storm with his loud, in-your-face act full of raunchy punch lines that attacked everything from sex to religion.
His on-stage persona and personal life mirrored the rock star lifestyle that epitomized the 1980s; fueled with drugs and alcohol. He was involved in numerous drunk-driving accidents.
After years of heavy-partying, Kinison found settled down when he married his long-time girlfriend Malika Souiri, while taking steps to get his substance abuse under control. April 10, 1992, only five days after the wedding, Kinison set out in his sports car for a stand-up performance in Laughlin, Nevada. He would never make it, because he was hit by a truck. The truck was driven by a 17-year-old, who was intoxicated.
Unfortunately, he was killed before he could revitalize his career, but the comedic-genius of Sam Kinison still lives on in recordings of his performances and the many comedians he inspired.
5. David Halberstam
Very few journalists reach the heights of fame that Pulitzer Prize-winner and author David Halberstam achieved. His in-depth reporting on the Vietnam War blew the doors off favorable dispatches fabricated by the government regarding the conflict.
This cemented his reputation as a legendary reporter. Halberstam garnered additional fame from his published books including the best-seller, The Best and the Brightest. His writing covered everything from war to basketball, and he traveled around the world for inspiration.
Indeed, it was a scoop that brought him to San Francisco on April 23, 2007. Planning to interview a former New York Giants quarterback for an up-coming book, Halberstam was driven to the appointment by a student of journalism from the University of California at Berkeley. The student made an illegal left turn in front of on-coming traffic and the car was hit broadside by another vehicle. Halberstam was pronounced dead at the scene.
While Halberstam lived long enough to write an exceptional oeuvre of journalistic works, his death left the world wondering what other great insights he could have uncovered.
6. Jackson Pollock
Art is described as an act of expression, and no other 20thcentury artist expressed themselves like American painter Jackson Pollock. His work is characterized by the ground-breaking dripping technique and the use of a variety of objects other than a paint brush. Pollock is considered the most influential of all artists in the abstract expressionist movement. Like many artists, however, he had his own demons.
Throughout his 44 years of his life, Pollock battled with alcoholism. On the evening of August 11, 1956, he was driving his Oldsmobile convertible with two companions. He was also driving under the influence of alcohol. They crashed not even a mile away from his home in a single-car accident, which killed Pollock and one of his passengers.
Without a doubt, Pollock’s premature death helped increase the value of his paintings. But it was his unique style of painting that made him famous and changed art forever.
7. General George S. Patton
One of the most recognized military figures in American history, General George S. Patton, became famous for instilling fear in the Nazi army during World War II. Most notably he led the victory over German forces during the war’s most famous conflict, the Battle of the Bulge. General Patton was revered and respected by every American serviceman, as well as many Allied leaders and soldiers.
As was custom, General Patton was sitting on the right side in the rear of a vehicle when venturing on a pheasant hunting trip on December 9, 1945 in Germany. The car struck a large truck that was making a turn in its path.
While no one else was injured, General Patton hit his head on a metal divider between the front and rear seats, causing a severe spinal cord injury. The accident left him paralyzed and led him to contract a pulmonary embolism, which killed him.
General Patton spent most of his life fighting with the machinery of war, but it was an automobile that led to his death.
These famous people spent the majority of their lives inspiring and entertaining people around the world. Horribly, their lives came to an end in a split-second from a car accident. Through their lasting work, however, they will continue to live on.