Though his life was sadly a short one, James Dean achieved the sort of success most people can only dream of. Thanks to his talent as an actor, he became a Hollywood icon and a symbol of teen rebellion. He was also considered to be an incredibly attractive man; but behind the scenes there were struggles and some decidedly un-sexy habits.
Dean had a difficult childhood; he was always close to his mother, Mildred, but she died of uterine cancer when he was just nine years old. Dean, who had no brothers or sisters, was left with his father, Winton, who didn’t really know how to look after him. As a result, the latter shipped his young son off to live with an uncle and aunt.
Dean’s uncle and aunt Marcus and Ortense sent him to Fairmount High School, where the young boy did very well. He was incredibly popular and showed a wide range of talents; the future star learned to play the violin and tap-dance, plus he competed in basketball and baseball tournaments. And of course, Dean also had an interest in drama.
An autobiographical letter which Dean wrote for a school assignment in 1948 speaks to what his youth was like and alludes to the grief he suffered over his mother. He wrote for the piece, “Mom became ill and passed out of my life at the age of nine. I never knew the reason for mom’s death; in fact, it still preys on my mind.”
Dean’s letter, reprinted on his official website, also revealed that he knew from an early age that he would be an actor. In it, he confidently stated, “I think my life will be devoted to art and dramatics. And there are so many different fields of art it would be hard to foul-up, and if I did, there are so many different things to do… I got it, and I know if I better myself that there will be no match. A fellow must have confidence.”
Dean did indeed devote himself to art and dramatics, but there was a consequence. Initially, he chose to study law at Santa Monica College; however, the actor later decided to change to UCLA and do drama. As a result of that decision, Dean fell out with his father, and reportedly the two of them never ended up having a close relationship at all.
Dean had success in acting right from the start; he performed in the play Macbeth at UCLA, and later a friend hooked him up with a small role in an advert for Pepsi Cola. A producer then noticed him singing on the set of the commercial and cast him as John the Apostle in an Easter TV special.
Things were going well for Dean, and in 1952 he sent a letter back to his Fairmount family informing them of his progress. It read, “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.”
Dean continued, “Very few get into [the Actors Studio], and it is absolutely free. 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.”
And Dean wasn’t wrong; after starring on TV shows such as Robert Montgomery Presents and General Electric Theater, he was cast in one of the movies that would come to define his career: East of Eden. As a result, in 1954 Dean headed to Los Angeles to begin playing the role of Cal Trask.
Interestingly, Dean improvised some of his scenes on the set of East of Eden. At one point in the film, the script called for Dean’s Cal to run away from his father after the man refuses to take money from him. Instead, the tearful actor hugged him close, and the impressed director ended up using that take for the finished product.
Interestingly, both East of Eden and Rebel Without A Cause have Dean playing an angry, disaffected teenager. Both roles also feature a failed father-son relationship in some depth. So it’s not hard to imagine that Dean called on aspects of his personal life in order to pull off such good performances.
In fact, Dean’s personal life was every bit as interesting as his movies. He had multiple girlfriends throughout his time in Hollywood and before. Back at UCLA he dated a woman called Beverly Wills, but they broke up after Dean reacted angrily to another man he saw her dancing with. At the time, a fight between the two men nearly broke out after Dean had threatened the individual.
However, Dean’s best-known relationship in his short life was with Italian actress Pier Angeli. The two appeared to be seriously in love, as the latter recalled In her 1974 book James Dean: The Mutant King: A Biography. She wrote, “We used to go together to the California coast and stay there secretly in a cottage on a beach far away from prying eyes.”
Angeli continued, “We would talk about ourselves and our problems, about the movies and acting, about life and life after death. We had a complete understanding of each other. We were like Romeo and Juliet, together and inseparable. Sometimes on the beach we loved each other so much we just wanted to walk together into the sea holding hands because we knew then that we would always be together.”
It was all very romantic, but Angeli’s mother reportedly disapproved of her relationship with Dean. She disliked the bad-boy image Dean projected, nor did she want her daughter to marry a man who wasn’t Catholic. And Warner Bros., where Dean was contracted, also didn’t want him to end up tied down.
In the end, the Dean-Angeli relationship wasn’t meant to be and in 1954, after finishing filming on East of Eden, the former went to New York City. While he was there, Angeli suddenly announced that she was marrying another man: Vic Damone. The wedding, which took place a mere month from then, was allegedly watched by Dean from his motorcycle, though the actor denied the claim.
Dean was linked with several other women besides Angeli: including Liz Sheridan and Ursula Andress. But rumors have persisted that the young actor was bisexual and that he had affairs with other prominent Hollywood men, such as Marlon Brando and Rock Hudson. The latter was gay, although he attempted to keep it a secret, and Brando was himself bisexual.
Darwin Porter, author of the 2016 biography James Dean – Tomorrow Never Comes, told the Daily Express that year that he believed the actor “would sleep with anybody to get ahead.” He also claimed that although Dean “didn’t have a great body, had two false front teeth and was often rude,” both women and men “threw themselves at him.”
And Dean did indeed have two false teeth. These were the result of a childhood accident; the future star had swung on a trapeze in his uncle’s barn, fallen off and smashed his two front teeth out. Though Dean told a different version of the story as an adult – he would claim that he actually lost them in a motorcycle crash.
Dean apparently also liked to shock people by casually pulling out his false teeth at inopportune times. He had been born in a time when the average person didn’t tend to brush their teeth every day the way we do now, and reportedly plenty of his back teeth were missing as well. Ironically, his estranged father was actually a dentist, too.
Despite being a sex symbol and a very photogenic man, there were aspects of Dean’s personality and lifestyle that definitely wouldn’t be seen as attractive today. Like many people of his era, he smoked; and his image in Rebel Without A Cause with a cigarette in his mouth came to define the actor.
Dean reportedly had a magic trick he liked to show off. He would sometimes put a flaming match right into his mouth alongside an unlit cigarette, and then pull out a burning one. It was clever and no doubt made people positively swoon, but it’s safe to assume he probably ended up with several burns in his mouth as a result.
And the young rebel had a few other strange and sometimes unhygienic habits. According to actor Dennis Hopper, who appeared with Dean in both Rebel Without A Cause and Giant, the latter once peed in front of onlookers in order to calm his nerves about an upcoming scene he had to do.
Then there were the clothes and the occasional lack of washing. Despite his status as a sex symbol, Dean reportedly wasn’t too bothered about what he looked like. Sometimes, he would wear pants fastened with safety pins and once attended a formal lunch wearing dirty jeans and no shoes.
Perhaps these issues would have been fixed eventually, but Dean tragically died in a car crash before his career advanced any further. On September 30, 1955, the 24-year-old actor was killed when his car – a Porsche 550 Spyder allegedly nicknamed “Little B*****d” – collided with another vehicle.
And there were a lot of odd coincidences and spooky stories surrounding Dean’s death. For a start, during a featurette to promote Giant in 1955, actor Gig Young asked Dean questions about racing, concluding with, “Do you have any special advice for the young people who drive?” Dean answered, “Take it easy driving – uh, the life you might save might be mine.”
For his part, famous actor Alec Guinness had a story about the car Dean died in. Not long before the heartthrob passed away, he had apparently showed off the new Porsche to the veteran actor. Guinness claimed that he’d warned him that he should never get in it again, or he would be dead within a week. And, tragically, this indeed happened.
Dean’s unexpected death cemented his status as an icon of the 1950s. Over 2,400 fans turned up outside the church for his funeral, which took place in his childhood home of Fairmount. The actor was buried at Park Cemetery there, and his grave became a pilgrimage site for those who had loved him as an actor.
Some people think Dean’s death was almost inevitable given his lifestyle. According to Porter in his Daily Express interview, “Dean didn’t have a death wish. He had too much to live for. But he was a thrillseeker with a love for speed and liked to tempt death so that he could experience life all the more. He paid the ultimate price.”
The year after Dean died, Rebel Without a Cause director Nicholas Ray wrote a piece for Daily Variety about the young actor. And the piece went into quite a lot of detail about the man and his habits. Indeed, as the person who had helmed arguably the most famous film Dean appeared in, Ray knew him well.
Ray talked about Dean’s lack of hygiene, writing, “There were days when he did not shave. He dressed casually, untidily, which was invariably interpreted as a gesture of revolt. Not entirely true. For one thing, it saved time, and [Dean] detested waste… In the same way he would forgo shaving because there was something more important to do.”
The director believed that these habits were “self-protective” for Dean. Ray wrote, “If you ride a motorcycle, you travel by yourself. Sleeping in a studio dressing room, you have complete solitude. He could leave, but nobody could come in. He shied away from social convention, from manners, because they suggested disguise. He wanted his self to be naked.”
Ray mused, “There were probably very few directors with whom [Dean] could ever have worked. To work with him meant exploring his nature, trying to understand it; without this, his powers of expression were frozen. He retreated, he sulked. He always wanted to make a film in which he could personally believe, but it was never easy for him.”
In the piece Ray also revealed that Dean’s love of magic went beyond just the odd cigarette trick. According to him, the actor “wanted to meet Vampira because he had been studying magic –was she really possessed, as her television program suggested, by satanic forces?” Apparently, she wasn’t, and it left Dean disappointed.
Ray also claimed that Dean had strange ways of interacting with people. Once, he had observed a woman cradling a cushion like a baby, and asked her, “Can’t you have a child of your own?” She ran away and began to tear up, because he was correct: the woman and her husband had just become adoptive parents instead.
Elsewhere, over the years there have been rumors that Dean had a dark side to him. Author Darwin Porter told the Daily Express that the teen idol was “difficult, selfish and insecure” and sometimes carried a knife. Allegedly, he once used it to cut his own wrists on stage while performing a scene. And Ray stated in his Daily Variety piece that Dean kept a gun to hand.
Ray wrote, “[Dean] kept a Colt .45 in his dressing room at [Warner Bros.]… Inside the studio, he found a sanctuary of steel and concrete, and at night he could be alone in this closed, empty kingdom. Perhaps the revolver was a symbol – of self-protection, of warning to others.” Later, he suggested Dean’s gun “guarded this world of self-respect.”
To this day, so many stories circulate about Dean that it’s hard to tell truth from fiction. For example, a tale still circulates that Dean’s car was cursed, which is only exacerbated by the fact that no one appears to know what eventually happened to the vehicle. And, as with so many celebrities who died young, there’s an urban legend that he’s not really dead.
And the fascination with Dean continues to this day. In 2019 it was announced that, via CGI, he would “act” in a new movie titled Finding Jack. The creators had sought permission from Dean’s family, but it sparked a major discussion about the ethics of bringing actors “back from the dead.” After all, though he became a legend, Dean was very much a real person – and a flawed one.
But Dean isn’t the only icon whose secrets have emerged since his passing. Take singer Prince, for instance. Thanks to the Minneapolis native’s iconic back catalog and virtuoso ability on a myriad of instruments, some have dubbed him the greatest musician of the last century. But behind Prince’s sometimes outrageous public persona, he craved privacy – so much so that when he died in 2016, he still largely remained an enigma. And that’s why the following secrets about the superstar and his death have only just now come to light.
20. Prince loved to cook… especially eggs
After the star’s death, some of his close friends sat down with GQ in order to share their best stories about him. Rapper and dancer Cat Glover revealed, for instance, “Prince was never an eater. He would usually smell his food. Literally. I never really seen Prince eat.” That said, Glover had seen the superstar cook.
So, too, had the star’s background vocalist Jill Jones, who revealed, “Prince did the cooking. Scrambled eggs. He put curry [powder] and a little bit of Cheddar cheese in them. It was really good, actually.” Dancer Misty Copeland agreed, saying, “Yeah, he has made me scrambled eggs. Breakfast was his forte. He liked to use a lot of seasoning… [His eggs] were delicious.”
19. He had a swear jar
While Prince may have put out some pretty provocative songs during his career, he distinctly changed his tune in the early ’00s. At that time, the musician joined the Jehovah’s Witness faith, and he adhered to the church’s principles devoutly – even down to the language that he’d allow to be spoken within his recording studio.
What’s more, Prince’s friend James Lundstrom has since revealed that the singer was very serious about his “cuss bucket.” In 2017 Lundstrom recalled to the BBC, “He didn’t want to dishonor the faith. He wasn’t joking. You had to pay in cash in the bucket. He would charge you between three and ten dollars per swear word.”
18. He traveled under a non-regal pseudonym
While Prince may have used his real first name on his way to fame, he wasn’t afraid of a pseudonym or two. For instance, when writing songs, he would sometimes use pen names – including Jamie Starr, Joey Coco and Alexander Nevermind among others.
And when Prince traveled, he also took on a new name: Peter Bravestrong. In fact, the star used this on-the-road pseudonym to label the luggage that he took with him to his last concert in Atlanta, Georgia. Investigators later found the Bravestrong suitcase at the star’s Chanhassen, Minnesota, home and recording studio.
17. He wore a wig in Purple Rain
Prince made his on-screen debut in the movie Purple Rain. Starring in the role of “The Kid,” the part was – perhaps unsurprisingly – based on the singer himself. And although the 1984 rock musical did indeed feature some truths about the star and his life, one thing about his performance was phony. Believe it or not, but the bouffant hairstyle that he sported during one period of production was actually a wig.
Prince’s one-time art director Steve Parke told the BBC that the star had once exclaimed, “Look at that wig!” while watching a clip from Purple Rain. Then, down the line, Parke followed up with Earl Jones, the singer’s hairstylist, to see if Prince was being serious. And Jones confirmed that the musician had indeed worn a wig for the film’s re-shoots, as he had cut and dyed his hair after filming had originally ended.
16. Prince’s last purchase was a half-dozen records
Five days before Prince’s death on April 21, 2016, music lovers everywhere celebrated Record Store Day by visiting their local independent sellers and picking up new albums. Prince did the same, too, by hopping on his bike and cycling over to Minneapolis music emporium Electric Fetus.
Then, once at the store, the pop star bought six CDs from Electric Fetus’ collection: Joni Mitchell’s Hejira, Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book, Swan Silvertones’ Inspirational Gospel Classics, the Chambers Brothers’ The Time Has Come, Santana’s Santana IV and Missing Persons’ The Best of Missing Person. After that, he got back on his bike, waved to fans and pedaled away.
15. He could be very mean
Even before Prince died, he had had a reputation for being a perfectionist. After the musician’s passing, though, those who worked with him revealed that the star achieved his vision ruthlessly at times. Michael B. Nelson – who had been a trombone player in Prince’s backing band New Power Generation – somewhat attested to this fact when he explained to Rolling Stone that the singer “did like to push the band with fear.”
And to illustrate his point, Nelson recalled a chilling example of Prince’s mean streak. Apparently, the trombone player had missed a note while he had been on tour with the star in 1993. Then, the following evening, Prince had reportedly walked towards Nelson when it came time to go for the same note again and proceeded to hold his gun-shaped microphone to the musician’s head while he played the solo. Nelson added, “It wasn’t showbiz at that point. It was, ‘Don’t you ever do that again.’”
14. Prince was also secretly very charitable
CNN commentator and Prince’s buddy Van Jones revealed after the star’s death that he had impacted the world in more ways than one. And while Jones claimed that Prince’s faith prevented him from speaking out about his humanitarian efforts, the musician was nevertheless “helping every day of his life” through his charity and good deeds.
In an example of the latter, Jones said that Prince had frantically called him when he had heard that Lauryn Hill “had gotten into some trouble.” In particular, the pop icon asked his friend where Hill’s children were in order to make sure that they were okay. “His first thing he wanted to know was where were her kids and what he could do to help,” Jones concluded.
13. He followed a very strange sleeping schedule
Five months after Prince’s death, his former flame Charlene Friend talked about his strange sleeping habits. And Friend told People that her ex-paramour didn’t rise and rest like the average adult. Instead, she said, “He would sometimes stay up for five days at a time without sleep, food or even water, going nonstop back and forth to the studio.”
Then, Friend claimed that when Prince did eventually sleep, he would crank up the thermostat to 80 degrees, put aluminum foil over the windows and shake all night long. Allegedly, there may have been some explanation for these bizarre practices, as Friend asserted that Duane Nelson, Prince’s half-brother, had told her the star had been doing cocaine. Yet the star’s ex emphasized that she had never even seen him take over-the-counter medication – let alone illegal drugs.
12. Prince’s inner circle knew that he had an addiction problem
From his Purple Rain tour onward, Prince reportedly dealt with pain – specifically in his hips. But the musician supposedly couldn’t remedy the problem with a double hip replacement, as Jehovah’s Witnesses are not permitted to have the blood transfusions that are required with such surgery. Instead, he seemed to rely on opioids to dull the ache in his joints.
And after Prince’s passing, doctors confirmed that he had died after he had overdosed on fentanyl – a painkiller with a potency roughly 50 times that of heroin. This news came in tandem with many of the singer’s friends and associates coming out and affirming that the star did indeed suffer from an addiction to prescription medication.
11. His staff reached out for help with his addiction
It’s unclear which – if any – of Prince’s friends tried to intervene with his prescription drug usage. What has come to light, however, is that the singer’s staff made a point of trying to get him help in the days leading up to his death. In particular, the employees called in Dr. Howard Kornfeld, who is a California-based addiction expert.
But as Dr. Kornfeld couldn’t fly from California to Paisley Park to attend to Prince himself, he instead sent along his son Andrew, who was studying medicine at the time. Andrew didn’t get the chance to speak to Prince about his addiction, however; instead, he arrived at the Minnesota residence to find the star seemingly lifeless on the floor. The visitor subsequently made a call to 911.
10. It’s unclear how Prince got the drugs on which he overdosed
While, as previously mentioned, Prince overdosed on fentanyl, investigators couldn’t actually find any prescriptions for the painkiller in the musician’s name. Oxycodone was discovered in the name of Prince’s bodyguard Kirk Johnson, however, with the authorities ultimately determining that Johnson had gotten the pills on his boss’ behalf.
In searching Prince’s home for clues, investigators also found plenty of other painkillers, with some of these pills going on to test positive for fentanyl. Once again, though, they were stumped as to how the singer had obtained the meds without a prescription – not least because the black-market drug trade in Prince’s hometown hardly ever saw fentanyl for sale.
9. Police regretted not confiscating Prince’s laptop
Prince famously refused to own a smartphone, choosing instead to keep in touch through email and landline calls. Owing to this quirk, then, the “Purple Rain” singer’s laptop could have answered some of the lingering questions about his death – yet investigators did not search the device in their first sweep of Paisley Park.
One Carver County Sheriff’s deputy also said that he had “regretted not taking the computer by [Prince’s] bedside,” adding, “I believed that this contained conversations between his staff and [him] about medications, possibly.” When police returned to the property, though, the laptop was no longer in its original position; instead, it had been removed and secured behind a locked door. Later, the authorities also found that many of the star’s emails had disappeared.
8. An obscure Prince track played at the star’s funeral
Given Prince’s prodigious musical output, it seemed almost inevitable that a track or two of his would feature during the commemorations that took place after his death. But at the cremation ceremony held for the star on April 23, 2016, close friends and family didn’t actually hear one of his hits.
Instead, the assembled mourners listened to the track “Comeback,” which Prince had written in the wake of a personal tragedy. In 1996 he and his then-wife Mayte García had welcomed a son, Amiir, who had passed away only days after his birth, and the star had worked through his grief by penning the song. Some fans may have heard the track on The Truth – an album that originally saw a limited release in 1998.
7. Prince’s will is yet to be found
You’d think that a huge star with millions of dollars worth of assets would have an airtight will in place. But Prince didn’t appear to have gone about acquiring such a document – or, at least, if he had, it hasn’t yet been unearthed. Owing to this lack of paperwork, then, the courts have had to decide who will get the singer’s estate now that he’s gone.
In the absence of a will, a judge therefore had to decide what to do with Prince’s money and property. And, at first, it seemed that his younger sister, Tyka Nelson, would get a good portion of the “Raspberry Beret” singer’s fortune along with his five other half-siblings. As it happens, though, ongoing legal battles between the heirs has kept the estate in limbo years after the star’s death.
6. Prince’s album sales soared after his death
In the same year that Prince died, he ended up reigning as America’s top-selling album artist. In fact, the star sold in excess of 2.2 million records even after he had passed away. That feat could be partly attributed to the fact that Prince’s music wasn’t available on streaming platforms at the time, leaving fans to have to resort to purchase physical copies of his work instead.
Downloadable copies of Prince’s music were also available in 2016, making him the sole artist that year to sell over one million albums in both physical and digital formats. 5.4 million individual songs were snapped up in that 12-month period, too, which pushed the late star ahead of both Adele and Drake in terms of units shifted. And when Prince tracks did finally appear on streaming platforms in February 2017, the musician’s back catalog received a stunning 17 million plays in just seven days.
5. Prince almost had a Netflix show
Even though Prince hadn’t apparently arranged a will, it nevertheless seems that he had made plenty of other plans before his death. Then, once he passed, a number of his potential projects and deals came to light. And it was the star’s friend Maya Washington who revealed to GQ that he had begun discussing the possibility of a Paisley Park-centric reality show with Netflix.
Essence magazine later confirmed Washington’s statement, with a representative for Netflix saying, “We did have discussions about [a Paisley Park show], but sadly for all of us it did not come to fruition prior to [Prince’s] passing.” Rumors have since swirled, however, that the star’s siblings may get their own reality show to document how their lives have panned out since their famous relative’s death.
4. Prince’s net worth was unclear
Just as legal experts struggled to name an heir to Prince’s fortune, they also had trouble calculating the singer’s net worth. And the star had plenty of tangible assets, too – not least his $25 million real estate portfolio. Prince owned the sprawling Paisley Park property, of course, but he had also covertly purchased the home featured in the Purple Rain movie.
Yet while these and other possessions held by Prince had easy-to-calculate value, administrators had more trouble discerning the total of the singer’s more intangible assets. For instance, how much would his likeness, music or name be worth? What about an unreleased Prince track? These questions proved a lot harder to answer, thus leaving the star’s estate difficult to measure on a financial level.
3. We may get to hear some never-before-released Prince tracks
Prince once stored all of his most prized recordings in a vault. Then, after his death, the secure container – which held everything from unreleased songs to rehearsal tapes and concert clips – was drilled open. And since 2016, new songs have trickled out from the artist’s meticulously kept archive.
What’s more, there should be plenty of music over the next several years as Prince’s estate reveals those many previously hidden tracks. After all, there’s no shortage of stuff in the archive. David Z, one of Prince’s engineers, recalled the star’s work ethic to the BBC, saying that the singer would lay down two songs a day. Fellow recording engineer Susan Rodger also remembered the vault being stuffed with unreleased tunes in the late ’80s – so you can only imagine what was collected after that…
2. It could take a while to hear Prince’s unreleased music, though
Some of the music contained within Prince’s vault has already been released to the public. For instance, in 2016, a turn-of-the-millennium track called “Moonbeam Levels” appeared on compilation album Prince 4Ever. The star’s estate also signed a deal with Universal Music in order to share some fresh tracks.
Yet there’s so much unreleased Prince music to get through that we may not get to hear all of it. Paisley Park staffer Scott LeGere has said, for example, “[The vault] probably won’t be tapped out in our lifetime.” Plus, the “When Doves Cry” singer’s estate has shut down former employees’ attempts to release their bespoke Prince recordings – thus making it even harder to hear the totality of his saved-up tracks.
1. Prince lived happily until the end
Some of the details that have emerged about Prince in his final days may make it seem as though his life came to a sad, lonely end. That probably isn’t the case, though, as by many accounts the singer seemed to be living happily – albeit privately – at Paisley Park. And in addition to the musician’s record-store spree just days before his death, fans also spotted him riding around a nearby mall.
Plus, as one of Prince’s protégées Judith Hill remembered, the superstar found joy in the little things. She recalled his love of the movie Zootopia, for instance, as well as animation in general. He also played table tennis with finesse and loved to cook meals for his friends. So, while in many ways, Prince was much like any of us, his fans won’t forget that he was also one of the greatest musicians of the last century – and still beloved and missed today.