Any person in search of a musical trifecta need look no further than the strange deaths of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, three of the biggest names in rock music history. They all died within 12 months of each other. Some Hollywood pundits still believe Joplin and Hendrix were murdered and Jim Morrison (The Doors lead singer) faked his own death, cashed in and disappeared. Having owned a rock radio station in Phoenix, Arizona back in the 1960's and 1970's, I knew Janis Jopin. I also knew her innermost secrets and excesses which were sex, drugs and vodka with orange juice. The idea of anyone of these famous celebrity singers overdosing on drugs doesn't add up. But here is the weird part of this death trifecta. They not only crashed and burned 12 months apart, they were all 27 years old with money and fame and never met a drug they didn't love.
The above paragraph contains some interesting information on rock singers, but that’s not what this article is about. I was going to burn up the pages on a great Hollywood actor named Steve McQueen who also died young, (50) when I turned my attention to an actor named James Dean, his death, and the Porsche sports car that killed him. This famous and talented young Hollywood celebrity was dead at the age of 24. James Dean appeared in a few Broadway plays and enjoyed several small roles on the move screen back in the 1950’s but his Hollywood celebrity fame was just around the corner. Soon three movies would make him famous and a household name. East of Eden which produced an Academy Award nomination, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant. Like Steve McQueen, James Dean had a proclivity for several things. Porsche sports cars, smoking cigarettes and life in the fast lane.
Under the Hollywood sign, Celebrities live and die!
Janis Joplin in her vibrant years
Even more Hollywood deaths
In the 1950’s one man ruled when it came to building custom cars. This genius was George Barris. He and his brother Sam operated out of a small shop in Lynwood and had a famous Hollywood clientele list three pages long. I had earlier met George up at Lake Tahoe; we became friends and eventually rented a home in the Hollywood Hills where many of the famous celebrities lived. This is also where we met James Dean who was staying in a hotel on Hollywood Boulevard where most of the older dead celebrities had lived including Marilyn Monroe. James Dean had purchased a two-seater Porsche convertible to race in around the state. One weekend Dean visited a car striper named Dean Jefferies who rented space from Barris ostensibly to do some customized painting on his new roadster. At lunch George told James Dean he could do a bit of custom work on the Porsche then let Jefferies finish up with his designs. Dean needed a rush job since he was entered in a car race in Salinas, California. The job was completed and prior to James Dean leaving the shop, Jefferies told him that if he got in that Porsche Roadster, he’d be dead in a week. Dean laughed.
He was dead five days later after crashing his silver Porsche at an intersection only 42 miles north of my current home in California. George had the car towed and later sold it.