1955 – James Dean dies in a car accident

No actor has ever had quite the same impact as James Dean. For a man who starred in only three films before his tragic death at the age of 24, he casts a long shadow. Those three films – “Giant“, “East of Eden” and most of all, “Rebel Without a Cause“, made him a symbol of restless youth, and of living fast and dying young.

But the car accident that caused his death was not his fault – the other driver had entered Dean’s lane and collided with him head-on. Contrary to popular legend, Dean was not intoxicated, high or (in any context of the word) speeding at the time of the accident.

According to Dean’s close friend Dennis Hopper, Dean had been planning to quit acting after his next film and take up directing instead.

Referenced in:

James Dean – the Eagles
We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel

1979 – Singer James Reyne is hit by a car

So imagine this: it’s the day before your band’s big debut. Your first single is doing well on the charts, but you’re still recording the rest of your first album. You’re even going to be on national television, on the highest rating music show in the country. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, your lead singer could hit by a car as he walks across Swanston St in central Melbourne. You could all wind up waiting anxiously at the hospital to see if he’s going to be okay.

As it happens, he is. James Reyne suffered minor fractures to his arms. Australian Crawl recorded their first appearance on Countdown the next day, Reyne sporting a matched pair of plaster casts on his forearms. Disaster was narrowly averted, and Reyne’s distinctive vocal style went national for the first time. The legend began, and the band later memorialised the incident in song on their first album.

Referenced in:

Indisposed – Australian Crawl

While this date is almost certainly incorrect, this song was too much fun for me to leave out. I’ve dated it based on the generally agreed date that the car accident occurred the day before Reyne appeared on Countdown sporting plaster casts on both arms. The only problem with that is that Countdown was most likely pre-taped – this date is based on the broadcast date. it’s as close as we’re likely to get barring the release of the definitive James Reyne biography, though.

1981 – Harry Chapin dies in a car accident

Somewhere in the afterlife, Harry Foster Chapin is playing a screamingly funny, posthumously written song regarding his own death. Which he co-wrote with James Joyce.

Maybe.

Harry Chapin was an American folk singer, probably best known for songs like Taxi, W*O*L*D and 30,000 Pounds of Bananas. He is also the writer and original performer of Cats in the Cradle – not, as is often claimed, Cat Stevens. Chapin was a poet of the everyday, chronicling the hopes and fears, the failures and the triumphs, of Anytown, USA. His nuanced work remains an excellent anodyne to the more saccharine visions of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies. He also wrote possibly the funniest song ever to describe a real fatal road accident (the afore-mentioned 30,000 Pounds of Bananas).

He was also a fierce idealist, working on the boards of many charities, and donating an estimated third of all his concert earnings to various charitable causes. He was particularly active in supporting the arts, and in the fight against poverty and hunger.

Chapin died in a car accident that was most likely caused by him suffering a heart attack behind the wheel. He was only 38 years old.

The world is poorer for his passing.

Referenced in:

Ode to Harry – M.O.D.

This is my blog, so this is not an apology, just an explanation: I feel very strongly indeed about the work of Mr. Chapin. And in 28 years, this is the first chance I’ve found to eulogise him. Now for the love of whatever you hold holy, track down his music. I can’t say for sure that you won’t be sorry, but I’d be extremely surprised if you were.