By on September 12, 2009

James Dean was a moderately talented actor. You could say he made his best career move behind the wheel of a Porsche. After his fatal accident, Dean’s “live fast-die young” legend grew to Giant-size, propelling his life (and death) to legendary status. As for the car [not shown], many came to believe that the “Lil’ Bastard” was evil, citing both the actor’s death and the death and injury experienced by those who came into contact with the car or bits thereof. Steven King and Snopes will fill in the blanks on that one. But the truth is that celebrities aren’t that different from you and me. The basic causation for their car crashes is the same as it ever was: human error and a light dusting of equipment limitations or failure.

James Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder was a limited edition race car. Dean fancied himself a bona-fide race car driver. In March 1955, Dean finished second in the Palm Springs Road Races and in May of that year, he placed third at Bakersfield. Later that month, Dean was running fourth at the Santa Monica Road Races, until he was sidelined with engine failure.

Even if one assumes that Dean had mad motoring skills, he was still destined to wear a toe tag at the end of the day on September 30, 1955. This one had bad driving and the cold reality of physics written all over it.

The lousy driving arrived courtesy a young man named Donald Turnipseed. Turnipseed (who blamed the light in his eye) made a poor judgment call when he turned left just in time to collide with the smaller Porsche’s driver’s side. The large 1950 Ford Custom Tudor coupe had a significant weight and mass advantage over the small race trimmed Porsche 550. To say the least. And state the obvious. The Porsche’s tubular race frame didn’t stand a chance.

The photos of the wreck proved this point. Dean was the unwilling recipient of a steering wheel and dash, while his luckier passenger was ejected from the car. Donald Turnupseed emerged virtually unscathed, outside of the emotional damage of Dean’s death by his boneheaded move.

Speaking of trauma, all of America has a “whoa” moment, when Jayne Mansfield lost her life in a collision with the trailer of a semi  on  June 29, 1967. Her 1966 Buick Electra land barge collided with a fog-obscured trailer. The collision killed all of the front seat occupants, including her dog. Mansfield’s children survived; the rear seat passengers were short enough to escape the trailer’s scythe-like effect.

The fatalities may have been avoided by slower speeds, but no former or current factory safety equipment would have prevented the Buick’s sudden transformation from hardtop to convertible. The urban myth about decapitation was false, but sudden head trauma certainly ushered Mansfield onto the Silver Screen in the Sky.

Gruesome pictures of the crash scene were so widely disseminated (this before the Internet) that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration soon mandated that all semi truck trailers had to be outfitted with a rear under-ride bar or bumper.

Not even one of the world’s safest automobiles—a Mercedes Benz S280—could save Princess Diana’s life. The Mercedes had every safety feature known to the auto industry, including a state-of-the-art passenger cell, traction control, air bags and braking systems. Once again, the driver was the weakest link.

While Prince Charles may have wished his wife dead several times an hour, the realization of that alleged desire was the simple result of impaired driving. Diana’s chauffeur was drunk and under the influence of pills when the crash occurred. Whether he was being chased or just plain stupid, Henri Paul over-cooked it, colliding with a concrete pillar in a Paris underpass.

Diana’s bodyguard survived the accident, but then he was wearing his seat belt and Princess Diana was not. A simple lesson often neglected in the flurry of conspiracy theories and speculation.

In fact, it’s too bad that the “teachable” moment is often lost (though not in the Mansfield crash) when celebrities die in car accidents. The public often focuses on the facts of the matter, and the star’s violently truncated career, instead of the causation. The truth is that celebrities face the same dangers on the road as you and I, only more so, as they have a tendency to intersect with fast cars, drugs and alcohol abuse. And, of course, hubris. For example . . .

In 1927, dancer and choreographer Isadora Duncan jumped into a friend’s Bugatti. As the driver began their destined-to-short journey, Duncan’s flowing scarf tangled in the car’s open-spoke rear wheel. It pulled taut, snapping her neck. The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes reports Duncan had “waved gaily to her friends, crying ‘Adieu, mes amis! Je vais a la gloire!'” Goodbye, my friends! I go to glory!

[For more of Jim Sutherland’s work, please visit mystarcollectorcar.com]

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97 Comments on “Dead Celebrities and the Cars That Killed Them...”


  • avatar
    Billy Bobb 2

    IIRC: Ernie Kovacs, looping his Corvair in the rain on Santa Monica Blvd.

  • avatar

    Not even one of the world’s safest automobiles—a Mercedes Benz S280—could save Princess Diana’s life. The Mercedes had every safety feature known to the auto industry, including a state-of-the-art passenger cell, traction control, air bags and braking systems. Once again, the driver was the weakest link.

    Great article, but I have a bone to pick. Even though you mentioned that Diana wasn’t wearing her seat belt, its the driver’s fault she died? What really gets me about this tragedy is that nobody remembers that she wasn’t wearing a seat belt, just that the paparazzi freaked out a drunk driver.

    Sometimes it’s a good idea to take personal responsibility for our actions: she shoulda known better to wear her seatbelt when the motorcycles came and the Benz started cooking.

    • 0 avatar
      theflyersfan

      What stings about that accident is that almost everyone came forward, and there’s photographs to prove, to say/show that Princess Di usually had her seat belt on when she rode in the front and back of a car.  This one time when she did not buckle up probably caused her death.  Then again, I believe it was shown that the sudden high speed trauma caused massive internal bleeding and a seat belt might not have been enough to save her life.

  • avatar
    AdamYYZ

    From Wikipedia:

    Sam Kinison was killed when his white 1989 Pontiac Turbo Trans Am was struck on U.S. Route 95, four miles (6 km) north of Interstate 40 and several miles west of Needles, California, by a pickup truck driven by a 17-year-old male who had been drinking alcohol.

    OH! OOOOHHHHHHHHH!

  • avatar
    findude

    The French writer Albert Camus died in a car accident in a Facel Vega belonging to, and driven by, his publisher. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facel_Vega)

  • avatar
    Adub

    In regards to Diana, I love the idea of a large limo-like car crashing while fleeing from deadly European scooters helmed by paparazzi. After all, those Vespas are hell on the paint.

    Still, I think of the line from Goldeneye when the evil (and drunk) general is being chased by James Bond in a tank and they encounter traffic: “Use the bumper- that’s what it’s for!”

  • avatar

    Very interesting. Couple of bones to pick.

    The line about Prince Charles wishing his wife dead is gratuitous. I doubt very much that he ever wished the mother of his children dead.

    Agree w/ Sajeev, above. Diana’s failure to use the seatbelt demonstrates a Darwinian element in her death.

    And I note that in the case of Jayne Mansfield’s death (which I remember quite vividly as it was my birthday, but which I thought happened in a Beetle), the teachable moment was not lost.

    Finally, was Donald’s last name really TurnUpseed? The root vegetable is turnip.

    Despite the quibbles, very interesting story.

  • avatar

    David

    Quibbles resolved.

    • 0 avatar

      Quibbles only partly resolved — as of November 12, it still says, “Donald Turnupseed emerged virtually unscathed, outside of the emotional damage of Dean’s death by his boneheaded move”, with two u’s and no i in “Turnupseed “.

      [Edit:] Then again, maybe that’s the correct way, and David’s “correction” wasn’t actually one; Wikipedia has him as “Turnupseed” with two u’s and no i, and that spelling certainly seems to be the one used by the majority of commenters here.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    Dead Man’s Curve

    http://tinyurl.com/qle2bd

  • avatar
    Brett Woods

    Tim Horton – Corvette – QEW to Hamilton

    • 0 avatar
      professorchris

      Early on the morning of February 21, 1974, Tim Horton was driving on the Queen Elizabeth Way from Toronto to his home in Buffalo after the Sabres had played in Toronto the night before, in his 1983 De Tomaso Pantera sports car, a gift from Sabres’ GM George “Punch” Imlach. He was negotiating a curve on the QEW where it crosses over Twelve Mile Creek (Ontario) in St. Catharines when he lost control and hit a concrete culvert. The impact flipped the vehicle and Horton, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected. Horton was reported dead on arrival at the local hospital. A police officer pursuing Horton’s vehicle said that he had been travelling at over 160 km/h (100 mph).

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Actually, the Isadora Duncan car was an Amilcar, not a Bugatti. Though, they are very similar, so similar in fact, that she nicknamed the owner Benoit Falchetto “Buggatti”.

    But I’ve always being morbidly fascinated by the Duncan and Camus cases. Je ne sais quoi, as they say…

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Brooke Shields may still be alive, but I think those VW Routan ads were killing her.

  • avatar

    Ingvar

    The Bugatti website (believe it or not) says it was one of theirs.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    Another quibble, Her 1966 Buick Electra land barge collided with a fog-obscured trailer.

    Not that it matters, if rear end a semi with a passenger car, but I believe she was riding in a Lincoln Continental.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    The Wikipedia page on Dunacn says it’s an Amilcar. And I’ve heard that before as well, but I can’t corroborate that.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isadora_Duncan

  • avatar
    rudiger

    FWIW, there was actually a ‘Big Bastard’, and it was none other than Bill Hickman, the legendary stunt driver who drove the Charger in Bullitt (among other things). He was following Dean in a Ford station wagon support vehicle as they were going to a race and was one of the first to come upon the accident scene after Dean had his unfortunate run-in with Mr. Turnipseed (who immediately went into hiding). To this day, Turnipseed’s whereabouts are unknown.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    “To this day, Turnipseed’s whereabouts are unknown.”

    Not true. Turnupseed lived in Central California, ran a successful electrical device repair business and died in 1995.

    http://www.findadeath.com/Deceased/t/turnupseed/thedonald.htm

  • avatar
    rudiger

    Sam P: “Not true. Turnupseed lived in Central California, ran a successful electrical device repair business and died in 1995.”I wonder if it was due to the spelling of his name that it was thought he disappeared. I’d always seen it spelled as ‘Turnipseed’.

  • avatar
    red60r

    Ernie Kovacs’ death put the Corvair on the brink; Ralph Nader pushed it over the edge. In the long run, the Corvair was destined for the scrap pile due to multiple failings: terrible heater, worse brakes, British-style propensity for oil leaks, incurable rattles from the long shift linkage (a poorly-cushioned tube ran from the base of the shifter lever back to the tranny), and execrable dealer attitudes toward the model. I should know — I had a 1961 coupe for two years. Suspension mods cured the wild oversteer, but stopping from speed was always an adventure.

  • avatar
    BMWnut

    On 13 September 1982, Princess Grace of Monaco and her daughter Princess Stephanie were involved in an accident when their Rover 3500 P4 careered off one of the winding roads leading to Monaco. Princess Stephanie suffered only a few injuries. Princess Grace had suffered a mild stroke which caused her to lose control of her vehicle. She was found unconscious and died in hospital the next day.

    http://www.channel4.com/4car/ft/feature/top+ten/1737/8

  • avatar
    Matt51

    Ted Kennedy, Chappaquiddick. Busby Berkeley crash which killed two.

  • avatar
    BMWnut

    In January 1959, world champion racing driver Mike Hawthorn crashed his modified Jaguar 3.4 saloon in a fatal. Driving along the infamous A3 Hoggs Back near Guildford, Hawthorn encountered his friend Rob Walker driving his 300SL, registered ROB 2. A race ensued and the cars sped down the rain-soaked hill at up to 100 mph. Hawthorn overtook the Mercedes in a left-hand curve as they passed John Coombes’ garage. Going into the right-hander that followed, the Jaguar started to slide, spun, and then careered backwards across the carriageway. It clipped a traffic island and a truck before coming to rest wrapped around a tree. The car was split in two and Hawthorn died within minutes as a result of a fractured skull.

    http://www.channel4.com/4car/ft/feature/top+ten/1737/11

    • 0 avatar
      shiney2

      Its a weird thought, but if that were to happen today in the US, Rob Walker would have been considered an accessory to the death for participating in a street race, and might well have spent the next 40 years in prison…

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    4/23/70 – Herb Shriner (humorist and tv personality in the 50s and Wil Shriner’s father) is reported to have been killed when the brakes failed in his Studebaker Avanti. Shriner was a car collector, and the Avanti was part of his collection. Some of his others can be seen at the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Also, blues singer Bessie Smith died following a 1937 accident in a Packard. I don’t know the year or model.

    It occurs to me how few celebrities have died in car crashes. Car travel must be pretty safe when you are famous.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Almost forgot – Tom Mix the cowboy star died in a 1940 accident in his 37 Cord 812.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Bass player Cliff Burton in Metallica, during a tour in Sweden, when their tour bus skidded and flipped, ending Burtons life when he was thrown out of window and the bus fell over him:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cliff_Burton

  • avatar
    Colinpolyps

    Brett Woods :
    September 12th, 2009 at 10:34 am

    Tim Horton – Corvette – QEW to Hamilton

    Correction there Brett Tim bought it in a Ford de Tomaso Pantera that had been given to him by George “Punch” Imlach, the GM of the Buffalo Sabres. He was enroute back to Buffalo after a game in Toronto and had stopped for drinks with the original founder of his franchise. He took out a light standard on the QEW between Hamilton and Saint Catherines at a viciously high rate of speed.

  • avatar

    Very interesting read!

  • avatar
    Matt51

    http://www.car-accidents.com/celebrity-car-accidents.html

    Patton.

  • avatar

    A few days from the anniversary of 70’s glam rocker Marc Bolan’s final hit being a Sycamore tree …

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Bolan

  • avatar
    Matt51

    James Stacy, on a motorcycle, drunk driver tore his leg and arm off, and killed his girlfriend. 1973.

  • avatar
    Matt51

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Road_accident_deaths_in_California

    Too many to list. And all the other states too.

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    Marc Bolan – Mini 1275GT
    Eddie Cochran – Ford Consul taxi
    Hank Williams – 1952 Cadillac
    George Patton – 1938 Cadillac

  • avatar
    SpannerX

    “Pelle” Lindbergh:
    On November 10, 1985, he drove his customized Porsche 930 Turbo into a wall in front of a Somerdale, New Jersey, elementary school, fatally injuring himself and also injuring two others. Lindbergh died the next day, November 11. The medical staff at the hospital kept him on life support until his father arrived from Sweden to say his final goodbye, signing the papers to end life support. At the time, he was returning from the Coliseum, the former practice center for the Flyers located in Voorhees Township. Law enforcement disclosed that he was intoxicated at the time of the accident, with a blood alcohol content level of .24%, well above .1% which was New Jersey’s legal limit at the time. Lindbergh topped the fan voting for the 1986 NHL All-Star Game. It would mark the first time a player was chosen posthumously for an all-star team in a major North American team sport. Sean Taylor’s selection to the 2008 Pro Bowl was the only other time this has happened. Though his number 31 was never officially retired by the Flyers, no Flyer has worn the number 31 since Lindbergh’s death.

  • avatar
    Darth Lefty

    T.E. Lawrence on his Brough Superior! 1935.

    The neurosurgeon who treated him went on to be a major advocate for crash helmets and laws on wearing them.

  • avatar
    corsa

    Ernie Kovacs had been drinking before he got into his Corvair on his final drive… and there is speculation he was trying to light a cigar when he lost control… definitely a no-no in a rear-engined car!

    @red60r: My ’65 Corvair’s stock brakes are amazing, in fact, it easily outbrakes the 4-wheel-discs my old 1983 Toyota Supra had.

  • avatar
    Lokkii

    Mike-The-Bike Hailwood.

    Motorcycle Champion and Formula 1 driver.

    Hailwood is best known for domination of the Isle of Man TT. By 1967, he had won 12 times on the infamous island mountain course including three straight wins during the 1961 event, losing the fourth when his bike broke down while leading. He won what many historians consider to be the most dramatic Isle of Man race of all time, the 1967 Senior TT against his , Giacomo Agostini. In that race he set a lap record of 108.77 mph on the infamous Honda 500-4, that stood for the next 8 years.

    Retired from bikes the next year…. and completely from racing in 1975.

    Unitl 1978 – He raced again at the Isle of Man mainly on a whim; he wanted to ride there again.

    Victory on the “outdated” Ducati 900SS.

    Death – He was driving a Rover with his two kids.
    A truck made an illegal turn though the barriers into the central reservation. The Rover hit it. Michelle, aged nine, was killed instantly; Mike and David were taken to hospital. Mike died two days later age 40. David survived. The truck driver was fined £100

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    Gen. George Patton died from injuries he sustained when his Cadillac 75 hit a truck in December 45.

    He always wanted to go out with the last bullet of the last battle of the last war; he would not doubt have been ticked off at such an inglorious death.

    Seatbelts and padded everything inside cars go a long way…

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    the car swerved to the left of the two-lane carriageway before colliding head-on with the thirteenth pillar supporting the roof at an estimated speed of 105 km/h (65 mph).[7] It then spun and hit the stone wall of the tunnel backwards, finally coming to a stop. The impact of the crash reduced the car to a pile of wreckage. There was no guard rail between the pillars to prevent this.

    The amazing thing is that everyone in that car who was wearing his seatbelt survived.

  • avatar

    Okay post, I guess.

    I wish it drew more common threads and had a better wind-up.

    .
    For me, the biggest part of the equation is Hubris.
    Driving skill does not increase proportionally to wallet-size, but pride/arrogance often does.

    Ex: Charles “Mask” Lewis died racing a Porsche at Baruth speeds in his Ferrari. Link Environmental factors were involved there, as he hit a very strong light pole instead of skittering on a hillside. Mask was always kinda nuts.

    .
    Also, it would be interesting to throw in a Scorecard/Tally per variable at the end. Alcohol/Drugs, Victim Driver Error, Opposing Driver Error, Hubris, Environment, Ham Sandwich, etc.

    ++please put a <br> tag between the words, “one. But” in the first paragraph. The one starting with ‘But’ is the good one before the end windup.

    .
    +It’s a real shame that Nick Hogan isn’t dead instead of turning his friend into a vegetable.
    Why does it always seem the guy in the front passenger seat gets the worst of it?
    And what kind of yokel dumbass gives a car with ~500+ hp to a teenager?

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    It’s a shame the simple lessons of Diana’s death regarding seat belt use and drunk driving were overshadowed by various conspiracy theories. Of course, that’s what sells in today’s media.

    Although the great writer David Halberstam would probably object to being a “celebrity”, his passing was painful. That the surviving driver, who was mostly responsible for Halberstam’s death, tried to dodge responsibility was especially disgusting.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    Further note to the Jayne Manfield case: one of the kids who survived in the back seat was Mariska Hargitay, who went on to become an actress herself, most notably in Law and Order SVU. I wonder if she’s pretty consistent about seat belt use. I know that I got religion about seat belts after I kissed the windshield of my VW after parking it in the rear end of a large Chevy at about 25 mph.

  • avatar
    jet_silver

    Dennis Brain, perhaps the best french horn player ever, died in a wreck in his TR2.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    On Thursday, July 16, 1981…Chapin was driving…the Long Island Expressway…he put on his emergency flashers…slowed to about 15 miles (24 km) per hour and veered into the center lane, nearly colliding with another car, swerved left, then to the right again, ending up directly in the path of a tractor-trailer truck (which) rammed the rear of Chapin’s blue 1975 VW Rabbit, rupturing the fuel tank by climbing its back and causing it to burst into flames…able to get Chapin out of the burning car…helicopter to a hospital…ten doctors tried for 30 minutes to revive him…had suffered a heart attack and “died of cardiac arrest,”…no way of knowing if it occurred before or after the accident.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Chapin

  • avatar
    red60r

    @corsa: Although the ’64 Corvair had an added “camber-compensator” leaf spring under the rear halfshafts; starting with the 1965 model year, Chevy got more serious about the design of the Corvair’s underpinnings, going to a real Corvette-style IRS and bigger brakes. Kovacs was driving a ’63. Four years of unnecessary sloppy engineering were 3.99+0.01 too many — the tiny brakes and cheapo suspension in the ’60-63 models were for the down-market positioning of the line. By the time GM made substantive improvements, the damage had been done. The air-cooled engine was just a bigger VW. Even Porsche eventually had to go to water cooling in order to get better performance out of their flat six.

    Many of the examples in this thread serve to show that alcohol and cars don’t mix. (Even in the fuel, eh? But that’s a different rant.)

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    He was not really a celeb, but back around ’92-’94, Saab had a new CEO, but high hopes were dashed as he took the great off-ramp in the sky, after his Saab 900(0?) struck a moose which penetrated the windscreen killing him.

  • avatar

    celeb death Race car driver and international playboy Porfirio Rubirosa, in a Ferrari in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris, 1965.

  • avatar

    addendum: famous for an extra-long Johnson, his many lovers said to include Marilyn Monroe.

  • avatar

    Ihatetrees: +10

  • avatar
    seabrjim

    Funny car driver “jungle Jim” Lieberman in a traffic crash. Cozy Powell drummer extaordinare, talking on a cell phione at 100 mph during a blowout. We saw Pelle Lindberghs car the next day at Tomkinsons towing on the White horse pike in Lindenwold and it was a bloody mess. What a young talent wasted.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    @David Holzmann:

    That was a very funny addendum. Anyone equipped like that, and having done Marilyn Monroe, deserves to die a glorious death. I can find no better ending, than to wrap a Ferrari round a tree in Bois de Boulogne.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Linda Lovelace, of Deep Throat fame, died when she lost control of her car in April 2002.

  • avatar
    Matt51

    Indian Larry, who was on TV shows, built choppers. He used to ride down the highway standing on the seat. He was giving a demonstration in a shopping center in North Carolina in 1994, riding at about 10 mph, fell off, hit his head on the ground, and died. No helmet.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    All things considered there really aren’t that many dead celebrities who have died in car accidents. Here are a few more:

    R&B singer, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, most famous as member of the group, TLC, but who also had successful solo career, died in La Ceiba, Honduras in 2002. While driving on a two-lane road in a Mitsubishi Pajero (Montero) with 7 passengers, Ms. Lopes had attempted to pass a truck only to find another vehicle coming at her in the opposite direction. She swerved off the road and the vehicle hit two trees and the rolled several times throwing Ms. Lopes and 3 of the passengers out of the car. Ms Lopes died from severe head injuries, the only fatality from the accident. Ironically, the entire accident had been record on video tape by the front-seat passenger.

    Austrian new wave singer, Falco, (famous for his musical hits, “Der Komissar” and “Rock Me Amadeus”) died of severe injuries following collision between his Mitsubishi Pajero (Montero) and a bus near the city of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic in 1998. It had been reported that autoposy results showed he had high levels of alcohol and cocaine in his system at the time of this death.

    Alternative rocker, Chris Bell, famous for his work with Alex Chilton as a member of the music group, Big Star, died in 1978 in East Memphis, Tennessee after losing control of his Triumph TR-6 and striking a wooden light pole on the side of the road killing him instantly.

    Olympic runner, Steve Prefontaine, died in 1975 after losing control of his MG B convertible which ran off the road and rolled over in Eugene, Oregon. Autopsy results determined that he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.16 percent, over the legal limit at the time.

    Abstract Expressionist Painter Jackson Pollack died in 1956 after losing control of his Oldsmobile convertible while driving drunk. A passenger in the car was also killed and a second passenger was injured.

    Although we’ve already mentioned Tom Mix, killed in his Cord, the accident itself was unusual in that when braking and swerving to avoid a bridge that was under contruction, he dislodged a large heavy suitcase on a luggage rack behind him. The suitcase flew up and hit Mix in the back of the head, killing him.

    Country singer Dottie West, famous for writing the song “Country Sunshine” which because a successful commercial for Coca-Cola and for her numerous duets with Kenny Rogers, as well as for her solo work, died following a car accident. When her own car wouldn’t start she asked an 81 year old neighbor to drive her to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry where she was scheduled to perform. At Dottie’s urging the man was speeding because Dottie was concerned about being late for her appearance. The car left a ramp to the Opry car park, became air-born and crashed. Miss West suffered a ruptured spleen and liver. Her spleen was removed and she underwent two additional surgeries attempting to stop internal bleeding of her liver. She died during surgery to attempt to control the internal bleeding 3 days after the accident. Don’t know what kind of a car it was.

    Renaissance man, Steve Allen, died following a seemingly minor traffic accident when his car was struck by another backing out of a driveway while on his way to Encino, California. Mr. Allen exchanged insurance information with the other driver, arrived at his destination, and, not feeling well, decided to take a nap. While napping he suffered at massive heart attack, caused by the traffic accident earlier that day and died shortly thereafter. Autopsy results showed that he had also suffered four broken ribs. Don’t know what kind of car he was driving.

    Novelist Margaret Mitchell was killed by a car while crossing a street in Atlanta. Although we don’t know what kind of a car it was that struck her, it was widely reported that she was struck down by a taxi cab, although this is NOT true. The driver of the car was employed as a taxi driver, but was off-duty and driving his own personal car at the time of the accident. He was also, however, drunk. Miss Mitchell was reportedly well-known for walking into, and not paying attention to, traffic. However, the driver of the car was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and served 11 months in prison.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Master of the conspiracy-thriller, Alan J. Pakula died in a surreal freak accident:

    “Pakula died in 1998 in a freak car accident on the Long Island Expressway in Melville, New York, aged 70. A driver in front of him struck a metal pipe, which went through Pakula’s windshield, striking him in the head and causing him to swerve off the road and into a fence. He was killed instantly.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_J._Pakula

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Frank Muller, a very successful BOT narrator, arguably the best at the time, took several yrs to succumb from a motorcycle crash some where between Vegas and LA. He sustained severe head injuries. I think he was helmetless.

  • avatar
    dagmeister

    JFK died in a lincoln continental…

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Although the great writer David Halberstam would probably object to being a “celebrity”, his passing was painful.

    Of course, he wrote The Reckoning, which detailed the decline of the American auto industry and the rise of the Japanese in the US market.

    Somewhat ironic, Halberstam died as a passenger in a Camry, which collided with an Infiniti. A third vehicle involved in the wreck was a Nissan.

  • avatar
    Bob12

    Jim Sutherland,
    A technical point regarding the Diana crash:
    Operation Paget (the Metropolitan Police inquiry) indicated that, despite suggestions to the contrary, in reality no seat belts were worn by anyone in the Mercedes.

    Source: p. 421 of the Operation Paget report.

    http://www.met.police.uk/news/docs/OperationPagetReport.pdf

  • avatar
    Colinpolyps

    Johnny Canada :
    September 12th, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Marc Bolan – Mini 1275GT
    Eddie Cochran – Ford Consul taxi
    Hank Williams – 1952 Cadillac
    George Patton – 1938 Cadillac,

    Johnny — Hank Williams took the dirt nap sitting in the back seat of his Cadillac while the driver was taking him to his next gig. The car was not involved in an accident, he just passed out drunk, as, well as drunk as he always got and died in his sleep.

  • avatar
    Bob12

    Justin Berkowitz:

    IIRC (many years ago, I don’t even remember the source–it may have been Farago’s biography of Patton), I read that the primary (or major contributing) cause of his death in the crash was his head striking a clock mounted in the car. He survived for long enough to make a joke about the clock IIRC…

  • avatar
    Colinpolyps

    Two more hockey deaths.

    On May 3, 1999, after the Carolina Hurricanes NHL hockey team were eliminated from the playoffs in Boston and returned to Raleigh, Steve Chiasson wrecked his pickup truck on the way home from a team party at the home of Gary Roberts and was killed on impact. According to teammate Kevin Dineen, Chiasson refused to call a taxi or accept a ride home, insisting on driving himself despite a blood alcohol content later found to be 0.27, over three times North Carolina’s legal limit of 0.08.

    Although not a motoring accident tragedy struck
    Garnet Edward “Ace” Bailey (June 13, 1948 – September 11, 2001) who was a Canadian professional ice hockey player and scout who was a member of Stanley Cup and Memorial Cup winning teams. He died at age 53 when pilot hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the World Trade Center in New York City, during the September 11, 2001 attacks.

  • avatar
    walksatnight

    Billy Martin was killed in a pickup truck that ran off the road into a ditch.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    Bob12: “IIRC (many years ago, I don’t even remember the source–it may have been Farago’s biography of Patton), I read that the primary (or major contributing) cause of his death in the crash was his head striking a clock mounted in the car. He survived for long enough to make a joke about the clock IIRC…”Supposedly, the accident that killed Patton was a relatively low-speed impact with minor damage to either vehicle (I think one of the bars of the Cadillac’s grille was bent). Patton’s injury was a direct result of the old, rigid BOF construction where, without modern, crumple-zones or seatbelts, all of the force of the impact was transferred directly into the passenger compartment. The theory is that Patton’s head bonked the Cadillac’s clock much harder than it otherwise might have.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    As a side note regarding Patton. One biographer blames the prior head injuries Patton received whilst playing polo as contributory his to feistiness and to the fatal injury.

  • avatar
    NickR

    none other than Bill Hickman, the legendary stunt driver who drove the Charger in Bullitt

    He ruined that movie for me because everytime I watch it my wife remarks on how hot he was.

    The urban myth about decapitation was false

    Not entirely. In that most famous of photographs, there is a wig seen laying in the road. It isn’t a wig, it is the top inch or so of her skull which, along with her scalp, was sheered off.

    +1 to Ingvar’s comment…no one like that should suffer the ignominy of dying of old-age.

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    @red60r: “Kovacs was driving a ‘63.”

    Highly unlikely, for two reasons: First, the Corvair wagon (which is the body style he was driving) was last made for the 1962 model year. Second, Kovacs died on January 13, 1962; the ’63s wouldn’t have been out by then.

    Supposedly the Corvair was usually driven by Kovacs’ wife (Edie Adams). The oft-repeated story is that the couple arrived separately to a party at the home of Milton Berle. Kovacs wanted to leave early, but his car (a Rolls-Royce) was blocked in, so he decided to drive home in his wife’s car.

  • avatar
    Autosavant

    “The cars that killed them”? Oh REALLY? as if th ecars were some kind of premeditated murderers of these ‘stars’?

    In every single case, it was the duty of that bubblebrain celeb, whether it was an auto illiterate lit old lady OR even James Dean, to be fully aware of the potential and the limitations of their vehicles.

    It is not the cars fault if they were driven by ignorants, drunks, junkies, or all of the above.

  • avatar
    skor

    F.W. Murnau, of Nosferatu horror film fame. I don’t know what kind of car it was, but I think it’s easily the best car death story posted here so far.

    “Murnau did not live to see the premiere of his last film. He died in an automobile accident in Santa Barbara, California on 11 March 1931.[2] The car was driven by Murnau’s 14-year old Filipino valet Garcia Stevenson, who was also killed in the accident. As Murnau was gay, his death was attended by rumors of his personal life. Among this gossip was the assertion that Murnau was performing fellatio on Stevenson when the car leaped off the road.Kenneth Anger in his book Hollywood Babylon writes that “Few around the Fox lot had not heard that Murnau favored gays when it came to casting. Murnau’s death in 1931 inspired a flood tide of speculation.”

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    skor, maybe your post should be the inspiration for a new thread “got road dead due to road head”!

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Horses killed their fair share of people too.

  • avatar
    NickR

    Which begs the question, which of today’s celebrities is going to die behind the wheel, and what will they be driving?

    Note, you can’t pick Lindsay Lohan/Mercedes or Paris Hilton/Bentley…that’s practically cheating.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    @NickR:

    I’d put my bets on Pete Doherty, while driving under the influence in one of his beloved Jaguar XJ:s.

  • avatar
    MisterB

    Poor safety design in the tunnel made Diana’s death possible. The concrete pillars in the tunnel were not connected by concrete dividers. In the U.S. the pillars would all be connected by our typical concrete bariers. If the bariers had been in place most likely there would have been no fatalities.

  • avatar
    texlovera

    Ah yes. I remember the old joke that Diana died from “car-pool tunnel syndrome”.

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    Now that you mention it, ever notice how much less common it is nowadays for people – celebrities or common folks – to die in automobile accidents?

    Sort of gives “real world” substance to the recently posted statistics, which showed how total traffic fatalities in the United States are lower today, while miles traveled are way up. The fatalities per million miles traveled have definitely dropped in the last few decades.

  • avatar
    Nicodemus

    @ BMWnut :

    “On 13 September 1982, Princess Grace of Monaco and her daughter Princess Stephanie were involved in an accident when their Rover 3500 P4

    http://www.channel4.com/4car/ft/feature/top+ten/1737/8“

    Small point of order, there’s no such car as a Rover 3500 P4. The car was a P6, a very different beast and ironically one of the safest vehicles of it’s time.

    Here’s another one for the list:

    Bon Scott – lead Singer of AC/DC who died in a Renault 5.

  • avatar
    Airhen

    Nice article…

    Yesterday I was at a car museum with about 100 or so old cars. I was thinking at the time how the passengers in these old cars were just along for the ride and not realizing it as we do looking back now, but lucky to arrive alive.

    I’m so thankful for today’s safety improvements.

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    @David Holtzman: “Finally, was Donald’s last name really TurnUpseed? The root vegetable is turnip.”

    Yes on both counts. Easily verified.

  • avatar
    pb35

    Harry Chapin (singer/songwriter) was rear ended by a semi in a VW Rabbit on the Long Island Expressway.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Chapin

  • avatar
    rudiger

    BuzzDog: “Supposedly the Corvair was usually driven by Kovacs’ wife (Edie Adams). The oft-repeated story is that the couple arrived separately to a party at the home of Milton Berle. Kovacs wanted to leave early, but his car (a Rolls-Royce) was blocked in, so he decided to drive home in his wife’s car.”That’s actually quite an interesting bit of trivia. I would have bet that Kovacs was driving a Corvair convertible and that it was his primary means of transportation. I never would have thought he’d be able to afford a Rolls-Royce as Kovacs seemed to have a reputation of being bad with money and finance.

    For example, he was supposedly an avid poker player (but a bad one, similiar to Chico Marx who played poker with the right people) and once blew a full 25% of his television show’s season budget on one, 5-second gag (the Volkswagen that fell through the floor).

  • avatar
    wsn

    Not even one of the world’s safest automobiles—a Mercedes Benz S280—could save Princess Diana’s life.

    —————————————–

    False. The S280 could save her. Just that she refused to be saved by making the explicit choice of not wearing a seat belt.

  • avatar
    NoChryslers

    Here is a site: http://www.who2.com/deathbycarcrash.html

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    Newscaster  Jessica Savitch: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessica_Savitch
    Her car crashed into the Delaware River, where the driver, she and her dog drowned. In college this led to the sick joke: “What did they find in Jessica Savitch’s glovebox? A: Ted Kennedy’s maps.”
     

  • avatar
    CyCarConsulting

    I believe a 1928 Porter ( my mother the car ) killed Jerry Van Dykes career for years.

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    Tara Browne, 12/18/66. He blew his mind out in a car*. He didn’t notice that the lights had changed. A crowd of people stood and stared…they’d seen his face before; nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords.
    *a Lotus Elan

  • avatar
    RogerB34

    Unexplained part of the Dean story is that none of his friends or associates stepped forward in his behalf.  Turnipseed got off and Dean got the blame.  Evidence shows that Turnipseed saw the Porsche close, corrected right in a left turn and then continued the left turn.  The intersection was unobstructed without trees or buildings.   The road was visible for at least a mile Turnipseed’s direction of travel.    

  • avatar

    John Carpenter killed a lot of 1958 Plymouths to film Christine and that was no accident.

  • avatar
    59plymouthsavoy

    Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle in a Ferrari (or Pantera?) driven by Vince Neil

  • avatar
    DreadUK

    What a nice old article.

    My old man was a celebrity, a minor one by any standards, but a 1960’s celebrity in Colonial Hong Kong nonetheless. He was a successful racing driver who died, predictably, at the wheel of a car. However it was in his 70’s when he was driving his Fiat Panda in the grounds of a hospital following a blood test, prior to imminent, minor heart surgery. His death was a as result of a heart attack, nothing to do with the car or his driving.

    Which, as a point of contradiction, leads me to say that most ‘celebity’ deaths in cars is because of bad driving. Not because these people are celebrities, or indeed, driving big, fast, sporty (or otherwise) machines but simply because they are bad drivers.

    Universally, the driving test is taken in rudimentary, mundane vehicles that are, by law and common sense, never taken beyond the legal speed limit, nor into dangerous conditions. And if they are (I have been a driving instructor and used to promote driving in dangerous conditions) there is always someone beside the learner driver able to at least advise if not take control.

    On passing their test, the qualification for buying and driving a car well beyond their capabilities comes down to the new drivers ability to afford whatever car they desire. A learner driver can jump into a Ferrari, or Porsche, in Deans case, and drive it with no further training.

    And despite Deans competition credentials, which were limited in any event, driving cars on the road is an entirely different skill to driving on the road.

    Why is acceptable that drivers pass a test (at least in the UK) borne from 1930’s technologies, conditions and practices, and are then allowed to drive a Ferrari?

    Our current driving test does not mandate motorway driving, overtaking (where I understand most accidents occur) driving in fog, snow, heavy rain or where the roads are busy (City traffic) like London, Glasgow or Manchester. Nor does it emphasise maintaining the legal speed limit to avoid frustrating following drivers, and worst of all, driving instructors are required to only pass the same driving test as the drivers they are teaching!

    We consistently apportion blame for driving incidents to care, drink, drugs and other drivers when it is invariably the drivers fault. In Deans case, and possibly Mike Hawthorns case, although details are sketchy about that one, they were evidently the victims of stupid drivers however my contention is that had they been taught to drive on the road properly they may have avoided a fatal crash.

    And whilst all of us believe we are good drivers, even those that strictly obey the rules learned in driving lessons, the fact is the best competition drivers are novices on the road.

    Did I learn this as a driving instructor? Nope, I was a Police trained driver (I was a Copper) and RoSpa trained driver as well and having attended innumerable fatal accidents realised that despite the ‘unusual’ or ‘unexpected’ circumstances, most crashes can be avoided by secondary (or advanced, but I hate that elitist term) training. Nor is it difficult, secondary training, far from complicating, simplifies the process of driving and gets the occupants of a car from A to B more quickly and safely than anyone without it.

    As for Diana, I’ll only make the comment that had her driver been a trained Police Traffic driver (Ex or otherwise) she would not have been killed on that occasion. I am astonished that an individual as perceptibly as important as her, was consigned to the safety of a civilian (as far as I can gather) driver with questionable driving skills.

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