Why Are We Interested in Celebrity Fatal Car Crashes?
James Dean's Fatal Car Crash
I grew up in the Central Valley of California and occasionally our family made the long trip to the coast. We left the fertile grounds of the San Joaquin Valley driving past orchards, rows of vines, and fields of alfalfa. The rich agricultural belt turned in rolling hills of dead weeds and nameless towns which did even warrant the cost of ink on a map.
The trip seemed to take forever, especially when you're 8 years old. The only marker we had along the way, was when our parents pointed out the site of James Dean's car crash. As a youngster I had no idea who he was other than someone who had been famous and was involved in fatal car crash in the middle of nowhere. This was usually followed by my parents shaking their heads. The accident happened on September 30, 1955 when Dean's Porsche Spyder collided with another car driven by a young college student, named Donald Turnupseed.
I thought it was just my family who made a place of death a landmark on the scenery, but I was wrong.
Why Do Celebrity Crash Victims Become Icons?
Princess Grace's Car Accident
Fast forward 20 years and I am with my in-laws in the French Riveria driving along the winding road from Monaco. My mother in law points to a spot and says, “That is where Princess Grace's car went over”. With that thought I encouraged my father-in-law, who was driving, to be careful as he too was glancing over the cliff where her car plummeted over. With what seemed like dangerously low crash barriers and narrow lanes, I became too nervous to enjoy the view across the Mediterranean Sea.
A chauffeur was going to drive Princess Grace and Stephanie that day but as there were dresses and hat boxes in the back seat, she said there wasn't the space and decided to drive herself. It is believed that Princess Grace had a stroke which led to her losing control of her car, an 11 year old Rover 3500. A car which was driving behind them said he saw no brake lights as the car zigzagged as Princess Grace tried to regain control on the steep decline in the road with a sharp 150° bend. Stephanie later recalled, she tried to pull the handbrake on the car before it went over the edge, and somersaulted falling 120 feet. Neither were wearing a seat belt and when the car came to rest, Stephanie was crumpled in the foot well beneath the glove compartment. She managed to get out and get help screaming for people to get an ambulance and call the palace. Princess Grace remained unconscious and a few days later her husband, Prince Rainier, made the decision to turn off life support.
Where Would You Visit?
If you were a fan of a deceased celebrity, where would you visit?
Princess Diana's Death & The Flame of Liberty
Possibly the most famous car accident which will be remembered is that of Princess Diana in the Pont de l'Alma road tunnel in Paris. The theories of what may have happened began as soon as the news came out. This is an incident in my life which I will remember where I was when I heard the news. I was living in the UK at the time, and as I'm sure you're aware, her death sent the entire nation into mourning. The sea of flowers which were taken to Buckingham Palace from the public with heartfelt notes was overwhelming. The news cameras panned across them, stopping at tender messages written by a loving public, the mood of the nation was somber and virtually all households were grieving for the loss of The People's Princess.
In Paris, near the tunnel, there is a Flame of Liberty which many people believe was put there as a memorial to Princess Diana. This is not true, although it gave people a point of focus to share their grief. The Flame of Liberty is a replica of the Statue of Liberty's Flame and was given to Paris by the Americans.
The Death of Tara Browne
The next person you may not immediately know the name. Tara Browne, was a member of the Guinness family and London socialite, who died when his Lotus slammed into a parked truck after speeding through a red light. At the time of his death he was said to be under the influence of alcohol and drugs. So how is he remembered? In the Beatles song, A Day In The Life.
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.— Lennon–McCartney
Paul Walker Accident Scene
More recently Paul Walker, the good looking actor from The Fast and Furious films, perished whilst riding as a passenger in a Porsche which was driving at speeds of up to 93 miles per hour in a 45mph zone. The car smashed into trees and a pole before catching on fire. The crash happened in Santa Clarita in California and the address is easily accessed on the internet if people wish to visit. Fans leave items such as beer bottles, rosary beads, and personal items as a tribute to him.
In years to come will this too be an area which is remembered and a plaque put up to acknowledge the location?
The internet gives people access to images of the mangled wreckage of these accidents but I am choosing not to show these out of personal choice and respect for those who died.
What I can't fathom is why these locations become famous. If a person is to be remembered, in my opinion,it is better to visit a place which had meaning to the celebrity. Alternatively, the cemetery where they are buried. If a celebrity died in a hospital most people wouldn't leave trinkets outside a hospital, yet they do at the scene of an accident.
How long will these places be linked to the person who met their untimely demise? Will this be carried from generation to generation? There is a sign erected where James Dean crashed 60 years ago but according to the highway patrol, it keeps getting stolen. Items such as cigarettes, beer bottles, sunglasses and even bras and underwear are left at the site paying homage to a man who only made 3 movies, 2 of which were released posthumously.
What am I missing here? Is this genuine affection for an actor, or media hype and spin at play? Are we making these people into iconic gods of a bygone era by erecting shrines to celebrities?
Don't get me wrong I know many of these people, and more have done many charitable deeds and brought joy to many people but should the location of their death be promoted?
© 2016 Mary Wickison