There’s just something about celebrities and cars. Ever since the famous dancer Isadora Duncan killed herself with a car because of a wardrobe malfunction (more on that one later) way back in 1927, we’ve been watching the bourgeoisie speed off into the sunset at a prodigious rate. Maybe it’s the fast and loose lifestyle that so many of our stars lead that drives them (did you see what I did there?) to mess around with fast and powerful cars. Maybe those cars give them sense of freedom they can’t get when surrounded by paparazzi and studio execs. For some of them, guys and gals alike, it’s all about the need for speed- the faster the better. Or maybe it’s just the status symbol aspect of the whole thing; after all, these are people who aspire to the lifestyle of the rich and famous, as that old show once put it.
Of course there’s a whole dark side that comes with the confluence of celebrity and speed. How could there not be? There’s always a dark side to the world of celebrity- otherwise, why would we care? Nobody would be interested in our Hollywood heroes if every star’s story had a fairy-tale ending. We like the dirt, we need the dirt and when it comes to stars and their cars, there’s plenty of dirt to find. Because guess what? More celebs than you can fit in a Clown Car have paid the price when they’ve gotten behind the wheel. Or called “shotgun.” Or passed out in the back. Or stood too close to the curb. Or… well, you get the point. The following 15 celebrities may not have expected to go out the way they did but they sure did give us one last wild ride to remember them by.
16. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes
Everybody remembers the girl rap group TLC and all of their hits, right? “Waterfalls,” in particular, was a huge, monster hit back in the day. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, one of the founding members and driving forces of the band is, unfortunately, more infamous nowadays for dying in a car crash. Which is weird, because for a while she was more infamous for setting fire to her boyfriend’s, NFLer Andre Rison, house. That crazy story supposedly happened during a drunken fight between the two which culminated in her trying to burn his shoes in the bathtub- whoops! Anyway, “Left Eye” had four Grammies, tons of songwriting credits in TLC, and a very brief but spectacularly successful solo career before she died. While on vacation in Honduras in 2002, Lopes swerved to avoid an oncoming car that was headed straight for her vehicle. She went off the road instead and sadly, that was the end of “Left Eye.”
15. Dale Earnhardt
I suppose if you’re going to write an article about celebrities who died behind the wheel it would be fairly ridiculous to leave out the one that is both the most and least shocking. Dale Earnhardt, who will be forever remembered as “The Intimidator” by racing fans, was one of the all-time greats of NASCAR. He won more races than you count, as well as a slew of Winston Cup Championships. He raced and won on seemingly every NASCAR track in the country and was already a legend when he started the 2001 Daytona 500. And then, quite unexpectedly, he was gone, the victim of a horrific crash during the final lap of the race, an event that the racing world never expected to see happen. He will forever be remembered by NASCAR and its fans, as the unofficial “retirement” of his famous #3 proves.
14. Princess Di
While it might not quite be a “Day that will live in infamy,” the death of Princess Di, one of the most beloved royals of all time, was certainly a shock to many, many people across the entire globe. Lady Di was of the nobility in her own right but her ascension to Princess of Wales after she married Prince Charles made her one of the most recognizable and sympathetic public figures the world has ever known. Some figures put the worldwide TV audience for her wedding at 750 million people- that’s a lot of admirers. She worked for countless charities in countless ways and was also known as a fashion icon. So when she and Charles divorced the paparazzi never stopped following her. The car she was riding in on August 31, 1997 in Paris was being chased by those same paparazzi at high speed when it crashed into a concrete pillar in an underpass. All three people in the car, Princess Di included, died. In the aftermath Elton John wrote a song for her and the world mourned.
13. Princess Grace
When she was simply Grace Kelly, Academy Award winning actress, the world was in love with her. And why not? After all, the shockingly beautiful Hollywood icon had starred in a few little movies called Rear Window, Dial M for Murder, High Noon, To Catch a Thief and High Society. You may have heard of at least one of them, I presume. The movie she actually won the Oscar for, The Country Girl, is more likely the one nobody remembers. When she married Prince Rainier of Monaco and became a princess it seemed the fairy-tale was complete. Long before Princess Di, the world had a Cinderella to adore. Sadly, Cinderella’s fairy-tale life came to an abrupt and shocking end when the car she was driving swerved off the road and over a cliff. It was a sad and shocking end to what had been a life imbued with elegance and romance.
12. Paul Walker
Paul Walker was, of course, best known for his role in The Fast and the Furious franchise. Which is, as we all know, all about really, really fast cars and the awesome people that drive them. It turns out Walker was quite an enthusiast for cars in real life as well. In fact, he had around 30 cars in his own personal collection and was heavily involved in a custom auto shop called Always Evolving. That’s an important little piece to his death because Walker was the passenger in a Porsche Carrera from the shop that was being driven by his good friend and the owner of Always Evolving, Roger Rodas, when the car crashed into a light pole. The two men were going an estimated 90 mph at the time of the crash. Since that fateful night of November 20, 2013, Walker’s legacy has been somewhat overshadowed by the reports of people stealing his personal car collection, other people trying to sell cars that were “supposedly” his and other shenanigans. By all accounts the father of one was a good guy and neither he nor his cars deserve that kind of treatment.
11. James Dean
He was the original “Rebel without a Cause,” the stud movie actor who had all of the girls screaming and all of the guys wishing they were him. I’m talking, of course, about James Dean, the man who brought teen moodiness to the forefront of American popular culture in the 50s in that selfsame movie and others like it, notably East of Eden and Giant. Dean had an aura of mystery and a whiff of danger about him that translated with great success to the silver screen. Unfortunately, he was also a budding Hollywood legend who really liked fast cars. On September 30, 1955, Dean was traveling to an auto rally in his Porsche 550 Spyder when he crossed an intersection at speed and slammed into another car, killing himself almost instantly.. Yup. He died in his sports car on the way to a sports car meet. His legend was as instantaneous as his death and also everlasting. I have a feeling he might have been OK with that tradeoff.
10. Isadora Duncan
When it comes to celeb scandal articles, I always like to take a few trips in the way back machine. This time we’re gonna take it all the way back to 1927, when the very outré American dance pioneer Isadora Duncan became one of the earliest celebrity victims of a car malfunction. Or rather, a wardrobe malfunction, as you will see. The ever-ebullient Duncan was known for wild clothing and long scarves. Unfortunately one of her long scarves got tangled up in the rear hubcap of the brand new convertible she had just purchased (she was a passenger on that fateful day however) as it was moving and Duncan was pulled out of the car while being strangled to death by her own scarf. Ewww! That is NOT a good way to go, I tell you. The famous American expat Gertrude Stein said of Duncan’s death “affectations can be dangerous.” They surely can, it seems.
9. George S. Patton
There’s never been a more colorful figure in American history than George S. Patton, famed tank commander of the 6th Army in World War II; a man who was even more infamous for statements of braggadocio like “We’ll go through them like sh*t through a goose,” among many, many others. Patton was such a larger-than-life character that they made a hugely successful movie about him that garnered Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. Name another general Hollywood has done that with. However, his legend was a long time in the growing, as he actually was killed right after World War II. Not by Nazis or resistance fighters or anything like that, though. No, Patton was merely a passenger in a car that was sideswiped by a truck in a little town in Germany. What an odd way to go for the first American general to champion the use of tanks.
8. Junkyard Dog
Junkyard Dog was much loved back in the 90s, at a time when the general excitement of a boatload of new stars and styles had carried pro wrestling to prominence. Everybody knows that the WWE has ended up being the biggest dog in wrestling history but at the time Junkyard Dog worked his magic in WCW and WWF, both of whom the WWE eventually subsumed into itself. Born Sylvester Ritter, the Dog was a big-time performer and star, fully capable of holding his own with the other top wrestlers of the day both in the ring and on the mic- he was one fun dude! It’s a shame, then, that he had to go out in such a heartbreaking way. The wrestler was driving home from his daughter’s high school graduation when he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed. He was only 45-years-old.
7. Margaret Mitchell
It doesn’t seem right that the author of Gone with the Wind would die in a car but, unfortunately that’s just what happened to Margaret Mitchell in 1949. Everybody knows Gone with the Wind, Mitchell’s classic tale of the old south before and during the civil war (what historians call the “Antebellum” period). Mitchell tapped into a seemingly inexhaustible yearning for that “simpler” time when she published the book in 1936. It has never been out of print since and, of course, spawned the classic movie of the same name. It even won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. That’s quite an accomplishment for a former local journalist in Atlanta who didn’t publish any other books in her lifetime. She was also, interestingly enough, really into erotica and human sexuality, a fun hobby for sure. She died when she was hit by a drunk driver while crossing a street- seriously bad luck, that.
6. Drazen Petrovic
The death of Drazen Petrovic made a lot of people deeply unhappy. Not necessarily because the Croatian shooting guard was quickly becoming a superstar in the NBA as a member of the New Jersey Nets, as you might think. Rather, it was because, as a member of the former Yugoslavian national team, Petrovic died before the players on that team, which fell apart in inner turmoil when Yugoslavia itself fell apart, never had a chance to reconcile their ethnic and political differences after the “Balkanization” of their team. Petrovic’s death forced many of the other stars of that team to rethink their estrangement with each other. So, in some ways, perhaps his death meant something. On the other hand, Petrovic was only 28 when his car was hit by an out of control semi on the German Autobahn, ending a life and career in dramatically awful fashion.
5. Jackson Pollock
If you’ve ever seen a Jackson Pollock painting you’ve know it right away- the modern, expressionistic artist had an instantly recognizable style. He became famous for that style but also was infamous for his temper and his seemingly endless bout with alcoholism. Many critics loved his work and he is still widely imitated and discussed today in the world of art. Other critics thought he was kind of the epitome of all that was wrong with modern art and put down his whole “drip” style of painting; you know, the style where the artist puts the canvas on the floor and basically throws paint at it… In any case, Pollock’s alcoholism caught up with him in 1956 when, while driving under the influence, he lost control of his car and slammed into a tree. Pollock was only 44-years-old and famous enough already that the Museum of Modern Art in New York gave him a retrospective just a few months after his death.
4. Linda Lovelace
There are adult film stars and then there are adult film stars. Linda Lovelace was one of the latter, having made her name in the incredibly well-known and controversial Deep Throat. In case you’ve never heard of this movie (in which case you’ll need to stop reading this article and go screen it), Deep Throat was basically the first “Blue” movie to feature plotlines, at least some production values and a mainstream audience. Lovelace was the star at the center of it all and for years seemed to revel in the attention and “sexual freedom” the movie purported to show at a time when all sorts of cultural and social ideas were being challenged or expanded upon. But later in life the adult star claimed that she had been forced to make the movie by her “controlling” husband. It is also a well-known fact that the movie was partly financed by the New York mob and was distributed by the mafia as well. For a little adult movie that cost about $23,000 to make, Deep Throat has had quite a lifespan. Lovelace herself, long out of the business and the spotlight at age 53, was killed in a car crash in 2002.
3. Jayne Mansfield
Jayne Mansfield died in 1967. She was only thirty-four-years-old. We can only be left to wonder what this onetime blond bombshell might have done in her career had she survived. But like her main rival and peer, Marilyn Monroe, Mansfield was taken away from us all too young. Also like Marilyn, Jayne graced the pages of Playboy, although Jayne was an actual Playmate. Even more amazingly, she was the first big-time American actress to have a nude scene- in 1963’s Promises! Promises! This was one hot lady, which is probably why one of her breakout roles was in the movie Too Hot to Handle. Mansfield’s film career faltered before her death but she was huge in the nightclub scene, making paid appearances everywhere and showing off the assets that had given her the nickname “The Queen of Cleavage.” She died in her car when the car slammed into the back of a semi on a highway outside of New Orleans, sending American men into mourning.
2. Randy “Macho Man” Savage
Another wrestler on our list who was an even bigger star than Junkyard Dog was the one and only Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Macho Man was a big-time WWF star who had all kinds of fun participating in grudge matches against other huge stars like Hulk Hogan and Ric “The Nature Boy” Flair. In his later years, Macho Man spent a lot of time with family, trying to make up for all that he had missed while on tour as a pro wrestler. On May 20, 2011, the famously retired wrestler was driving around town with his wife when he mumbled that he was going to pass out. Shortly thereafter he did just that and his wife had to wrest the wheel from his hands and crash their Jeep into a tree to avoid slamming into other cars. The Macho Man’s heart had finally given out on one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.
1. Duane Allman
It’s almost unbelievable how much great music Duane Allman was involved in making and his profound influence upon music, given that the guy wasn’t around for much longer than a few years as a noted musician. His career arc is bitterly short- in 1969 he made two studio albums with the legendary band he helped found, the Allman Brothers. In 1970 the band released Live at Fillmore East, often mentioned as the greatest live concert album ever. And of course in 1971 he played on a little song called “Layla,” as well as many other tracks, in support of some guy named Eric Clapton. To this day he is still considered one of the greatest slide guitarists of all time. But 1971 also saw the 24-year-old’s death as Allman died in a freak motorcycle accident that saw his Harley Davidson bounce off a flatbed as he tried to pass it and then land on him.