The Story of... The 'James Dean Effect' and when the good die young


As the years go on, it seems that people will forever be fascinated by celebrities who died young at the height of their powers.

Some psychologists reckon this is actually down to our belief that a wonderful life which ends abruptly near its peak of fulfilment is actually more "desirable" than a life lived until old age.


Kurt Cobain has previously topped
Forbes' 'Top Earning Dead Celebrities'

Maybe at least when that life is somebody else's... James Dean, Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain each died young. And each has a strong legacy which still endures to this day.

It isn't for nothing that Forbes has its own annual "Top Earning Dead Celebrities" list.

And it's interesting to see that those who enjoyed the greatest "peak of fulfilment" usually top the list: rock stars. Elvis and Michael Jackson have each been the chart's #1.

Of course, those who died old are also in the list, including perennial pop cultural favourites like JJR Tolkien and Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz.

But it's the "James Dean Effect" that, not only wins out every time, plays a massive role in driving the global auction and collectibles markets.

Recent sale examples include a jacket Lennon wore in a 1966 Life magazine photo shoot. It was sold for $240,000 in December by Julien's Auctions.

And, if that wasn't enough, an original copy of his handwritten lyrics to "A Day in The Life" sold for $1.2m at a Sotheby's New York auction in June.

So far, nobody's paid $1.2m for a Sir Paul McCartney lyric sheet (although page of working lyrics for McCartney's song Maxwell's Silver Hammer did bring $192,000 at Christie's in 2010).

Yet pick up a group signed Beatles autograph featuring Macca's signature alongside his late colleagues Lennon and George Harrison (and, of course, Ringo) and you're onto a winner.

But why does "the James Dean Effect" continue to have so much pull at the world's auction blocks? There are a few reasons.

Firstly: the artist's historical significance. John Lennon's contribution to popular culture needs no explanation, likewise Jimi Hendrix. Meanwhile, James Dean will forever be associated with the 1950s era when teenagers discovered themselves - and rebellion.

James Dean signed photograph
Photographs like this signed example of James Dean for sale remain sought-after by collectors all over the world - so-much-so that the term 'James Dean Effect' is now routinely applied to collectibles


These icons' eternal youth not only endears them to new generations (young girls today can hang Jim Morrison posters on their walls without embarrassment) but also attracts a major collectibles market... Middle-aged 'baby-boomers'.

The likes of The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and James Dean enable these people to recapture their youth. What's more, this older generation controls 80% of the world's wealth.

Those who love collecting memorabilia include Paul Allen, whose Jimi Hendrix memorabilia collection is allegedly "the world's largest collection of Hendrix memorabilia."

Allen is better known for co-founding the Microsoft Corporation in 1975.

With big players like Allen and growing numbers of nouveau rich buyers involved, you can guarantee that "the James Dean Effect" will continue to drive the collectibles markets for many decades to come.

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