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ICON: SAL MINEO

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Posted July 1, 2012 by JRL in STYLE

With his soulful brown eyes, thick Italian hair, and shy lips that always seemed to quiver as if they were about to ask the prettiest girl in school to the prom, Sal Mineo didn’t just fit the mold of a teen idol, he was the mold. Along with James Dean, his co-star in the classic film Rebel Without a Cause, Mineo  helped usher in a new kind of screen idol: the brooding but sensitive heartthrob. The kind of guy who’d defend his girlfriend’s honor but who’d just as easily turn around and cry on her shoulder over the injustices of the world. It was a personality-trait match made in teenage girl heaven, and it helped make the Bronx-born actor one of the biggest movie stars of the 1950s.

Unfortunately, it also led to his career downfall. By 1960, Mineo, now 21 years old, was too old to play the types of roles that made him famous, and despite winning a Golden Globe and a second Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Exodus (1960), his Hollywood shelf-life had run its course. Mineo was baffled by his sudden loss of popularity, later saying, “One minute it seemed I had more movie offers than I could handle, the next, no one wanted me.” For the remainder of his life, Mineo continued to appear occassionally on television and in low-budget films (including the cult hit Who Killed Teddy Bear?, in which he played a deranged stalker). Now free of the image factory that kept him deeply closeted, he also seemed to embrace his homosexuality, starring in the groundbreaking gay-themed plays Fortune and Men’s Eyes and P.S. Your Cat is Dead.

Sadly, like his Rebel co-stars Dean and Natalie Wood, Mineo would die young (and under mysterious circumstances). On February 12, 1976, he was stabbed to death in an alleyway behind his West Hollywood apartment building while coming home from a play rehearsal. He was 37 years old.


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