February 12, 1976: Hollywood Star Sal Mineo Murdered

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A Brief History

On February 12, 1976, Hollywood actor Sal Mineo, age 37, was murdered in an alley outside his West Hollywood apartment, stabbed in the heart by a pizza deliveryman in the act of a robbery. Mineo became famous as 1 16 year old playing across from James Dean in the 1955 classic film, Rebel Without a Cause.

Digging Deeper

In Rebel Without a Cause Mineo played a sensitive teen that idolized the iconic James Dean character, juvenile delinquent Jim Stark. The role put Mineo on the Hollywood map and spurred a following of adoring young girls. Mineo got an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Rebel Without a Cause, and was again nominated for Best Supporting Actor for the 1960 film, Exodus.

Theatrical release film poster by Saul Bass

Mineo was born in New York (the Bronx) into a Sicilian family and attending acting and dance school at an early age, first performing on stage at the age of 12 and appeared on Broadway opposite Yul Brynner in The King and I. He made television appearances and even beat Clint Eastwood to land a small role in the 1955 movie, Six Bridges to Cross. Mineo went on to again appear in a James Dean film, Giant, in 1956, and continued to land roles as a sensitive teen or young man, a type casting that hurt his career as an adult.

Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold

Although Mineo was a heartthrob to millions of girls and had a long term heterosexual relationship, he was in fact bi-sexual and had an affair with singer Bobby Sherman (another teen idol to millions of girls). His television and movie roles became minor, and his last appearance in a film, 1971’s Escape From Planet of the Apes, was as a chimpanzee! By 1972 he was openly discussing his bi-sexual nature and was in a long term relationship with a male partner when he was murdered.

Mineo in 1973

Mineo’s murderer, pizza deliveryman Lionel Ray Williams, was convicted of the crime and sentenced to 57 years in prison. Williams had committed at least 10 other robberies and claimed to not have known it was Sal Mineo he was robbing/murdering.

Mineo posed nude for artist Harold Stevenson for the painting The New Adam in 1963, a highly regarded painting that is on display at the Guggenheim Museum. Unfortunately, the legacy of The New Adam will probably be the most remembered part of Sal Mineo’s tragic life, a not unfamiliar story of early success and subsequent mediocrity, all part of the Hollywood broken dreams scene.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Frascella, Lawrence & Weisel, Al.  Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause. Touchstone, 2005.

Gilmore, John. Laid Bare: A Memoir of Wrecked Lives and the Hollywood Death Trip. Amok Books, 1988.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.