Whatever Happened to Christopher Jones?
“Christopher Jones, an heir apparent to James Dean who starred in such films as The Looking Glass War and Ryan’s Daughter before quitting show business at the height of his brief but dazzling career, has died. He was 72,” The Hollywood Reporter stated in its obituary of him published on January 31, 2014.
I was touched by a shock of recognition and a sense of loss when this appeared on my Facebook page the next day, a feeling I rarely experience when reading about the deaths of far better known and more accomplished Hollywood figures.
I discovered Christopher Jones in the mid-’70s, thanks to a TV showing of Wild in the Streets. I was obsessed with James Dean at the time, and became transfixed by Jones, who seemed like the second coming of Dean and the answer to his fans’ prayers. Only later would I learn that Jones had already abandoned his career by the time I became aware of him.
“He had excitement. He was a movie star,” Quentin Tarantino said in a 1999 episode of E! True Hollywood Story. “He looked like James Dean, but Chris Jones didn’t take himself seriously like James Dean. He was a big comer — and with the right person handling and directing, he could still be as big as anybody.”
Christopher Jones exploded into stardom with the July 1968 release of Wild in the Streets, only his second film, where he played a 24-year-old rock star who manipulates the youth vote to become the President of the United States. “If you were a teenager in 1968, chances are good you would have given up just about anything to run Wild in the Streets with Christopher Jones,” the author of his website writes.
After acting in David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter (1970), Jones abruptly quit acting and withdrew from public life, leaving a burgeoning fandom hungry for more bereft and bewildered. “Over the past 26 years, Jones has been the subject of so many rumors––that he was a drug addict, lived on the streets, became a hustler, had been confined in a mental institution––his disappearing act gave him, perversely, near legendary status among show-biz insiders,” Pamela Des Barres wrote in her introduction to a rare interview with him in 1996.
When Playboy’s interviewer asked Jack Nicholson, “What is the downside of celebrity?” he answered, “There is none.” Yet Jones turned his back on stardom, its rewards, and a ready-made audience, becoming a charismatic enigma prompting us to ask: whatever happened to Christopher Jones?
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