Salvatore Mineo Jr. better known to the world as Sal Mineo, was the baby-faced American actor whose legend and cult following largely stems from his iconic role as the doomed ‘Plato’ in Nicholas Ray’s 1955 classic of ‘switchblade cinema’ – ‘Rebel Without A Cause’. In the movie Mineo played a troubled high-school kid who emulates (actually as far as 50’s cinema could push that envelope) falls in love with James Dean’s character Jim Stark, although there are reports of a real-life love affair between the two off-set).This was the role for which he would earn the first of two Academy Award nominations.
In 1962 Jill Haworth Mineo’s “girlfriend” kicked open Mineo’s closet door, catching the 35-year-old actor bedding his buddy Bobby Sherman. (Yes. that Bobby Sherman.) “But he didn’t stop,” she said. “He kept going at it.” Rumors of Mineo’s sexuality circulated. He found serious work even more difficult to procure, predominantly because filmmakers saw him as an embarrassing relic of the 1950s.
On the night of February 12, 1976, actor Sal Mineo returned home following a rehearsal for the play P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. After parking his car in the carport below his West Hollywood apartment, the 37-year-old actor was stabbed in the heart by a mugger who quickly fled the scene. At first, the e police suspected that Mineo’s work for prison reform had put him in contact with a dangerous ex-con. Then their focus shifted to Mineo’s personal life. Investigators had discovered that his home was filled with pictures of nude men. But the gay pornography also failed to turn up any leads and later became the basis for a hotbed of rumors that Mineo was killed by a “trick gone wrong”
Out of the blue, Michigan authorities reported that Lionel Williams was arrested on bad check charges and was bragging to everyone that he had killed Mineo. Although he later retracted his stories at about the same time Williams’ his wife back in Los Angeles told police that he had come home the night of the murder drenched in blood. However, there was one major discrepancy in the case, Williams was black with an Afro and all of the eyewitnesses had described the perpetrator as a white man with long brown hair.
Fortunately, the police were able to unearth an old photo of Williams in which his hair had been dyed brown and processed so that it was straight and long. In addition, the medical examiner had made a cast of Mineo’s knife wound and police were able to match it to the description of the knife provided by Williams’ wife. Lionel Williams was eventually convicted and given a sentence of life in prison. He was paroled in the early 1990s but rearrested after committing other crimes. Today, Williams whereabouts is unknown or weather or not he is still even alive.
***NOTE: Because of the time period many are unsure of Mineo’s true sexuality. Some have said that Mineo was “bisexual” but because of the time period in the 1970’s many gay men used the claim of bisexuality as a stepping stone to fully “coming out”.