The Rebel: Nick Adams

Grave of Nick Adams, Berwick

I pulled through the gates of Saints Cyril and Methodius Ukrainian Cemetery, located just west of Berwick, in search of an actor who rests among the residents of the area. Also known as the Greek Catholic Cemetery, the cemetery is the final resting place of a troubled actor whose death is often listed as being a part of an infamous Hollywood curse.

But the curse was not about to stop Zech and I from seeking out his grave in order to pay our respects.

The cemetery is hidden next to the grounds of the Berwick Golf Club in an almost ideal location. It was far enough away to avoid the everyday bustle of city noise – birds were calling out with their distinctive songs. We stretched in the cool morning air which was  mixed with the warmth of the rising sun before we began our search in the small cemetery. We scanned the stones as we walked among the stones in the wooded garden.

And then the peace was broken the sound of golf balls being hit.

I instinctively cringed as I heard another one being whacked nearby as we wandered among the stones. I had already spotted a number of balls littering the sacred grounds and hoped that the current players were able to keep their golf balls on the course.

“Hey I found him,” I heard Zech call out and I made my way over to where he stood looking at the stone. The back of the stone showed the familiar outline of the head of the fictional character Johnny Yuma.

“That’s him,” I acknowledged. “We found The Rebel.”

Born on June 10, 1931, Nicholas Aloysius Adamshock, Nick Adams was the son of an anthracite coal miner. His family lived in the coal-mining community of Nanticoke until he was five years old. His parents moved from the coal fields after his uncle was killed as a result of a mining accident. While on his death bed, his uncle called Nick’s father over and commented about how the boys would make fine miners. Fearing his sons would meet a similar fate, two days later Nick’s father moved the family to New Jersey, settling in a small basement apartment just across the river from New York City.

While in school, Nick was a noted athlete. He was quarterback for the school’s team and also played for the baseball team. His ability on the field was enough to get him noticed and he was offered a minor league contract with St. Louis.

At the age of seventeen, Nick appeared on Broadway and in 1950 he left the east coast behind and headed westward to pursue a career in acting. Two years later he starred in his first movie, an uncredited role in Somebody Loves Me. His acting career was placed on hold that same year when he enlisted in the United States Coast Guard. His enlistment was a means of avoiding the Army from drafting him into service to fight in the Korean War.

In 1955 he would star in supporting roles in two major movies – Mr. Roberts and Rebel Without a Cause. He would continue in supporting roles over the next couple of years, including another uncredited scene in Giant, which he did a voice-over for James Dean, who had died during the filming of the movie.

It would be the series The Rebel (1959-1961) that would become the role for which Nick Adams would be remembered. Over two season, he portrayed the displaced Confederate Civil War veteran Johnny Yuma. After the series was canceled Adams appeared in guest roles in various shows and B Movies.

On February 6, 1968, at the age of thirty-six, the wanderings of The Rebel, Johnny Yuma, came to an end due to a drug overdose. When Nick failed to arrive at a dinner meeting on evening of February 7, his lawyer Edwin Roeder went to Adams’ house in search of him. Seeing the car still in the garage, Roeder broke a window and entered the house to find Nick’s lifeless body propped up against a wall in his bedroom. Nick’s death was ruled accidental due to an overdose mixture of paraldehyde and other drugs.

After his death, Nick’s body was returned to Berwick. The back of his stone has the profile of the character he was remembered portraying: Johnny Yuma. Within the profile are the words “Nick Adams” and “The Rebel”; beneath the profile is chiseled “Actor of Hollywood Screens.” The peace that Nick seemed unable to find during his lifetime fully surrounds his final resting place.

We paid our respects to the talented, though often overlooked, actor before continuing our day’s journey.

Note: Nick Adams has the misfortune of being a part of the “Rebel Without a Cause Curse.” The movie, which was released in October 1955, has the misfortune of having the lead actors dying mysteriously before reaching the age of forty-five.

James Dean had been killed the month before the movie’s release in a car accident. He crashed his Porsche Spyder on September 30, 1955. He was just twenty-four at the time of his death.

Sal Mineo was stabbed to death on February 12, 1976. Sal was returning home from a play rehearsal when he was stabbed outside of his apartment. Years later, Sal’s alleged killer was arrested, although the murderer looked different from the man who witnesses saw. Sal was just thirty-seven.

The final victim of the “Rebel Without A Cause” curse was Natalie Wood. Natalie drowned under mysterious circumstances while on a boat trip with her husband Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken. Natalie was just forty-three at the time of her death.

Nick’s death has been surrounded in mystery, much like the other members of the cast of “Rebel Without A Cause.” Nick’s official cause of death is suicide due to accidental overdose, yet his arms lacked needle marks. There has been much debate if his death was suicide, accidental or murder.

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