Nevertheless, the Bronx-born actor of Italian heritage appeared in 22 films, directed stage plays and operas and made many television appearances. While still a youth he was mentored by Yul Brynner in the stage musical The King and I, Mineo had taken over the role of the young Prince Chulalongkorn three months into the show's initial run.
Sal Mineo was so convincing as Plato in Rebel Without a Cause* that he was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor, leading to his being forever typecast as a troubled youth. It was difficult for him to sustain an acting career when he became too old for such parts. A welcome exception came with the role of a Jewish emigrant in Otto Preminger’s film Exodus (1960), for which he won a Golden Globe Award and received a second Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Another escape from typecasting was his star turn as drummer Gene Krupa in The Gene Krupa Story (1959).
His mother, a quintessential stage mother, acted as his manager and spent his fortune faster than he could make it, leading to a series of financial crises, especially as his career tapered off.
In 1976 Mineo was stabbed to death in an alley next to his apartment building in West Hollywood by an unknown assailant. A year later actress Christa Helm was killed in the same neighborhood and in a similar fashion, and a pizza deliveryman by the name of Lionel Ray Williams was charged and convicted of that crime. Police had overheard him admitting to the murder of Sal Mineo, stating that at the time of the stabbing he did not know that his victim was Sal Mineo.
In “Sal Mineo: A Biography” (2010) by author Michael Gregg Michaud*, several rumors and speculations about Mineo’s private life are cleared up. British actress Jill Haworth, to whom Mineo was once engaged to be married, was not just a “beard” to mask a homosexual orientation. Although Sal Mineo idolized his bisexual film star James Dean, the two did not engage in sexual relations. The same with actor Don Johnson, who co-starred with Mineo in a stage production of Fortune and Men’s Eyes (1969), a play with a homosexual theme; Johnson and Mineo had once been roommates. At the time Mineo was murdered, he had been in a six-year relationship with male actor Courtney Burr III.
*From a book review by Gerry Burnie:
This exhaustive biography is not only a tribute to Sal Mineo, a talented and misunderstood individual who lived life to the fullest – no matter what he did – it is also a tribute to the author’s unrelenting dedication. For example, the writing of “Sal Mineo: A Biography” took Michaud ten years and three years of research to complete. Moreover, numerous interviews were conducted, most particularly with Jill Haworth and Courtney Burr (both were Sal Mineo’s lovers), to give it a personal insight beyond the written record...Full of details and previously undisclosed anecdotes, the biography captures a career of ups and downs and a private life of sexual impulses.
It is a little-known fact that Sal Mineo was the model for The New Adam, a colossal 8-foot-tall by 39-foot-long male nude painting (1962), precisely and sensually rendered in full frontal anatomical detail over nine linen panels by artist Harold Stevenson (b. 1929). Since 2005 the painting has been part of the permanent collection of the New York City Guggenheim Museum (image below).