Forty-six. Not so old, really, but not so young, either. If he had lived, James Dean would now be 46.

At 46, a man might expect the crows feet to be stamped a bit deeper about the eyes than at, say, 40, the furrows about the brow wider from wisdom gained (or lose), the middle surely thicker and softer than 23 - the age of the late James Byron Dean when he burst on moviegoer's imignation - a moody symbol of defiance - as the devil-possessed Caleb Traskin "East of Eden."

Acclaimed as the mid-50s kindling for the fires of youth James Dean became a cult hero. He went on to star in two more highly landed films, "Rebel Without A Cause, the 1955 movie children dragged parents to see so that they might be better understood (it was banned in Spain), and "Giant" (1956).

On Sept. 30, 1955, on a lonely California highway, he was killed in the fierycrash of his silver Porche Spyder, a fancy $6,000 racing machine with no windshield and a top speed of 150 mph.

Fans were stunned and the myth began to grow. His spirit became etched on the landscape of adolescence, letters were addressed to his dead body, and every now and then there is an article about some dumb kid death-tripping his way to heaven on the same path he imagined James Dean might have taken.

There have been varied attempts to search for the meaning in his life in retrospectives and film biographics, the latest being something by Universal tilted "9/30/55" after the date of his death. There was recent industry talk of its imminent premiere, but the debut site was shifted and the date moved back after some movie house owners questioned its smash potential.

In the swirl of Dean memorabilia, the questions still hang in the air. If he had lived, would James Dean, like Elvis, have put on pounds in his later years? Would the blond curls have fallen out? Can a youthful hero remain a hero only if he dies young? Or, maybe heroes are destined to remain brief flashes in our lives, as Andy Warhol once put it, with everyone getting to be famous for 15 minutes.