By Mark Ellis, Special to ASSIST News Service
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (ANS – September 8, 2015) — He had the boyish, all-American good looks that made him a favorite choice in Disney films such as The Love Bug. But his wholesome outer appearance belied a troubled personal life that led him to the foot of the cross and changed the course of his life.
Beloved actor Dean Jones passed to his eternal reward September 1st, due to complications of Parkinson’s disease. He was 84.
Jones, a native of Alabama, grew up in a Christian home and even attended Asbury College, a private Christian school in Kentucky founded in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. He failed to graduate, however, and ran from God, rejecting the faith of his family to pursue his own success in Hollywood.
He moved to California after trying his hand as a radio DJ and singer in his home state and serving in the Navy during the Korean War, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
His first small role was in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), starring Paul Newman, followed by appearances in many western-themed TV shows like Bonanza and Wagon Train. He also enjoyed a measure of early success on Broadway.
“The great privilege it has been to work with some of the most talented people on the face of the earth,” Jones told Christianity Today in 2009. “My first scene in a movie was with James Cagney, for goodness sakes. There I was, just out of the U.S. Navy without an acting lesson to my name. In walks Cagney and says ‘Walk to your mark and remember your lines.’ That’s all I’ve been doing for fifty years. You can’t take credit for blessings like that.”
Jones was noticed by Walt Disney in a sitcom, and Disney called the actor personally to recruit him for a role in That Darn Cat (1965), in which Jones played an FBI agent chasing robbers with feline help. When Disney called, he didn’t know Jones was allergic to cats.
The rising young star had everything the world could offer, but still felt unfulfilled. “It was a fast track life,” Jones said in a 1997 interview. “I was making $50,000 a week. I had the Ferraris and beautiful women and all the rest of what I thought would satisfy my life. And it was empty. Really empty.”
He thought the Hollywood lifestyle would bring the ultimate satisfaction, but it left him depressed and suicidal. Jones’ first marriage to Mae Inez Entwisle ended in divorce in 1970. He felt alienated from his two children from that marriage.
“He began to see life as a pointless exercise in futility, to be managed by copious amounts of alcohol and a parade of affairs,” the Washington Post noted.
Remarkably, God intervened and spoke to him one evening in a “divine visitation.” According to his autobiography, “Under Running Laughter,” the still small voice of the Lord told him his current lifestyle “will never satisfy you.”
Then a sobering thought entered his mind: Could I continue to deceive myself into believing that whatever vacuum existed within me would be filled in the future by more and bigger portions of that I’d consumed in the past?
Shortly after his encounter with God, a drunk-driving accident in Baja, Mexico nearly took his life. As he lay in the desert with 13 broken bones, bleeding profusely, and a concussion, he knew he faced a critical turning point.
A poem about a man running from God, “The Hound of Heaven,” played in his mind as a friend worked feverishly to keep him from bleeding to death, according to The Decatur Daily.
After Jones’ recovery, while rehearsing a play in New Jersey, he stood looking out a window and thought, one day I’m going to kill myself.
He got down on his knees and cried out to God: “I’ve done everything in this world I thought would make me happy and it doesn’t work. I have everything and I have nothing. I have no choice but to believe. If you don’t exist, then I’m a dead man.”
In an instant, Jones was born again, and the miserable, depressive moods that plagued him vanished, replaced by a profound peace and joy that flooded his heart.
The night he said ‘yes’ to the lord, everything changed. “The peace of Christ rolled over me like an ocean wave and I’ve never been the same,” he said in 1997.
Photo captions: 1) Dean Jones with his wife Lor. 2) Dean in “The Love Bug”
About the writer: Mark Ellis is senior correspondent for the ASSIST News Service and also the founder of www.Godreports.com , a website that shares stories, testimonies and videos from the church around the world to build interest and involvement in world missions.
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