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Radio 2 signs up Johnny Depp for tribute to Dean

Now Radio 2 will add the Hollywood actor Johnny Depp to its team when he presents a documentary about the Fifties actor James Dean. The leading actor in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was commissioned to present the show about someone he sees as a personal hero by Bob Geldof, whose company Ten Alps Radio is producing the programme.

Depp's involvement is a sign of the changing face of the station, once known for its middle-of-the-road playlist, which now employs more fashionable presenters such as Dermot O'Leary.

Depp, who played in a couple of bands before becoming an actor, will explore how Dean was perceived as an icon for a generation of rock musicians, even though he died before Elvis Presley recorded his first success.

The documentary is being made to mark the 50th anniversary of Dean's death on 30 September 1955. The actor was 24 when his car was involved in a head-on collision with another vehicle in California.

Although Dean took a leading role in only three films - East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant - his image was made synonymous with rebellious youth. He became a pin-up for many Western teenagers.

Dean counted many pop musicians among his fans, including Presley, Bob Dylan and John Lennon, who once said: "Without James Dean, the Beatles would never have existed." Depp will interview Dean enthusiasts, including Morrissey, Sir Paul McCartney, David Bailey and Dennis Hopper.

The show's producer, Des Shaw, said: "One of the main things Johnny and Bob are looking at is how James Dean was enormously influential to music. He never heard rock 'n' roll and he died before Elvis, Buddy Holly or Eddie Cochrane had their first hits, but he was one of the biggest influences on the music."

Depp, whose film career spans more than 15 years with leads in Pirates of the Caribbean and Edward Scissorhands, is not the first Hollywood actor to appear on Radio 2. Pitt presented his documentary about the cult folk singer Drake, who died of a suspected drugs overdose in 1974, last year.

Val Kilmer, who is now appearing in London's West End in The Postman Always Rings Twice, is also making a programme for Radio 2 about Marlon Brando. Kilmer worked with Brando on The Island of Dr Moreau and will explore the troubled life of the star of A Streetcar Named Desire and On The Waterfront, speaking to contributors including Francis Ford Coppola and Bernardo Bertolucci.