Steve McQueen

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Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen 1959.jpg
McQueen in Wanted: Dead or Alive, 1959
BornTerence Steven McQueen
(1930-03-24)March 24, 1930
Beech Grove, Indiana, U.S.
DiedNovember 7, 1980(1980-11-07) (aged 50)
Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico
Cause of death
Malignant mesothelioma
Years active1953–1980
Spouse(s)Neile Adams (m. 1956–72)
Ali MacGraw (m. 1973–78)
Barbara Minty (m. 1980)
Children2, including Chad
RelativesSteven R. McQueen (grandson)
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This article is about the actor. For the film director, see Steve McQueen (director). For other people, see Steve McQueen (disambiguation).
Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen 1959.jpg
McQueen in Wanted: Dead or Alive, 1959
BornTerence Steven McQueen
(1930-03-24)March 24, 1930
Beech Grove, Indiana, U.S.
DiedNovember 7, 1980(1980-11-07) (aged 50)
Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico
Cause of death
Malignant mesothelioma
Years active1953–1980
Spouse(s)Neile Adams (m. 1956–72)
Ali MacGraw (m. 1973–78)
Barbara Minty (m. 1980)
Children2, including Chad
RelativesSteven R. McQueen (grandson)

Terence Steven "Steve" McQueen (March 24, 1930 – November 7, 1980) was an American actor.[1] Called "The King of Cool",[2][3] his "anti-hero" persona, developed at the height of the Vietnam War-era counterculture, made him a top box-office draw of the 1960s and 1970s.[4] McQueen received an Academy Award nomination for his role in The Sand Pebbles. His other popular films include The Thomas Crown Affair, Bullitt, The Getaway, and Papillon, as well as the all-star ensemble films The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and The Towering Inferno. In 1974, he became the highest-paid movie star in the world, although he did not act in films again for four years.[5] McQueen was combative with directors and producers, but his popularity placed him in high demand and enabled him to command large salaries.[6]

Early life[edit]

McQueen was born Terence Steven McQueen[6] in Beech Grove, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis, in Marion County. His father, William Terence McQueen, a stunt pilot for a barnstorming flying circus, abandoned McQueen's mother six months after meeting her.[6] His mother, Julia Ann (née Crawford), was allegedly a rebellious alcoholic prostitute.[7][8][9][10]

Unable to cope with caring for a small child, she left him with her parents (Victor and Lillian) in Slater, Missouri, in 1933. Shortly thereafter, as the Great Depression set in, McQueen and his grandparents moved in with Lillian's brother Claude, at his farm in Slater.[6] McQueen was raised as a Roman Catholic.[11][12]

He had good memories of the times on his great-uncle Claude's farm. In recalling him, McQueen stated: "He was a very good man, very strong, very fair. I learned a lot from him."[6] On McQueen's fourth birthday, Claude gave him a red tricycle, which McQueen later said started his interest in racing.[6] At age 8, he was taken home by his mother and lived with her and her new husband in Indianapolis. McQueen retained a special memory of leaving the farm: "The day I left the farm Uncle Claude gave me a personal going-away present; a gold pocket watch, with an inscription inside the case." The inscription read: "To Steve – who has been a son to me."[13]

McQueen, who was dyslexic[6] and partially deaf due to a childhood ear infection,[6] did not adjust well to his new life. His new step-father beat him so badly that at the age of nine McQueen left home to live on the streets.[7] Not long after he was running with a street gang and committing acts of petty crime.[6] Unable to control McQueen's behavior, his mother sent him back to Slater. When McQueen was 12, Julia wrote to Claude asking that McQueen be returned to her again, to live in her new home in Los Angeles, California. Julia, whose second marriage had ended in divorce, had married a third time.

By McQueen's own account, he and his new stepfather, "[l]ocked horns immediately."[6] McQueen recalls him being "A prime son of a bitch" who was not averse to using his fists on McQueen and his mother.[6] As McQueen began to rebel again, he was sent back to live with Claude a final time. At age 14, McQueen left Claude's farm without saying goodbye and joined a circus for a short time,[6] then drifted back to his mother and stepfather in Los Angeles, resuming his life as a gang member and petty criminal. McQueen was caught stealing hubcaps by police, who handed him over to his stepfather who beat him severely, ending the fight by throwing McQueen down a flight of stairs. McQueen looked up at his stepfather and said, "You lay your stinkin' hands on me again and I swear, I'll kill ya."[6]

After the incident, McQueen's stepfather convinced his mother to sign a court order stating that McQueen was incorrigible, remanding him to the California Junior Boys Republic in Chino, California.[6] Here, McQueen began to change and mature. He was not popular with the other boys at first: "Say the boys had a chance once a month to load into a bus and go into town to see a movie. And they lost out because one guy in the bungalow didn't get his work done right. Well, you can pretty well guess they're gonna have something to say about that. I paid his dues with the other fellows quite a few times. I got my lumps, no doubt about it. The other guys in the bungalow had ways of paying you back for interfering with their well-being."[14] Ultimately, McQueen became a role model when he was elected to the Boys Council, a group who set the rules and regulations governing the boys' lives.[6] He eventually left Boys Republic at 16. When he later became famous, he regularly returned to talk to the boys and retained a lifelong association.

At 16, McQueen left Chino and returned to his mother, now living in Greenwich Village. He then met two sailors from the Merchant Marine and volunteered to serve on a ship bound for the Dominican Republic.[6] Once there, he abandoned his new post, eventually being employed as a "towel boy" in a brothel.[7] Afterwards, McQueen made his way to Texas, and drifted from job to job. He worked as an oil rigger, a trinket salesman in a carnival, and a lumberjack.

Military service[edit]

In 1947, McQueen joined the United States Marine Corps and was promoted to private first class and assigned to an armored unit.[6] At first, he reverted to his prior rebelliousness, and was demoted to private seven times. He took an unauthorized absence by failing to return after a weekend pass expired, staying with a girlfriend for two weeks until the shore patrol caught him. He resisted arrest and spent 41 days in the brig.[6] After this, McQueen resolved to focus his energies on self-improvement and embraced the Marines' discipline. He saved the lives of five other Marines during an Arctic exercise, pulling them from a tank before it broke through ice into the sea.[6][15] He was assigned to the honor guard, responsible for guarding then US President Harry Truman's yacht.[6] McQueen served until 1950 when he was honorably discharged. He later said he had enjoyed his time in the Marines.[16]


The 1950s[edit]

In 1952, with financial assistance provided by the G.I. Bill, McQueen began studying acting at Sanford Meisner's Neighborhood Playhouse.[6] Purportedly, the future "king of cool" delivered his first dialogue on a theatre stage in a 1952 play produced by Yiddish theatre star Molly Picon. McQueen's character spoke one brief line: "Allez iz forloren." ("All is lost.").[17] He began to earn money by competing in weekend motorcycle races at Long Island City Raceway and purchased the first of many motorcycles, a Harley Davidson. He soon became an excellent racer, and went home each weekend with about $100 in winnings ($805 in 2009 dollars adjusted for inflation).[6][18] He appeared as a musical judge in an episode of ABC's Jukebox Jury, that aired in the 1953–1954 season.[19]

McQueen had minor roles in productions including Peg o' My Heart, The Member of the Wedding, and Two Fingers of Pride. He made his Broadway debut in 1955 in the play A Hatful of Rain, starring Ben Gazzara.[6]

In late 1955, at the age of 25, McQueen left New York and headed for California, where he moved into a house on Vestal Avenue in the Echo Park area, seeking acting jobs in Hollywood.[20] When McQueen appeared in a two-part television presentation entitled The Defenders, Hollywood manager Hilly Elkins (who managed McQueen's first wife, Neile) took note of him[21] and decided that B-movies would be a good place for the young actor to make his mark. He landed his first film role in a bit part in Somebody Up There Likes Me, directed by Robert Wise and starring Paul Newman. McQueen was subsequently hired for the films Never Love a Stranger, The Blob (his first leading role), and The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery.

McQueen's first breakout role came on television. He appeared on Dale Robertson's NBC western series, Tales of Wells Fargo. Elkins, then McQueen's manager, successfully lobbied Vincent M. Fennelly (fr), producer of the western series Trackdown, to have McQueen read for the part of bounty hunter Josh Randall in a Trackdown episode. McQueen appeared as Randall in the episode, cast opposite series lead and old New York motorcycle racing buddy Robert Culp. McQueen then filmed the pilot episode, which became the series titled Wanted: Dead or Alive, which aired on CBS in September 1958.

The 1960s[edit]

McQueen with Virginia Gregg in Wanted: Dead or Alive, 1959

In the interviews in the DVD release of Wanted, Trackdown's star Robert Culp claims credit for bringing McQueen to Hollywood and landing him the part of Randall. He said he taught McQueen the "art of the fast-draw", adding that, on the second day of filming, McQueen beat him. McQueen became a household name as a result of this series.[6] Randall's special holster held a sawed-off .44-40 Winchester rifle nicknamed the "Mare's Leg" instead of the six-gun carried by the typical Western character, although the cartridges in the gunbelt were dummy .45-70, chosen because they "looked tougher". Coupled with the generally negative image of the bounty hunter (noted in the three-part DVD special on the background of the series) this added to the anti-hero image infused with mystery and detachment that made this show stand out from the typical TV Western. The 94 episodes that ran from 1958 until early 1961 kept McQueen steadily employed.

At 29, McQueen got a significant break when Frank Sinatra removed Sammy Davis, Jr., from the film Never So Few after Davis supposedly made some mildly negative remarks about Sinatra in a radio interview, and Davis' role went to McQueen. Sinatra saw something special in McQueen and ensured that the young actor got plenty of closeups in a role that earned McQueen favorable reviews. McQueen's character, Bill Ringa, was never more comfortable than when driving at high speed—in this case in a jeep—or handling a switchblade or a tommy gun.

After Never So Few, the film's director John Sturges cast McQueen in his next movie, promising to "give him the camera". The Magnificent Seven (1960), in which he played Vin Tanner and co-starred with Yul Brynner, Robert Vaughn, Charles Bronson and James Coburn, became McQueen's first major hit and led to his withdrawal from Wanted: Dead or Alive. McQueen's focused portrayal of the taciturn second lead catapulted his career. His added touches in each scene, such as shaking a shotgun round before loading it and wiping his hat rim, annoying costar Brynner, who protested that McQueen was trying to steal his spotlight.[citation needed] (In his autobiography,[22] Eli Wallach, the movie's villain, Calvera, reports struggling to conceal his amusement while watching the filming of the funeral-procession scene where Brynner's and McQueen's characters first meet: Brynner was furious at McQueen's shotgun-round-shake, which effectively diverted the viewer's attention to McQueen.) Brynner refused to draw his gun in the same scene with McQueen, not wanting his character outdrawn.[citation needed]

McQueen played the lead in the next big Sturges film, 1963's The Great Escape, Hollywood's depiction of the otherwise true story of an historical mass escape from a World War II POW camp, Stalag Luft III. Insurance concerns prevented McQueen from performing the film's notable motorcycle leap, which was done by his friend and fellow cycle enthusiast Bud Ekins, who resembled McQueen from a distance.[23] When Johnny Carson later tried to congratulate McQueen for the jump during a broadcast of The Tonight Show, McQueen said, "It wasn't me. That was Bud Ekins." This film established McQueen's box-office clout and secured his status as a superstar.[24]

In 1963, McQueen starred in Love with the Proper Stranger with Natalie Wood. He later appeared in a prequel as the titular Nevada Smith, a character from Harold Robbins' The Carpetbaggers portrayed by Alan Ladd two years earlier in a movie version of that novel. The sequel, an enormously successful Western action adventure, features Karl Malden and Suzanne Pleshette. McQueen earned his only Academy Award nomination in 1966 for his role as an engine-room sailor in The Sand Pebbles, in which he stars opposite Candice Bergen and Richard Attenborough (with whom he'd previously worked in The Great Escape).[13]

He followed his Oscar nomination with 1968's Bullitt, one of his most famous films, which co-starred Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Vaughn and Don Gordon. It featured an unprecedented (and endlessly imitated) auto chase through San Francisco. Although McQueen did do the driving that appeared in closeup, this was about 10% of what is seen in the film's car chase. The rest of the driving by the McQueen character was done by stunt drivers Bud Ekins and Loren Janes.[25] Bullitt went so far over budget that Warner Brothers cancelled the contract on the rest of his films, seven in all.

When Bullitt became a huge box-office success Warner Brothers tried to woo him back, but he refused, and his next film was made with an independent studio and released by United Artists. For this film, McQueen went for a change of image, playing a debonair role as a wealthy executive in The Thomas Crown Affair with Faye Dunaway in 1968. The following year he made the Southern period piece The Reivers.

The 1970s[edit]

In 1971 McQueen starred in the poorly received auto-racing drama Le Mans. Then came The Getaway where he met future wife Ali MacGraw. He worked for director Sam Peckinpah again with the leading role in Junior Bonner in 1972, a story of an aging rodeo rider. He followed this with a physically demanding role as a Devil's Island prisoner in 1973's Papillon, featuring Dustin Hoffman as his character's tragic sidekick.

In 1973, The Rolling Stones referred to McQueen in the song "Star Star" from the album Goat's Head Soup for which an amused McQueen reportedly gave personal permission.[26] The lines were "Star fucker, star fucker, star fucker, star fucker star/ Yes you are, yes you are, yes you are/Yeah, Ali MacGraw got mad with you/For givin' head to Steve McQueen".

By the time of The Getaway, McQueen was the world's highest paid actor. But after 1974's The Towering Inferno, co-starring with his long-time professional rival Paul Newman and reuniting him with Dunaway, became a tremendous box-office success, McQueen all but disappeared from the public eye, to focus on motorcycle racing and traveling around the country in a motorhome and on his vintage Indian motorcycles. He did not return to acting until 1978 with An Enemy of the People, playing against type as a bearded, bespectacled 19th-century doctor in this adaptation of a Henrik Ibsen play. The film was seen only briefly in theaters and is available on DVD.

His last two films were loosely based on true stories: Tom Horn, a Western adventure about a former Army scout-turned professional gunman who worked for the big cattle ranchers hunting down rustlers, and later hanged for murder in the shooting death of a sheepherder, and The Hunter, an urban action movie about a modern-day bounty hunter, both released in 1980.

Missed roles[edit]

McQueen was offered the lead male role in Breakfast at Tiffany's but was unable to accept due to his Wanted: Dead or Alive contract (the role went to George Peppard).[6][27] He turned down parts in Ocean's Eleven,[28] Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (his attorneys and agents could not agree with Paul Newman's attorneys and agents on top billing),[6][27] The Driver,[29][30] Apocalypse Now,[31] California Split,[32] Dirty Harry, A Bridge Too Far, The French Connection (he did not want to do another cop film) [6][27] and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

According to director John Frankenheimer and actor James Garner in bonus interviews for the DVD of the film Grand Prix, McQueen was Frankenheimer's first choice for the lead role of American Formula One race car driver Pete Aron. Frankenheimer was unable to meet with McQueen to offer him the role and sent Edward Lewis, his business partner and the producer of Grand Prix. McQueen and Lewis instantly clashed, the meeting was a disaster, and the role went to Garner.

Director Steven Spielberg said McQueen was his first choice for the character of Roy Neary in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. According to Spielberg, in a documentary on the Close Encounters DVD, Spielberg met him at a bar, where McQueen drank beer after beer. Before leaving, McQueen told Spielberg that he could not accept the role because he was unable to cry on cue.[33][34] Spielberg offered to take the crying scene out of the story, but McQueen demurred, saying that it was the best scene in the script. The role eventually went to Richard Dreyfuss.

William Friedkin wanted to cast McQueen as the lead in the action/thriller film Sorcerer (1977). Sorcerer was to be filmed primarily on location in the Dominican Republic, but McQueen did not want to be separated from Ali McGraw for the duration of the shoot. McQueen therefore asked Friedkin to let McGraw act as a producer, so she could be present during principal photography. Friedkin would not agree to this condition, and cast Roy Scheider instead of McQueen. Friedkin later remarked that not casting McQueen hurt the film's performance at the box-office.

Spy novelist Jeremy Duns revealed that Steve McQueen was considered for the lead role in a film adaptation of The Diamond Smugglers, written by James Bond creator Ian Fleming; McQueen would play 'John Blaize', a secret agent gone undercover to infiltrate a diamond-smuggling ring in South Africa. There were complications with the project which was eventually shelved, although a 1964 screenplay does exist.[35]

McQueen and Barbra Streisand were tentatively cast in The Gauntlet, but the two did not get along due to a clash of egos. Both withdrew from the project, and the lead roles were filled in by Clint Eastwood and Sondra Locke.

McQueen expressed interest in the Rambo character in First Blood when David Morrell's novel appeared in 1972, but the producers rejected him because of his age.[36][37] He was offered the title role in The Bodyguard (with Diana Ross) when it was proposed in 1976, but the film did not reach production until years after McQueen's death.[38] Quigley Down Under was in development as early as 1974, with McQueen in consideration for the lead, but by the time production began in 1980, McQueen was ill and the project was scrapped until a decade later, when Tom Selleck starred.[39] McQueen was offered the lead in Raise the Titanic but felt that the script was flat. He was under contract to Irwin Allen after appearing in The Towering Inferno and offered a part in a sequel in 1980, which he turned down. The film was scrapped and Newman was brought in by Allen to make When Time Ran Out, which was a box office bomb. McQueen died shortly after passing on The Towering Inferno 2.[citation needed]

Motor racing[edit]

McQueen was an avid motorcycle and racecar enthusiast. When he had the opportunity to drive in a movie, he performed many stunts. Perhaps the most memorable were the car chases in Bullitt and motorcycle chases in The Great Escape. Although the jump over the fence in The Great Escape was done by Bud Ekins for insurance purposes, McQueen did have considerable screen time riding his 650cc Triumph TR6 Trophy motorcycle. It was difficult to find riders as skilled as McQueen.[40] At one point, using editing, McQueen is seen in a German uniform chasing himself on another bike.

McQueen and John Sturges planned to make Day of the Champion, [41] a movie about Formula One racing, but McQueen was busy with the delayed The Sand Pebbles. They had a contract with the German Nürburgring, and after John Frankenheimer shot scenes there for Grand Prix, the reels were turned over to Sturges. Frankenheimer was ahead in schedule, and the McQueen/Sturges project was called off.

McQueen considered being a professional race car driver. He had a one off outing in the British Touring Car Championship in 1961, driving a BMC Mini at Brands Hatch, finishing 3rd.[42] In the 1970 12 Hours of Sebring race, Peter Revson and McQueen (driving with a cast on his left foot from a motorcycle accident two weeks earlier) won with a Porsche 908/02 in the 3 litre class and missed winning overall by 23 seconds to Mario Andretti/Ignazio Giunti/Nino Vaccarella in a 5 litre Ferrari 512S. This same Porsche 908 was entered by his production company Solar Productions as a camera car for Le Mans in the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans later that year. McQueen wanted to drive a Porsche 917 with Jackie Stewart in that race, but the film backers threatened to pull their support if he did. Faced with the choice of driving for 24 hours in the race or driving for the entire summer making the film, McQueen opted for the latter.[43]

McQueen competed in off-road motorcycle racing. His first off-road motorcycle was a Triumph 500cc, purchased from friend and stunt man Ekins. McQueen raced in many top off-road races on the West Coast, including the Baja 1000, the Mint 400 and the Elsinore Grand Prix. In 1964, with Ekins on their Triumph TR6 Trophys, McQueen formed part of the ten man United States entry, competing for the International Silver Vase award in the International Six Days Trial, an off-road motorcycling event held that year in Erfurt, East Germany.[44] His competition number was 278, a number that has become associated with McQueen iconography.[44] He was inducted in the Off-road Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1978. In 1971, Solar Productions funded the classic motorcycle documentary On Any Sunday, in which McQueen is featured, along with racing legends Mert Lawwill and Malcolm Smith. “Most bike flicks in the past concentrated on the outlaw crap,” McQueen says, with some heat. “Hell’s Angels and all of that stuff, which is about as far away from the real world of motorcycle racing as I am from Lionel Barrymore. Brando’s movie The Wild One in the early 1950s set motorcycle racing back about 200 years.” Steve McQueen was so enamoured with the theme of "On Any Sunday" that he helped finance the movie by kicking in an additional $313,000 of funding.

Also in 1971, McQueen was on the cover of Sports Illustrated Magazine riding a Husqvarna dirt bike. McQueen designed a motorsports bucket seat, for which a patent was issued in 1971.[43]:93[45]

McQueen collected classic motorcycles. At the time of his death, his collection included over 100 and was valued in the millions of dollars.

In a segment filmed for The Ed Sullivan Show, McQueen drove Sullivan around a desert area in a dune buggy at high speed. Afterward, Sullivan said, "That was a helluva ride!"

McQueen owned several exotic sports cars, including:

To his dismay, McQueen was never able to own the legendary Ford Mustang GT 390 he drove in Bullitt, which featured a modified drivetrain that suited McQueen's driving style. One of the two Mustangs was badly damaged and judged beyond repair and scrapped.[46]

Personal life[edit]

McQueen and then-wife Neile Adams in the "Man from the South" episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, 1960

McQueen was married three times and had two children. On November 2, 1956, he married actress Neile Adams,[47] by whom he had a daughter, Terry Leslie (June 5, 1959 – March 19, 1998[48]), and a son, Chad (born December 28, 1960). McQueen and Adams divorced in 1972.[48] On August 31, 1973, McQueen married actress Ali MacGraw, his co-star in The Getaway, but this marriage ended in divorce in 1978.[49] MacGraw suffered a miscarriage during their marriage.[50] On January 16, 1980, less than a year before his death, McQueen married model Barbara Minty.[51] One of McQueen's four grandchildren is actor Steven R. McQueen (who is best known for playing Jeremy Gilbert in The Vampire Diaries).[52]

In the early 1970s, while separated from Adams and prior to meeting MacGraw, McQueen had a relationship with his Junior Bonner co-star Barbara Leigh,[48][53] which included her pregnancy and an abortion.[54] Actress-model Lauren Hutton has said that she had an affair with McQueen in the early 1960s.[55][56]

McQueen had a daily two-hour exercise regimen, involving weightlifting and at one point, running five miles, seven days a week. McQueen learned the martial art Tang Soo Do from ninth degree black belt Pat E. Johnson.[6] Steve McQueen was also a practitioner of Jeet Kune Do under the tutelage of the late Bruce Lee.

McQueen was known for his prolific drug use. (William Claxton said he smoked marijuana almost every day; others[who?] said he used a tremendous amount of cocaine in the early 1970s) and he was a heavy cigarette smoker. McQueen sometimes drank to excess, and was arrested for driving while intoxicated in Anchorage, Alaska in 1972.[57]

After Charles Manson incited the murder of five people, including McQueen's friends Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring at Tate's home on August 9, 1969, it was reported McQueen was a potential target of the killers. According to his first wife, McQueen began carrying a handgun at all times in public, including at Sebring's funeral.[58] Two months after the murders police found a hit list with McQueen's name on it, a result of McQueen's company having rejected a Manson screenplay. In 2011, it was revealed that Sebring had invited McQueen to the party at Tate's house on the night of the murders. According to McQueen, he had invited a girlfriend to come along, she instead suggested an intimate night at home, which probably saved his life.[7]

McQueen had an unusual reputation for demanding free items in bulk from studios when agreeing to do a film - things like electric razors, jeans and other items. It was later discovered McQueen donated these things to the Boy's Republic reformatory School,[59] where he spent time in his teen years. McQueen made occasional visits to the school to spend time with the students, often to play pool and speak about his experiences.

After discovering a mutual interest in racing, McQueen and Great Escape co-star James Garner became good friends. Garner lived down hill from McQueen; and McQueen recalled, "I could see that Jim was neat around his place. Flowers trimmed, no papers in the yard ... grass always cut. So to piss him off, I'd start lobbing empty beer cans down the hill into his driveway. He'd have his drive all spic 'n' span when he left the house, then get home to find all these empty cans. Took him a long time to figure out it was me".[13]

McQueen's third wife Barbara Minty McQueen in her book, Steve McQueen: The Last Mile, writes of McQueen becoming an Evangelical Christian toward the end of his life.[60] This was due in part to the influences of his flying instructor, Sammy Mason, Mason's son Pete, and Barbara.[61] McQueen attended his local church, Ventura Missionary Church, and was visited by evangelist Billy Graham shortly before his death.[61][62]


McQueen was an avid dirt bike rider, running a BSA Hornet.[63] He was to co-drive in a Triumph 2500 PI for the British Leyland team in the 1970 London-Mexico rally, but had to turn it down due to movie commitments.[63] He also loved flying and owned, among other aircraft, a 1945 Stearman, tail number N3188, (his student number in reform school), a 1946 Piper J3 Cub, and an award-winning 1931 Pitcairn PA-8 biplane, flown in the US Mail Service by famed World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker. They were hangared at Santa Paula Airport an hour northwest of Hollywood, where he lived his final days.[63]

Illness and Death[edit]

McQueen developed a persistent cough in 1978. He gave up cigarettes and underwent antibiotic treatments without improvement. Shortness of breath grew more pronounced and on December 22, 1979, after filming The Hunter, a biopsy revealed pleural mesothelioma,[64] a cancer associated with asbestos exposure for which there is no known cure. The asbestos was thought to have been in the protective suits worn in his race car driving days, but in fact the auto racing suits McQueen wore were made of Nomex, a DuPont fire-resistant aramid fiber that contains no asbestos.[citation needed]

A few months later, McQueen gave a medical interview in which he blamed his condition on asbestos exposure.[65] McQueen believed that asbestos used in movie sound stage insulation and race-drivers' protective suits and helmets could have been involved, but he thought it more likely that his illness was a direct result of massive exposure while removing asbestos lagging from pipes aboard a troop ship while in the Marines.[66][67]

By February 1980, there was evidence of widespread metastasis. While he tried to keep the condition a secret, the National Enquirer disclosed that he had "terminal cancer" on March 11, 1980. In July, McQueen traveled to Rosarito Beach, Mexico for unconventional treatment after US doctors told him they could do nothing to prolong his life.[68]

Controversy arose over McQueen's Mexican trip, because McQueen sought a non-traditional cancer treatment called the Gerson Therapy that used coffee enemas, frequent washing with shampoos, daily injections of fluid containing live cells from cows and sheep, massage and laetrile, a supposedly "natural" anti-cancer drug available in Mexico, but not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. McQueen paid for these unconventional medical treatments by himself in cash payments which was said to have cost an upwards of $40,000 per month during his three-month stay in Mexico. McQueen was treated by William Donald Kelley, whose only medical license had been (until revoked in 1976) for orthodontics.[69] Kelley's methods created a sensation in the traditional and tabloid press when it became known that McQueen was a patient.[70][71]

McQueen returned to the US in early October. Despite metastasis of the cancer through McQueen's body, Kelley publicly announced that McQueen would be completely cured and return to normal life. McQueen's condition soon worsened and "huge" tumors developed in his abdomen.[69]

In late October 1980, McQueen flew to Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico to have an abdominal tumor on his liver (weighing around five pounds) removed, despite warnings from his US doctors that the tumor was inoperable and his heart could not withstand the surgery.[69][72] McQueen checked into a Juarez clinic under the assumed name of "Sam Shepard" where the doctors and staff at the small, low-income clinic were unaware of his actual identity.

On 7 November 1980, Steve McQueen died at the age of 50 at the Juárez clinic following the surgical operation to remove or reduce numerous metastatic tumors in his neck and abdomen.[72] He had in fact died of cardiac arrest at 3:45 am in his hospital bed more than twelve hours after the surgery to remove the tumors. An article in the El Paso Times noted that before his death, he awoke in his hospital bed and asked the nurse for some ice and then died.

Leonard DeWitt of the Ventura Missionary Church presided over McQueen's memorial service.[60][61] McQueen was cremated and his ashes spread in the Pacific Ocean.[73]


Posthumously, McQueen remains a popular star, and his estate limits the licensing of his image to avoid the commercial saturation experienced by other deceased celebrities. As of 2007, McQueen's estate entered the top 10 of highest-earning deceased celebrities.[74]

McQueen was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers in April 2007, in a ceremony at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.[75]

In November 1999, McQueen was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. He was credited with contributions including financing the film On Any Sunday, supporting a team of off-road riders, and enhancing the public image of motorcycling overall.[76]

A film based on unfinished storyboards and notes developed by McQueen before his death was slated for production by McG's production company Wonderland Sound and Vision. Yucatan is described as an "epic adventure heist" film, scheduled for release in 2013.[77] Team Downey, the production company of Robert Downey Jr. and his wife Susan Downey, expressed an interest in developing Yucatan for the screen.[78]

The Beech Grove, Indiana, Public Library formally dedicated the Steve McQueen Birthplace Collection on March 16, 2010 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of McQueen's birth on March 24, 1930.[79]

In 2005, TV Guide ranked McQueen # 26 on its "50 Sexiest Stars of All Time" list. [80]

In 2012, McQueen was posthumously honored with the Warren Zevon Tribute Award by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO).[81]

Ford commercials[edit]

In 1998 director Paul Street created a commercial for the Ford Puma. Footage was shot in modern day San Francisco, set to the theme music from Bullitt. Archive footage of McQueen was used to digitally superimpose him driving and exiting the car in settings reminiscent of the film. The Puma shares the same number plate of classic Fastback Mustang used in the Bullitt film and as he parks in the garage (next to the Mustang), he pauses and looks meaningfully at at a motorcycle tucked in the corner, similar to that used in The Great Escape.[82]

In 2005, Ford went on to use his likeness again, in a commercial for the 2005 Mustang. In the commercial, a farmer builds a winding racetrack, which he circles in the 2005 Mustang. Out of the cornfield comes Steve McQueen. The farmer tosses his keys to McQueen, who drives off in the new Mustang. McQueen's likeness was created using a body double (Dan Holsten) and digital editing. Ford secured the rights to McQueen's likeness from the actor's estate licensing agent, GreenLight for an undisclosed sum.


The blue-tinted sunglasses (Persol 714) worn by McQueen in the 1968 movie The Thomas Crown Affair sold at a Bonhams & Butterfields auction in Los Angeles for $70,200 in 2006.[83] One of his motorcycles, a 1937 Crocker, sold for a world-record price of $276,500 at the same auction. McQueen's 1963 metallic-brown Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta Lusso sold for $2.31 million USD at auction on August 16, 2007.[2] Except for three motorcycles sold with other memorabilia in 2006,[84] most of McQueen's collection of 130 motorcycles was sold 4 years after his death.[85][86] The 1970 Porsche 911S purchased while making the film Le Mans and appearing in the opening sequence was sold at auction in August 2011 for $1.375 million. The Rolex Explorer II, Reference 1655, known as Rolex Steve McQueen in the horology collectors' world, the Rolex Submariner, Reference 5512, which McQueen was often photographed wearing in private moments, sold for $234,000 at auction on June 11, 2009, a world-record price for the reference.[87] McQueen was left-handed and wore the watch on his right wrist.[88][89]

McQueen was a sponsored ambassador for Heuer watches. In the 1970 film Le Mans, he famously wore a blue faced Monaco 1133B Caliber 11 Automatic, which led to its cult status among watch collectors. His sold for $87,600 at auction on June 11, 2009.[87] Tag Heuer continues to promote its Monaco range with McQueen’s image.[90]

From 2009, Triumph Motorcycles Ltd, licensed by his estate, marketed a line of clothing inspired by Steve McQueen's association with their brand, particularly his 1964 ISDT participation.

British heritage clothing brand J. Barbour and Sons created a Steve McQueen collection, based on the fact that he owned a Barbour International motorbike jacket.

Steve McQueen was the second album by English pop band Prefab Sprout, which was released in June 1985. It was released in the United States under the title Two Wheels Good due to a legal conflict with McQueen's estate.


YearFilm/TV SeriesRoleNotes
1953Girl on the RunExtraUncredited
1955Goodyear PlayhouseTV series (1 episode: "The Chivington Raid")
1956The United States Steel HourBushyTV series (1 episode: "Bring Me a Dream")
1956Somebody Up There Likes MeFidelUncredited
1957Studio One in HollywoodJoseph GordonTV series (2 episodes)
1957West PointTV series (1 episode: "Ambush")
1957The 20th Century-Fox HourKinsellaTV series (1 episode: "Deep Water")
1957The Big StoryChuck MiltonTV series (1 episode: "Malcolm Glover of the San Francisco Examiner")
1958Climax!Anthony Reeves / Henry ReevesTV series (1 episode: "Four Hours in White")
1958Tales of Wells FargoBill LongleyTV series (1 episode: "Bill Longley")
1958TrackdownJosh Randall/Mal Cody/Wes CodyTV series (2 episodes)
1958Never Love a StrangerMartin Cabell
1958The BlobSteve Andrews
1958-61Wanted: Dead or AliveJosh RandallTV series (94 episodes)
1959The Great St. Louis Bank RobberyGeorge Fowler
1959Never So FewBill Ringa
1959Alfred Hitchcock PresentsBill EverettTV series (1 episode: "Human Interest Story")
1960Alfred Hitchcock PresentsGamblerTV series (1 episode: "Man from the South")
1960The Magnificent SevenVin Tanner
1961The Honeymoon MachineLt. Ferguson "Fergie" Howard
1962Hell Is for HeroesReese
1962The War LoverCapt. Buzz Rickson
1963The Great EscapeCapt. Virgil Hilts "The Cooler King"
1963Soldier in the RainSgt. Eustis Clay
1963Love with the Proper StrangerRocky Papasano
1965Baby the Rain Must FallHenry Thomas
1965The Cincinnati KidThe Cincinnati Kid
1966Nevada SmithNevada Smith
1966The Sand PebblesJake HolmanNominated - Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
1967Think TwentiethHimselfDocumentary short
1968The Thomas Crown AffairThomas Crown
1968BullittLt. Frank Bullitt
1969The ReiversBoon Hogganbeck
1971Le MansMichael Delaney
1971On Any SundayHimselfDocumentary
1972Junior BonnerJunior "JR" Bonner
1972The GetawayDoc McCoy
1973Bruce Lee: The Man and the LegendHimselfDocumentary; uncredited
1973The Magnificent RebelHimselfDocumentary short
1973PapillonHenri 'Papillon' Charriere
1974The Towering InfernoChief Mike O'Hallorhan
1976Dixie DynamiteDirt-bike RiderUncredited
1978An Enemy of the PeopleDr. Thomas StockmannAlso executive producer
1980Tom HornTom HornAlso executive producer
1980The HunterRalph 'Papa' ThorsonFinal role

Awards and honors[edit]

Academy Awards
Golden Globe Awards
Moscow International Film Festival


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]