He was the ultra-cool male film star of the 1960s, and rose from a troubled youth spent in reform schools to being the world's most popular actor. Over 25 years after his untimely death from mesothelioma in 1980, Steve McQueen is still considered hip and cool, and he endures as an icon of popular culture.
His first lead role was in the low-budget sci-fi film The Blob (1958), quickly followed by roles in The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery (1959) and Never So Few (1959). The young McQueen appeared as Vin, alongside Yul Brynner, in the star-laden The Magnificent Seven (1960) and effectively hijacked the lead from the bigger star by ensuring he was nearly always doing something in every shot he and Brynner were in together, such as adjusting his hat or gun belt. He next scored with audiences with two interesting performances, first in the WW2 drama Hell Is for Heroes (1962) and then in The War Lover (1962). Riding a wave of popularity, McQueen delivered another crowd pleaser as Hilts, the Cooler King, in the knockout WW2 POW film The Great Escape (1963), featuring his famous leap over the barbed wire on a motorcycle while being pursued by Nazi troops (in fact, however, the stunt was actually performed by his good friend, stunt rider Bud Ekins).
McQueen next appeared in several films of mixed quality, including Soldier in the Rain (1963); Love with the Proper Stranger (1963) and Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965). However, they failed to really grab audience attention, but his role as Eric Stoner in The Cincinnati Kid (1965), alongside screen legend Edward G. Robinson and Karl Malden, had movie fans filling theaters again to see the ice-cool McQueen they loved. He was back in another western, Nevada Smith (1966), again with Malden, and then he gave what many consider to be his finest dramatic performance as loner US Navy sailor Jake Holman in the superb The Sand Pebbles (1966). McQueen was genuine hot property and next appeared with Faye Dunaway in the provocative crime drama The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), next in what many consider his signature role, that of a maverick, taciturn detective in the mega-hit Bullitt (1968), renowned for its famous chase sequence through San Francisco between McQueen's Ford Mustang and the killer's black Dodge Charger.
Interestingly, McQueen's next role was a total departure from the action genre, as he played Southerner Boon Hogganbeck in the family-oriented The Reivers (1969), based on the popular William Faulkner novel. Not surprisingly, the film didn't go over particularly well with audiences, even though it was an entertaining and well made production, and McQueen showed an interesting comedic side of his acting talents. He returned to more familiar territory in 1971, with the race film Le Mans (1971), a rather self-indulgent exercise, and its slow plot line contributed to its rather poor performance in theaters. It wasn't until many years later that it became something of a cult film, primarily because of the footage of Porsche 917s roaring around race tracks in France. McQueen then teamed up with maverick Hollywood director Sam Peckinpah to star in the modern western Junior Bonner (1972), about a family of rodeo riders, and again with Peckinpah as bank robber Doc McCoy in the violent The Getaway (1972). Both did good business at the box office. McQueen's next role was a refreshing surprise and Papillon (1973), based on the Henri Charrière novel of the same name, was well received by fans and critics alike. He plays a convict on a French penal colony in South America who persists in trying to escape from his captors and feels their wrath when his attempts fail.
The 1970s is a decade remembered for a slew of "disaster" movies and McQueen starred in arguably the biggest of the time, The Towering Inferno (1974). He shared equal top billing with Paul Newman and an impressive line-up of co-stars including Fred Astaire, Robert Vaughn and Faye Dunaway. McQueen does not appear until roughly halfway into the film as San Francisco fire chief Mike O'Halloran, battling to extinguish an inferno in a 138-story skyscraper. The film was a monster hit and set the benchmark for other disaster movies that followed. It was, however, McQueen's last film role for several years, as he began a long fight against cancer, often resorting to offbeat therapies in an attempt to beat the disease. After a four-year hiatus he surprised fans, and was almost unrecognizable under long hair and a beard, as a rabble-rousing early environmentalist in An Enemy of the People (1978), based on the Henrik Ibsen play.
By 1979, the spreading cancer was taking its toll on his body. McQueen's last two film performances were in the unusual western Tom Horn (1980), then he portrayed real-life bounty hunter Ralph "Papa' Thorson (Ralph Thorson) in The Hunter (1980). Steve McQueen passed away on November 7, 1980, only 50 years of age, and his ashes were scattered at sea. He married three times and had a lifelong love of motor racing, once remarking, "Racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting."
|Barbara Minty||(16 January 1980 - 7 November 1980) (his death)|
|Ali MacGraw||(31 August 1973 - 1978) (divorced)|
|Neile Adams||(2 November 1956 - 26 April 1972) (divorced) 2 children|
Usually played tough, sexy and determined men
Low gravelly voice
Roles in Action films and War films
Often played Police officers or Military characters
Ranked #30 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list. [October 1997]
A week before the Woodstock Music Festival kicked off in Bethel, New York, McQueen had been invited for dinner at the Roman Polanski-Sharon Tate home in the Hollywood hills by mutual friend and hairdresser-to the-stars, Jay Sebring. An unexpected rendezvous with a mystery woman prompted him to cancel his appointment. In the wake of the Manson Family Tate-LaBianca murders at, respectively, 10050 Cielo Drive and 3301 Waverly Drive, McQueen would later learn that he was accorded the kind of priority billing for which he was unprepared: he topped Charles Manson's celebrity death list. Thereafter he carried a concealed weapon. (see also: Jerzy Kosinski and Jeremy Lloyd.) [8 August 1969]
Although he was the highest paid star of the 1960s, McQueen had a reputation for being tight-fisted. On some films he would demand ten electric razors and dozens of pairs of jeans. It was later found that he gave this stuff to Boys Republic, a private school and treatment community for troubled youngsters, where he spent a few years himself.
Issued a private pilot's license by the FAA in 1979 after learning to fly in a Stearman bi-plane, which he purchased for that purpose. After his death it was sold at auction,along with his large collection of vehicles, in 1982.
Served in the United States Marine Corps.
Was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an often fatal form of cancer related to asbestos exposure, one which often afflicts workers in ship-building and construction industries. As in most cases, a tumor was discovered on the outside lining of a lung, and spread to other areas of the body. Although McQueen had been a heavy smoker as well, which may or may not have been a contributing factor, mesothelioma itself is not a smoking-related lung disease. While the source of his exposure has been debated, McQueen himself points to two likely sources, including the time when he took part in replacing asbestos-based insulation in the ship's engine room during his stint in the Marines. And that he could also have been exposed in his years as a film star, since sound stage insulation had also been made of asbestos. Some have also suggested other things as possible sources, like automotive brake pads, and the cloth used to bandage his broken foot during the 12 hours of Sebring race in '71.
Was cremated and had his ashes scattered into the Pacific Ocean
Chosen by Empire magazine as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history (#19). 
Was a pallbearer at the funeral of actor Bruce Lee.
Dropped out of school in 9th grade.
Former stepfather of Josh Evans.
His role in Never So Few (1959) was originally going to be played by Sammy Davis Jr.. A feud had broken out between Davis and Frank Sinatra after Davis had claimed in a radio interview that he was a greater singer than Sinatra. Sinatra demanded he be dropped from the cast, and thus McQueen received his breakthrough role.
Diagnosed with mesothelioma lung cancer on December 22, 1979, but kept his terminal illness a secret up until over a month before his death.
Died from two consecutive heart attacks at 3:45 am on November 7 1980, less than 24 hours after undergoing successful surgery to remove the malignant tumors in his stomach and lungs. According to the doctor present at the operation, his right lung was entirely cancerous.
Sheryl Crow made a song titled 'Steve McQueen' as a tribute to him. It is featured on the album "C'mon C'mon".
The original script of The Towering Inferno (1974) called for McQueen's character to have more lines of dialogue than that of Paul Newman's. McQueen insisted that the script be changed so that he and Newman would have the same number of lines. He believed that his talent was superior to Newman's and he wanted the critical criteria to be as equal as possible.
Was originally slated to star with Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969); however, due to a disagreement over the billing, he left the project. Ironically, the billing method was used several years later when he and Newman starred together in The Towering Inferno (1974).
He was very interested in playing John Rambo in the adaptation of the novel "First Blood". He was actually slated to star, but did not due to his death. Sylvester Stallone got the role instead in First Blood (1982).
The band Drive-By Truckers have the tribute song "Steve McQueen" featured on their 1998 album "Gangstabilly".
After being told his lung cancer was inoperable, he went to a health clinic in Mexico to undergo a controversial "apricot pit" therapy that is still banned in the United States.
Appears, helmeted and uncredited, as a motorcyclist in the 1976 B-movie Dixie Dynamite (1976), starring Warren Oates and Christopher George. Legend has it that the call went out for dirt bike riders to take part in this low-budget action adventure, and among those who turned up was McQueen. Heavily bearded and overweight, he kept a low profile (this was during his reclusive period when he was turning down multi-million-dollar offers for such films as A Bridge Too Far (1977) and Apocalypse Now (1979)), and was only noticed when he queued up to accept his day's payment, about $120. The astonished production assistant handing out the cash saw his name on a list and said, "Is that THE Steve McQueen?". McQueen's riding style (standing on his foot pedals, leaning forward, head over the handlebars) makes him immediately identifiable to bike buffs.
He was voted the 56th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
The "King of Cool" became a born-again Christian shortly before he died, due to the influence of his third wife Barbara Minty and his flying instructor Sammy Mason. He went through bible studies with the Reverend Billy Graham. It is interesting to note that this conversion happened before he was diagnosed with cancer, meaning it was probably genuine. McQueen's favorite Bible verse was John 3:16 which reads, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life". That verse is written in the original King James Version Holy Bible.
In the 1960s, he publicly threatened to break Howard Hughes' nose if Hughes did not stop harassing Mamie Van Doren, a woman both men had had affairs with, but at different times. Needless to say, Hughes never bothered Van Doren again.
Upon meeting Martin Landau, McQueen told Landau he had already met him. Landau, who didn't remember McQueen, inquired as to where. McQueen told him that he -- Landau -- was on the back of James Dean's motorcycle when Dean brought it in for repairs at a NYC garage. The motorcycle mechanic at the garage was none other than McQueen.
After the huge success of The Towering Inferno (1974), McQueen announced that any producer wishing to acquire his services would have to send a check for $1.5 million along with the script. If he liked the script and wanted to make the movie, he'd cash the check; the producer then owed him another $1.5 million. He'd keep his half of his $3 million salary if the producer couldn't come up with the other half. McQueen likely used this then-unprecedented pay-or-play arrangement to guarantee the six-year semi-retirement he undertook after "The Towering Inferno", in which he appeared in only one picture, the vanity project An Enemy of the People (1978). When he did return to commercial filmmaking, his price was $3 million.
He was voted the 31st Greatest Movie Star of all time by Premiere Magazine.
Appeared with Charles Bronson in three films directed by John Sturges: Never So Few (1959), The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963). Also, appeared with James Coburn in the latter two Sturges films cited above.
According to military records released by the Pentagon in 2005, Marine Private First Class Steve McQueen was confined to base for being absent without leave for 30 days and fined $90 after being AWOL from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. McQueen joined the Marines Corps at 17 and worked as a tank driver and mechanic, which probably spurred his lifelong interest in vehicles, especially motorcycles. He received a commendation for rescuing five Marines in a training accident, and later took advantage of military educational benefits to study at the Actors' Studio in New York City.
When he briefly left The Great Escape (1963) during filming, due to the fact that his character did not play as large a part as he would have liked, it was James Coburn and James Garner that convinced him to return. Because of its huge success and continuing popularity, it has become his best known role.
Like the coolest movie stars, was strongly connected to Triumph motorcycles, riding a 650cc TR6 Trophy in The Great Escape (1963) and competing on the same model in the 1964 International Six Days Trial held in East Germany. Photographs of his desert racing also show him upon this model. He also visited Triumph's Meriden factory in 1964 and 1965 for collection and preparation of his motorcycles.
In the movie S.W.A.T. (2003), Colin Farrell's character of Jim Street has a poster of McQueen's Bullitt (1968) in his apartment. In real life, Farrell frequently cites McQueen as one of his idols and influences as an actor.
In 1960 with his growing success he formed his own production company called Scuderia Condor Enterprises, which he ran until 1963 when he and his family moved to 2419 Solar Drive and he renamed his company to Solar Productons, Inc and would produce many films under this banner until his death.
Of all the characters he ever played, he frequently cited Lt. Frank Bullitt from Bullitt (1968) as his favorite.
The last words he uttered on screen were "God bless you" in The Hunter (1980).
His only two appearances at the Academy Awards was as a presenter: (1964) Presented the Oscar for Best Sound. (1965) Holding hands with Claudia Cardinale presented the Oscar again for Best Sound
Shortly before filming began on Tom Horn (1980), he had quit smoking cigarettes. His somewhat "squashed" appearance in the movie was due to a crash diet.
Former father-in-law of Stacey Toten.
Grandfather of Steven R. McQueen and Molly Flattery.
McQueen's name somehow appeared on President Richard Nixon's "List of Enemies" in 1972. In reality, McQueen was conservative in his political beliefs, with a strong belief in self-help. In 1963, he had declined to participate in the March on Washington for civil rights and, in 1968, he refused to join many of his Hollywood peers in supporting Senator Robert F. Kennedy's presidential campaign. An incredulous Ali MacGraw asked McQueen how he could have been considered a threat by Nixon, adding, "You are the most patriotic person I know!" McQueen responded to the whole affair by flying an enormous American flag outside his house.
Was William Friedkin's first choice for the Jackie Scanlon character in Sorcerer (1977). McQueen accepted the part, but on one condition. He wanted a co-starring role for his then wife, Ali MacGraw. Friedkin would not accept his conditions, and McQueen dropped out of the film. Freidkin later went on record has having regretted not accepting McQueen's conditions.
Before his death, McQueen optioned two screenplays from Walter Hill: The Driver (1978) and "The Last Gun". The Driver (1978) got made later, with 'Ryan O'Neal (I)' playing the lead part, and "The Last Gun" remains unproduced.
After The Towering Inferno (1974) he was offered several multi-million-dollar roles but refused them all. He turned down the chance to star in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Superman (1978), Raise the Titanic (1980) and the opportunity to star in and direct a film called "Deajum's Wife".
Turned down a role for the sequel to The Towering Inferno (1974) in 1977.
Felt ill during the filming of Tom Horn (1980), and assumed he had pneumonia. However, towards the end of filming McQueen had begun to cough up blood. On 22 December 1979, after filming had finished, he was diagnosed with cancer.
Following the release of Bullitt (1968) McQueen found it hilarious how he was considered the coolest celebrity by teenagers, despite being nearly forty. In that same year he declared his support for the Vietnam War and voted for Richard Nixon in November's presidential election.
Homer Simpson named McQueen as his personal hero in "The Simpsons" (1989) episode "Saturdays of Thunder (1991)".
Was offered the co-starring role in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). However, he was still under contract for his TV series "Wanted: Dead or Alive" (1958), which prevented him from appearing. The role eventually went to George Peppard.
In 1973 McQueen flew to England to meet Oliver Reed and discuss a possible film collaboration. "Reed showed me his country mansion and we got on well," recalled McQueen. "He then suggested he take me to his favorite London nightclub." The drinking, which started at Reed's home, Broome Hall, continued into the night until Reed could hardly stand. Suddenly, and with no apparent warning, he vomited over McQueen's shirt and trousers. "The staff rushed around and found me some new clothes, but they couldn't get me any shoes," said McQueen. "I had to spend the rest of the night smelling of Oliver Reed's sick.".
Turned down a role in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969).
Inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers in April 2007.
He did not like gratuitous violence, swearing or nudity in movies.
At one point he approached playwright Samuel Beckett with an idea for filming the play "Waiting for Godot", but Becket had never heard of him.
Intended to retire after filming The Towering Inferno (1974).
Inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1978.
Inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999.
British band Prefab Sprout used his name for the title of their second album, released in 1985. Due to objections from the late actor's estate, the album was issued with the alternative title of "Two Wheels Good" in the United States.
Profiled in "Back in the Saddle: Essays on Western Film and Television Actors", Gary Yoggy, ed. (McFarland, 1998).
Kevin Costner has named McQueen as his favorite actor, and his main influence as an actor.
Quigley Down Under (1990) was written for McQueen in the 1970s.
Made headlines when accepting the lead in Tai-Pan (1986) for an unheard of $10 million, for which he was given a $1 million fee up front. His health declined, however, and he died before the producers were able to raise the necessary capital for production. It was eventually released six years after McQueen's death, with Bryan Brown in the lead.
Was considered, but ultimately rejected, for the role of Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby (1974).
Was originally supposed to star in The Gauntlet (1977), but left the project during pre-production because he didn't want to work with Barbra Streisand, the first choice for the female lead. The roles eventually went to Clint Eastwood and Sondra Locke.
On 21 March 1967, three days before his 37th birthday, he became the 153rd star to put his hand prints and footprints on the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theater.
Former longtime girlfriend, Barbara Leigh, wrote about their relationship in her book "The King, McQueen, and the Love Machine.".
Turned down a role in A Bridge Too Far (1977) because he only wanted top billing roles, not all-star assembled projects.
Cousin of Janice McQueen Ward.
Had a younger paternal half sister, Terri McQueen, whom he never met.
In my own mind, I'm not sure that acting is something for a grown man to be doing.
[From TV Guide]: When a horse learns to buy martinis, I'll learn to like horses.
I don't believe in that phony hero stuff.
If I hadn't made it as an actor, I might have wound up a hood.
There's something about my shaggy-dog eyes that makes people think I'm good.
When I believe in something, I fight like hell for it.
Sometimes kids ask me what a pro is. I just point to the Duke [John Wayne]
I live for myself and I answer to nobody.
Stardom equals freedom. It's the only equation that matters.
I just want the pine trees and my kids and the green grass. I want to get rich and fat and watch my children grow.
An actor is a puppet, manipulated by a dozen other people. Auto racing has dignity. But you need the same absolute concentration. You have to reach inside yourself and bring forth a lot of broken glass.
Stardom equals financial success, and financial success equals security. I've spent too much of my life feeling insecure.
I really don't like to act. At the beginning, back in '51, I had to force myself to stick with it. I was real uncomfortable, real uncomfortable.
When a kid didn't have any love when he was small, he begins to wonder if he's good enough. You know if my mother didn't love me, and I didn't have a father, I mean, well, I guess I'm not very good.
You only say what's important and you own the scene.
I worked hard, and if you work hard you get the goodies.
I'm not sure whether I'm an actor who races or a racer who acts.
The main thing I was shooting for was not to make bucks but to have something I could believe in. - On An Enemy of the People (1978).
I am a limited actor. My range isn't that great and I don't have that much scope. I'm pretty much myself most of the time in my movies and I have accepted that.
The Marines gave me discipline I could live with. By the time I got out I could deal with things on a more realistic level. All in all, despite my problems, I liked my time in the Marines.
I believe in me. I'm a little screwed up but I'm beautiful.
They call me a chauvinist pig. I am... and I don't give a damn!
I have to be careful because I'm a limited actor. I mean, my range isn't very great. There's a whole lot of stuff I can't do, so I have to find characters and situations that feel right. Even then, when I've got something that fits, it's a hell of a lot of work. I'm not a serious actor. There's something about my shaggy-dog eyes that makes people think I'm good. I'm not all that good.
I'm out of the Midwest. It was a good place to come from. It gives you a sense of right or wrong and fairness, which is lacking in our society.
If a guy like him can become a star, what'll happen to guys like Newman and me? - On Dustin Hoffman.
Every time I look in the rear-view mirror, I see Robert Redford.
[His last words] I did it.
|Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956)||$19/day|
|The Blob (1958)||$3,000|
|The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery (1959)||$4,000|
|Never So Few (1959)||$75,000|
|The Magnificent Seven (1960)||$100,000|
|The Honeymoon Machine (1961)||$100,000|
|Hell Is for Heroes (1962)||$150,000|
|The War Lover (1962)||$75,000|
|The Great Escape (1963)||$400,000|
|Soldier in the Rain (1963)||$300,000|
|Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)||$300,000|
|Nevada Smith (1966)||$500,000|
|The Sand Pebbles (1966)||$250,000|
|The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)||$700,000|
|The Reivers (1969)||$700,000|
|Le Mans (1971)||$750,000 + % of the gross|
|Junior Bonner (1972)||$500,000|
|The Getaway (1972)||No up front fee in exchange for 10% of the gross.|
|Papillon (1973)||$2,300,000 + % of gross|
|The Towering Inferno (1974)||$1,500,000 + 10% of the gross|
|An Enemy of the People (1978)||$1,500 a week|
|Tom Horn (1980)||3,000,000 + 10% of the gross|
|The Hunter (1980)||$3,000,000 + 15% of gross|
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