Terrence Stephen McQueen (March 24, 1930 – November 7, 1980), nicknamed the "King of Cool", was an American actor.His antihero persona, emphasized during the height of the counterculture of the 1960s, made him a top box-office draw during the 1960s and 1970s.
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Steve McQueen, Actor: The Great Escape. 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 40 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. McQueen was born in Beech Grove, Indiana, ...
- Early Life
- Early Travels and Jobs
- Introduction to Acting
- 'Wanted' in Hollywood
- 'Bullitt' and Other Hits
- Personal Struggles and Later Roles
Terrence Steven McQueen was born on March 24, 1930, in Beech Grove, Indiana. He barely knew his father, William, who abandoned McQueen and his mother, Julian, when he was only a few months old. More interested in her own life, Julian soon left McQueen in the care of his great-granduncle Claude Thompson. He stayed with his great-granduncle on his farm in Slater, Missouri, for many years, seeing his mother from time to time. When McQueen was around 12 years old, he reunited with his mother after she remarried. They eventually moved to Los Angeles, California, where he became involved with local gangs. He got caught stealing hubcaps from cars twice and eventually landed in reform school, the California Junior Boys Republic in Chino. McQueen initially struggled in this new environment, frequently breaking the rules and even escaping several times, before befriending a staff member and settling down. He later believed that the experience changed his life, saying, "I would have ended up i...
McQueen agreed to join his mother in New York City in 1946, but upon arriving there he found out that his mother had put him up in another apartment, instead of letting him live with her. McQueen soon took off, joining the Merchant Marines for a short time aboard the SS Alpha. The job didn't work out either, and he left the ship while it was docked in the Dominican Republic. Before making his way back to the United States, McQueen worked in a brothel as a towel boy for a time. He returned home and began a series of odd jobs around the country, including working on oil rigs and in a carnival. In 1947, McQueen enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and became a tank driver. Showing his rebellious streak, he ended up in the brig for extending a weekend pass into a two-week holiday. McQueen was far from the model soldier: "I was busted back down to private about seven times. The only way I could have been made corporal was if all the other privates in the Marines dropped dead," he said, acco...
McQueen's first role as an actor was a bit part in a Yiddish theatrical production; he only had one line and was cut from the show after four nights. Despite this setback, it was apparent that McQueen had talent, and he won a scholarship to study at the Uta Hagen-Herbert Berghof School in 1952. A few years later, McQueen was accepted to the prestigious Actors Studio, where he studied with Lee Strasberg. In 1956, McQueen was involved in his sole Broadway production, taking over the leading role of junkie Johnny Pope from Ben Gazzara in A Hatful of Rain. That year he also had a small part in the feature Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), which starred Paul Newman. He felt a rivalry with Newman, a fellow member of the Actors Studio.
McQueen experienced his first taste of stardom in 1958 with the lead role of Steve Andrews in the sci-fi film The Blob, which became a cult classic. That year he also headlined the television Western Wanted—Dead or Aliveas bounty hunter Josh Randall. The show became a big hit, and McQueen started to attract more attention from Hollywood. In 1959, McQueen starred in the crime drama The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery, and also appeared with Frank Sinatra in the war drama Never So Few. Around this time, he discovered a passion for race-car driving. McQueen was already a longtime fan of motorcycles. In 1960, McQueen had a leading role in the Western The Magnificent Seven, with Yul Brynner and Charles Bronson. His television show ended shortly afterward, giving him the opportunity to take on more film roles. With 1963's The Great Escape, McQueen earned top billing, showing the world that he was a bona fide movie star.
More box office hits followed, including the gambling drama The Cincinnati Kid (1965) and the Western Nevada Smith (1966). McQueen received his only Academy Award nomination for his work on the military drama The Sand Pebbles (1966), playing a Naval engineer stationed on a gunboat in China during the 1920s. He then scored another success with the romantic crime caper The Thomas Crown Affair(1968), with Faye Dunaway as his love interest. That same year, McQueen made waves as a San Francisco cop in Bullitt, particularly for his part in one of cinematic history's most celebrated car chases. Along that vein, he tried to tap into his love of car racing in 1971's Le Mans, with only limited success. In an effort to have more creative control, McQueen formed First Artists Productions with Barbra Streisand, Sidney Poitier, Newman and Dustin Hoffman that same year.
Turning to more weighty material, McQueen had better success as the title character of Junior Bonner (1972), a well-received family drama directed by Sam Peckinpah. That year he also starred in The Getaway, with Ali MacGraw. McQueen went on to garner accolades for his performance in the prison drama Papillon (1973), opposite Hoffman, and played a hero in the disaster epic The Towering Inferno(1974). As his career progressed, the actor's personal demons began to eclipse his talent. Separated from his first wife, Neile, with whom he had children Chad and Terry, McQueen struck up a romance with MacGraw while filming The Getaway. The affair ignited a scandal, as the actress was married to film executive Robert Evans at the time, but McQueen and MacGraw married in 1973. Their relationship grew increasingly stormy, fueled in part by McQueen's use of alcohol and drugs, until their divorce in 1978. Both of his ex-wives later stated that the actor could be physically abusive and was often un...
- 4 min
- Early life and career
- Later career
McQueen was born in Beech Grove, Indiana, to Julia Ann (Crawford) and William Terence McQueen, a stunt pilot. His first lead role was in the low-budget sci-fi film The Blob (1958), quickly followed by roles in The 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 World War II 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 World War II P.O.W. 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, 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 was not 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. However, it was McQueen's last film role for several years. 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.
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). In 1978, McQueen developed a small but persistent cough that would not go away. He quit smoking and underwent antibiotic treatments without improvement. Shortness of breath grew more pronounced and on December 22, 1979, after he completed work on 'The Hunter', a biopsy revealed pleural mesothelioma, a rare lung 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. McQueen later gave a medical interview in which he 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 US Marines. 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 an unconventional treatment after American doctors told him they could do nothing to prolong his life. 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. McQueen returned to the United States in early October 1980. 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. In late October, McQueen flew to Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico to have an abdominal tumor on his liver (weighing around five pounds) removed, despite warnings from his American doctors that the tumor was inoperable and his heart could not withstand the surgery. McQueen checked into a Juarez clinic under the alias \\"Sam Shepard\\" where the local Mexican doctors and staff at the small, low-income clinic were unaware of his actual identity.
Steve McQueen passed away on November 7, 1980, at age 50 after the cancer surgery which was said to be successful. He was cremated 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.\\".
Among Steve McQueen's many passions was his desire to give back to the community. Often while on a film location, he came across people in need and would always try to find a way to help; whether it meant a financial donation, a visit to a hospital or an orphanage, or buying athletic equipment for a poverty-stricken neighborhood.
Nov 13, 2009 · On November 7, 1980, the actor Steve McQueen, one of Hollywood’s leading men of the 1960s and 1970s and the star of such action thrillers as Bullitt and The Towering Inferno, dies at the age of ...
Nov 04, 2020 · Last chance surgery, Steve McQueen dies in Juarez, Nov. 1980. Forty years ago, Nov. 7, 1980, actor Steve McQueen died of heart failure at a Juárez clinic while recovering from surgery to remove ...
- Trish Long
The drama of Steve McQueen's life far surpassed anything he ever played on screen. He followed in the footsteps of his mother, a prostitute, who eventually seduced him as part of an Oedipal fling. Earlier, he'd been brutally molested by some of this mother's "johns," and endured gang rape in...
May 23, 2010 · In the spring of 1963, Steve McQueen was on the brink of superstardom, already popular from his big-screen breakout as one of The Magnificent Seven and just a couple months away from entering the Badass Hall of Fame with the release of The Great Escape.
Mar 05, 2019 · Steve McQueen was a struggling actor when he picked up Broadway star Neile Adams for their first date in 1956 — and she was in for the ride of her life.