Terrence Steven "Steve" McQueen (March 24, 1930 – November 7, 1980) was an American movie actor, nicknamed "The King of Cool". His "anti-hero" persona, which he developed at the height of the Vietnam counterculture, made him one of the top box-office draws of the 1960s and 1970s. After appearing in the 1974 film The Towering Inferno, he became the highest paid movie star in the world. Although McQueen was combative with directors and producers, his popularity put him in high demand and enabled him to command large salaries.
He was an avid racer of both motorcycles and cars. While he studied acting, he supported himself partly by competing in weekend motorcycle races and bought his first motorcycle with his winnings. He is recognized for performing many of his own stunts, especially the stunt driving during the high-speed chase scene in Bullitt. Additionally, McQueen designed and patented a bucket seat for race cars.
McQueen had good memories of the time spent on his Great Uncle Claude's farm. In recalling Claude, McQueen stated "He was a very good man, very strong, very fair. I learned a lot from him." On McQueen's fourth birthday, Claude gave him a red tricycle, which McQueen later claimed started his interest in racing. At the age of 8 he was taken back 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".
McQueen, who was dyslexic and partially deaf as a result of a childhood ear infection, did not adjust well to his new life. Within a couple of years he was running with a street gang and committing acts of petty crime. Unable to control his behavior, his mother sent him back to Slater again. A couple of years later, when McQueen was 12, Jullian wrote to Claude asking that McQueen be returned to her once again, to live in her new home in Los Angeles, California. Jullian, whose second marriage had ended in divorce, had married for a third time.
This would begin an unsettled period in McQueen's life. By McQueen's own account, he and his new stepfather "locked horns immediately". McQueen recounted him as "a prime son of a bitch" who was not averse to using his fists on both McQueen and his mother. As McQueen began to rebel once again, he was sent back to live with Claude a final time. At the age of 14, McQueen left Claude's farm without saying goodbye and joined a circus for a short time, after which he slowly drifted back to his mother and stepfather in Los Angeles and resumed his life as a gang member and petty criminal. On one occasion, McQueen was caught stealing hubcaps by police who proceeded to hand him over to his stepfather. The latter proceeded to beat McQueen severely and ended 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."
After this, McQueen's stepfather convinced Jullian to sign a court order stating that McQueen was incorrigible and remanding him to the California Junior Boys Republic in Chino Hills, California. Here, McQueen slowly 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." Ultimately, however, McQueen decided to give Boys Republic a fair shot. He became a role model for the other boys when he was elected to the Boys Council, a group who made the rules and regulations governing the boys' lives. (He would eventually leave Boys Republic at 16 and when he later became famous, he regularly returned to talk to the boys there. He also personally responded to every letter he received from the boys there, and retained a lifelong association.)
After McQueen left Chino, he returned to Jullian, now living in Greenwich Village, but almost immediately left again. He then met two sailors from the Merchant Marine and volunteered to serve on a ship bound for the Dominican Republic. Once there, he abandoned his new post, and eventually made his way to Texas, and drifted from job to job. He worked as a towel boy in a brothel, an oil rigger, a trinket salesman in a carnival, and a lumberjack.
After this, McQueen resolved to focus his energies on self-improvement and embraced the Marines' discipline. He saved the lives of 5 other Marines during an Arctic exercise, pulling them from a tank before it broke through ice into the sea. He was also assigned to an honor guard responsible for guarding then-US President Harry Truman's yacht. McQueen served until 1950 when he was honorably discharged.
After several roles in productions including Peg o' My Heart, The Member of the Wedding, and Two Fingers of Pride, McQueen landed his first film role in Somebody Up There Likes Me, directed by Robert Wise and starring Paul Newman. He made his Broadway debut in 1955 in the play A Hatful of Rain, starring Ben Gazzara. When McQueen appeared in a two-part television presentation titled The Defenders, Hollywood manager Hilly Elkins (who managed McQueen's first wife, Neile) took note of him and decided that B-movies would be a good place for the young actor to make his mark. McQueen was subsequently hired to appear in the films Never Love a Stranger, The Blob, and The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery.
McQueen would ultimately make this role his own and become a household name as a result. Randall's holster held a sawed-off Winchester rifle nicknamed the "Mare's Leg," instead of the standard six-gun carried by the typical Western character. This added to the anti-hero image of a man infused with a mixture of mystery, alienation, and detachment that made this show stand out from the typical TV Western. Ninety four episodes, filmed at Apacheland Studio from 1958 till early 1961, kept McQueen steadily employed in television.
In 1966 McQueen appeared as Nevada Smith in the movie of the same name.
In 1966, McQueen earned his only Academy Award nomination, for his role in the film The Sand Pebbles. He followed with another successful film, 1968's Bullitt, which featured an unprecedented (and endlessly imitated) auto chase through San Francisco, with Bud Ekins again doubling for some of the more hazardous work. McQueen also appeared in the 1971 car race drama Le Mans, and in The Getaway in 1972. He played the leading role in Junior Bonner in 1972, and in 1973's Papillon.
By the time of The Getaway, McQueen was the world's highest paid actor. After The Towering Inferno, co-starring with his long-time rival Paul Newman in 1974, McQueen did not return to film until 1978 with An Enemy of the People playing against type as a heavily-bearded, bespectacled doctor, in this adaptation of the Henrik Ibsen play. The film was little seen. His last films were Tom Horn and The Hunter, both released in 1980.
He had been interested in starring in First Blood, but could not due to illness. He had also been offered the titular role in The Bodyguard when it was first proposed in 1976. He was to play the lead in Quigley Down Under, which was scheduled for production in 1980, but due to his illness, the project was scrapped until a decade later, with Tom Selleck in the starring role.
McQueen was also interested in making the film version of Waiting for Godot. During his time away from film he developed an interest in the classic playwrights. This led him to Beckett's Godot, but the playwright had never heard of McQueen.
Perhaps the most memorable were the classic chase in Bullitt and the motorcycle chase scene . Although the jump over the fence in The Great Escape was actually done by Bud Ekins for insurance purposes, McQueen did have a considerable amount of screen time riding his motorcycle. According to the commentary track on The Great Escape DVD, it was difficult to find riders as skilled as McQueen and at one point in the film, due to clever editing, McQueen is seen in a German uniform chasing himself on another bike.
Together with John Sturges, McQueen planned to make Day of the Champion, a movie about Formula One racing. He was busy with the delayed The Sand Pebbles, though. They had a contract with the German Nürburgring, and after John Frankenheimer shot scenes there for Grand Prix, the reels had to be turned over to Sturges. Frankenheimer was ahead in schedule anyway, and the McQueen/Sturges project was called off.
During his acting career, McQueen considered becoming a professional race car driver. 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 before) won with a Porsche 908/02 in the 3 litre class and missed winning overall by a scant 23 seconds to Mario Andretti/Ignazio Giunti/Nino Vaccarella in a 5 litre Ferrari 512S. The 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 his film backers threatened to pull their support if he drove. Faced with the choice of driving for 24 hours in the race or driving the entire summer making the film, McQueen opted to do the latter. However, the film was a box office flop that almost ruined McQueen's career. In addition, McQueen himself admitted that he almost died while filming the movie. Nonetheless, today, Le Mans is considered to be the most historically realistic, accurate, and dramatic representation of one of the most famous periods in the history of the race, as well as being considered one of the greatest auto racing movies of all time.
McQueen also competed in off-road motorcycle racing. His first off-road motorcycle was a Triumph 500cc that he purchased from friend and stunt man Bud Ekins. McQueen raced in many of the top off-road races on the West Coast during the '60s and early 1970s, including the Baja 1000, the Mint 400 and the Elsinore Grand Prix. In 1964, he represented the United States in the International Six Days Trial, a form of off-road motorcycling Olympics. He was inducted in the Off-road Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1978. In 1971, Solar Productions funded the now-classic motorcycle documentary On Any Sunday, in which McQueen himself is featured, along with racing legends Mert Lawwill and Malcolm Smith. Also in 1971, McQueen was on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine riding a Husqvarna dirt bike.
McQueen was interested in collecting classic motorcycles. By the time of his death, his collection included over 100 motorcycles 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. At the end of the trip, all the breathless Sullivan could say was, "That was a helluva ride!"
He owned several exotic sports cars, including:
To his dismay, McQueen was never able to own the legendary Ford Mustang GT that he drove in Bullitt, which featured a highly-modified drivetrain that suited McQueen's driving style. There were two cars used for filming. According to the October 2006 issue of Motor Trend Classic, in its cover story on the film, one of the cars was so badly damaged during filming it was judged to be unrepairable, and scrapped. The second car still exists, but the owner has consistently refused to sell it at any price. The owner plans a "minimal restoration" to make the car roadworthy, yet still retain the original patina.
McQueen served as one of the pallbearers at Bruce Lee's funeral in 1973. Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee taught McQueen's son Chad Taekwondo and Jeet Kune Do, (respectively). Later on, McQueen persuaded Norris to attend acting classes.
After Charles Manson incited the murder of five people, including McQueen's close friends Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring, at Tate's home on August 9, 1969, it was reported that McQueen was another potential target of the killers. According to his first wife, McQueen then began carrying a handgun at all times in public, including at Sebring's funeral.
McQueen had an unusual reputation for demanding free items in bulk from studios when agreeing to do a film, such as electric razors, jeans and several other products. It was later found out that McQueen requested these things because he was donating them to the Boy's Republic reformatory school for displaced youth, where he had spent time during his teen years. McQueen made occasional visits to the school to spend time with the students, often to play pool and to speak with them about his experiences.
Towards the end of his life McQueen became a Christian, due in part to the influence of his flying instructor, Sammy Mason, and his wife, Barbara Minty. He regularly attended his local church, and was visited by evangelist Billy Graham shortly before he died. In an interview recorded shortly before his death, and as chronicled in Chopher Sandford's biography of the star, McQueen publicly lamented the fact that he would never have time to share his faith.
After discovering a mutual interest in racing, James Garner and McQueen became good friends. Garner lived directly down the hill from McQueen and, as McQueen recalled, "I could see that Jim was very neat around his place. Flowers trimmed, no papers in the yard ... grass always cut. So, just 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".
McQueen was conservative in his political views and often backed the Republican Party. He supported the Vietnam War, was one of the few Hollywood stars who refused numerous requests to back Presidential hopeful Robert Kennedy in 1968, and turned down the chance to participate in the 1963 March on Washington. When McQueen heard a rumor that he had been added to Nixon's Enemies List, he responded by immediately flying a giant American flag outside his house. Reportedly, his wife Ali McGraw responded to the whole affair by saying, "But you're the most patriotic person I know."
McQueen commanded such celebrity status in the United Kingdom that when visiting Chelsea Football Club to watch a match he was personally introduced to the players in the dressing room during the half-time break.
On August 31, 1973 he married his Getaway co-star, Ali MacGraw, with whom he had a passionate but tumultuous relationship (she left her husband, film producer Robert Evans, for McQueen). They were divorced in 1978. His third wife was model Barbara Minty, whom he married on January 16, 1980, less than a year before his death.
Controversy arose over McQueen's Mexican trip, because McQueen sought a very non-traditional treatment that used coffee enemas and laetrile, a supposedly "natural" anti-cancer drug available in Mexico but not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Posthumously, McQueen remains one of the most popular stars, and his estate limits the licensing of his image to avoid the commercial oversaturation experienced by some other deceased celebrities. McQueen's personality and trademark rights are managed by Corbis Corporation. In 1999, McQueen was posthumously inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.