Steve McQueen

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Steve McQueen in The Great Escape
Steve McQueen (March 24, 1930November 7, 1980) was an American movie actor and one of the most popular and highly-successful box-office superstars of the 1960s and 1970s. With penetrating slate-blue eyes, unconventional and craggy good-looks, he had a rugged machismo presence. Sometimes flashing an insolent smirk, he projected a tenaciously undaunted and captivating on-screen persona that also extended into his off-screen life. In the process, he gained wide acclaim for his memorable portrayals of brashly determined, bold and introverted loners. He was nicknamed The King of Cool, for his steely-cool demeanour, smoldering moodiness and a dynamic sense of raw nonchalance whenever he encounters danger in his films. McQueen was also a combative and archetypal difficult movie star, who didnt like directors or producers giving him a hard time. In retaliation, he irritated them, and would only work if paid his astronomical asking salary. McQueen was also paranoid about people taking advantage of him which led to difficulties in his personal relationships. He used his star power to have relationships with as many women as possible. However, he was fiercely loyal to his male friends.

He was born Terence Steven McQueen in Beech Grove, Indiana. He never knew his father -- although McQueen did find the house where he lived approximately a year after his father's death. McQueen's father abandoned his wife and child shortly after McQueen was born. He was raised in Slater, Missouri by his uncle, where his mother left him. At the age of 12 McQueen moved with his mother to Los Angeles. When he was 14, his mother sent him to a reformatory school. McQueen later gave huge gifts to the school because of his belief that it helped him find some focus during those restless years. Soon McQueen left the school and drifted before joining the Marines in 1947. In 1952, he took advantage of the G.I. Bill and auditioned to study at Lee Strasberg's Actors' Studio in New York. Of the 2000 people who auditioned that year, only McQueen and Martin Landau were accepted. McQueen made his Broadway debut in 1955 in A Hatful of Rain.

McQueen moved into film in the mid-1950's with bit parts in Girl on the Run (1953) and Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956). He secured his first lead role in the 1958 horror movie The Blob. Between 1958 and 1960 he gained recognition with the television series Wanted: Dead or Alive. Along with Yul Brynner, Robert Vaughn, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn, McQueen's first major hit was The Magnificent Seven (1960). The film, based on Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai continues to be shown on television and sells well on DVD.

McQueen's breakthrough, however, came in 1963 with The Great Escape (which also starred Bronson and Coburn). The film was enormously popular and inspired the television series Hogan's Heroes with Bob Crane playing a part based on McQueen's character. Quentin Tarantino has called the film the shortest three hour movie he's ever seen.

McQueen's fame peaked in 1968 with Bullitt. Prior to that, he earned his only Academy Award nomination for the 1966 film The Sand Pebbles. From then on he mixed character roles in works such as 1973's Papillon, with pure spectacle in the 1971 car race drama Le Mans or in The Getaway in 1972. After The Towering Inferno in 1974, McQueen did not return to film until 1978, when he played in An Enemy of the People. McQueen spent most of the interim drinking beer, using drugs, and getting fat. When he returned to film in 1978 in An Enemy of the People, he was grossly overweight, and the film was the only McQueen vehicle not to receive a major release from the studio. McQueen never again appeared in a blockbuster, in contrast to the period between 1963 and 1974 when studios thought he was worth his weight in gold.

McQueen was a motorcycle and race car enthusiast and collected and raced hundreds of vehicles. He liked fast machines, and when he had the opportunity to drive these vehicles in a movie, he often did so himself, performing many of his own stunts. During his acting career he even seriously considered becoming a professional race car driver.

McQueen was married to Neile Adams from 1957 until their divorce in 1972; from this marriage he had a son and a daughter. He married Ali MacGraw in 1973 and divorced her in 1978. He was married to Barbara Minty in January 1980.

After 1978 he appeared only in two further films before he died in November of 1980, only 50 years old, in Jurez, Mexico due to a heart attack following a last-ditch effort to fight mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure. It is unclear whether the asbestos exposure came from his racing gear or from an experience in the marines. In any case, even after his death, McQueen remains an icon.


  • McQueen was honored in the 2002 Sheryl Crow song called "Steve McQueen" off the album C'mon C'mon. He also appeared in a commercial for the 2005 Ford Mustang which used scenes from Bullitt, and showed McQueen racing the new car around a race track built in a corn field, a la the baseball field in Field of Dreams.


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