Terence Stephen “Steve” McQueen (March 24, 1930 – November 7, 1980) was an American actor. He was 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. McQueen received an Academy Award nomination for his role in The Sand Pebbles. His other popular films include The Magnificent Seven, The Blob, The Great Escape, The Thomas Crown Affair, Bullitt, The Getaway, Papillon, and The Towering Inferno. In 1974, 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, but one of the most widely claimed and cherished examples of this—that he did the majority of the stunt driving for his character during the high-speed chase scene in Bullitt—was revealed not to be true by his most trusted stuntman and stunt driver Loren James. Another example of the legend occasionally overshadowing reality was the famed “barbed wire jump” in the 1963 film The Great Escape—a stunt performed by McQueen’s good friend and champion motorcycle racer Bud Ekins.
McQueen was born Terence Steven McQueen 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 first meeting her. His mother, Julia Ann (née Crawford), was allegedly a rebellious alcoholic prostitute.
Unable to cope with bringing up 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 to the latter’s farm in Slater. McQueen was raised as a Roman Catholic.
He 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 age 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 dyslexicand partially deaf as a result of a childhood ear infection, did not adjust well to his new life. His new step-father would beat him so badly that at the age of nine he left home to live on the streets. Within a couple of years he was running with a street gang and committing acts of petty crime. Unable to control McQueen’s behavior, his mother sent him back to Slater again. A couple of years later, when McQueen was 12, Julia wrote to Claude asking that McQueen be returned to her once again, to live in her new home in Los Angeles, California. Julia, whose second marriage had ended in divorce, had married a third time.
This began an unsettled period in McQueen’s life. By McQueen’s own account, he and his new stepfather “locked horns immediately.” McQueen recalled 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 age 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 handed 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 Julia to sign a court order stating that McQueen was incorrigible and remanding him to the California Junior Boys Republic in Chino, 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 eventually left 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 at 16, he returned to Julia, now living in Greenwich Village, but almost immediately left again and gained employment as a “towel boy” in a brothel where his remuneration included unlimited access to the “merchandise”. 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, eventually making his way to Texas, and drifted from job to job. He worked as an oil rigger, as a trinket salesman in a carnival, and as a lumberjack.
In 1947, McQueen joined the United States Marine Corps and was quickly promoted to Private First Class and assigned to an armored unit. Initially, he reverted to his prior rebelliousness, and as a result was demoted to private seven times. He went UA (Unauthorized Absence) by failing to return after a weekend pass had expired. He instead stayed away with a girlfriend for two weeks, until the shore patrol caught him. He resisted arrest and as a result spent 41 days in the brig.
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. He was also assigned to an honor guard responsible for guarding then-U.S. President Harry Truman’s yacht. McQueen served until 1950 when he was honorably discharged.
In 1952, with financial assistance provided by the G.I. Bill, McQueen began studying acting at Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse. Purportedly, the future “king of cool” delivered his first piece of dialogue on a theatre stage in a 1952 play produced by the legendary star of the Yiddish theatre, Molly Picon. McQueen’s character spoke one brief line: “Allez iz forloren.” (“All is lost.”).
He also began to earn money by competing in weekend motorcycle races at Long Island City Raceway and purchased the first of many motorcycles, a used Harley Davidson. He soon became an excellent racer, and came home each weekend with about $100 in winnings (about $805 in 2009 dollars adjusted for inflation). He appeared as a musical judge in an episode of ABC’s Jukebox Jury, which aired in the 1953–1954 season.
Steve McQueen in The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery
After several minor 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.
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 and began seeking acting jobs in Hollywood. 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 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 (his first leading role), and The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery.
McQueen’s first breakout role did not come in film but on television. He appeared on Dale Robertson’s NBC western series, Tales of Wells Fargo. Then McQueen’s manager, Elkins, successfully lobbied Vincent M. Fennelly, 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, having been 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 began on CBS in September 1958.
McQueen and then-wife Neile Adams in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, 1960.
In the interviews included in the DVD release of Wanted, Trackdown’s star Robert Culp claims credit for first bringing McQueen to Hollywood and landing him the part of Randall. He claims to have 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. Randall’s special holster held a sawed-off .44-40 Winchester rifle nicknamed the “Mare’s Leg” instead of the standard six-gun carried by the typical Western character, although the cartridges seen 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-heroimage infused with a mixture of mystery and detachment that made this show stand out from the typical TV Western. The 94 episodes 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’s role went to McQueen. Sinatra saw something special in McQueen, and ensured that the young actor got plenty of good close-ups 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 at the wheel of 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, which annoyed co-star Brynner, who protested that McQueen was trying to steal his spotlight. (In his autobiography, Eli Wallach, who acted as 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 clearly furious at McQueen’s shotgun-round-shake, which effectively diverted the viewer’s attention to McQueen.) Brynner also refused to draw his gun in the same scene with McQueen, not wanting to have his character outdrawn
McQueen played the lead in the next big Sturges film, 1963’s
The Great Escape, which gave 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 widely noted motorcycle leap, which was instead done by his friend and fellow cycle enthusiast Bud Ekins, who resembled McQueen from a distance. 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 cemented his status as a superstar.
In 1963, McQueen starred with Natalie Wood in
Love with the Proper Stranger. He later appeared in a prequel as the titular Nevada Smith, a character from Harold Robbins’ The Carpetbaggers who had been portrayed by Alan Ladd two years earlier in a movie version of that novel.
McQueen also earned his only Academy Award nomination in 1966 for his role as an engine room sailor in
The Sand Pebbles, in which he starred opposite Richard Attenborough and Candice Bergen.
McQueen as Detective Frank Bullitt in the film’s iconic car chase scene.
He followed his Oscar nomination with 1968’s Bullitt, one of his most famous films, co-starring Jacqueline Bisset and Robert Vaughn. It featured an unprecedented (and endlessly imitated) auto chase through San Francisco. Although McQueen did do the driving that appeared in closeup, this was only about 10% of what is seen in the film’s car chase. The rest of the driving by the McQueen character was done by famed stunt drivers Bud Ekins and Loren James.
Bullitt went so far over budget that Warner Brothers cancelled their contract on the rest of his films, seven in all.
When Bullitt turned out to be a huge box office success Warner Brothers tried to woo him back, but he refused to be wooed and in fact 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, followed in 1971 by the auto-racing drama Le Mans.
Then came The Getaway during which 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 Devils 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. 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 had become the world’s highest paid actor. But after 1974’s The Towering Inferno, co-starring with his long-time personal friend and chief professional rival Paul Newman and reuniting him with Dunaway, became a tremendous box-office success, McQueen all but disappeared from Hollywood and the public eye, preferring to focus on motorcycle racing and traveling around the country in a motorhome and on one of his vintage Indian motorcycles. He did not return to acting until 1978 with An Enemy of the People, playing against type as a heavily bearded, bespectacled 19th-century doctor in this adaptation of a Henrik Ibsen play. The film was shown briefly in theaters and is available on DVD through Amazon.
His last films were both 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 who was later hanged for murder in the shooting death of a sheepherder, and then The Hunter, an urban action movie about a modern-day bounty hunter, both released in 1980.
McQueen was offered the lead 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). He also turned down parts in Ocean’s Eleven, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (his attorneys and agents could not agree with Paul Newman’s attorneys and agents on who would get top billing), The Driver, Apocalypse Now, California Split, Dirty Harry, A Bridge Too Far, andThe French Connection (he did not want to do another cop film).
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 instead 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 instead went to Garner.
He was the first choice for director Steven Spielberg for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. According to Spielberg on 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. Spielberg offered to take the crying scene out of the movie, but McQueen demurred, saying that it was the best scene in the whole script. The role eventually went to Richard Dreyfuss.
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 going undercover to infiltrate a diamond-smuggling ring in South Africa. There were many complications with the project which was eventually shelved, although a 1964 screenplay does exist.
McQueen and Barbra Streisand were both 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 starring as the Rambo character in First Blood when David Morrell’s novel appeared in 1972, but the producers eventually rejected him because of his age. He was offered the title role in The Bodyguard (with Diana Ross) when it was first proposed in 1976, but the film did not reach production until years after McQueen’s death. 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 too ill and the project was scrapped until a decade later, when Tom Selleck starred. McQueen was offered the lead in Raise the Titanic but felt the script was flat. He was under contract to Irwin Allen after appearing in The Towering Inferno and was 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 turned out to be a huge box office bomb. McQueen died shortly after passing on The Towering Inferno 2.
Modern advertisement with McQueen photo and quote.
McQueen was an avid motorcycle and racecar enthusiast. When he had the opportunity to drive in a movie, he performed many of his own stunts.
Perhaps the most memorable were the car chase in Bullitt and motorcycle chase in The Great Escape. 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 650cc Triumph TR6 Trophy motorcycle. It was difficult to find riders as skilled as McQueen. At one point, due to 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.
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 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 did. 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. Le Mans is considered by some to be the most historically realistic representation in the history of the race.
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 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, 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 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 also designed a motorsports bucket seat, for which a patent was issued in 1971.
McQueen collected classic motorcycles. By 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!”
He owned several exotic sports cars, including:
• Porsche 917, Porsche 908 and Ferrari 512 race cars from the Le Mans film.
• 1963 Ferrari 250 Lusso Berlinetta
• Jaguar D-Type XKSS (Right-Hand Drive)
• Porsche 356 Speedster
To his dismay, McQueen was never able to own the legendary Ford Mustang GT 390 that he drove in Bullitt, which featured a highly modified drivetrain that suited McQueen’s driving style. One of the two Mustangs was so badly damaged that it was judged beyond repair and scrapped. The second car still exists, but the owner has consistently refused to sell it at any price.
McQueen was married three times and had two children. On November 2, 1956, he married
actress Neile Adams, by whom he had a daughter, Terry Leslie (June 5, 1959 – March 19, 1998 ), and a son, Chad (born December 28, 1960). McQueen and Adams divorced in 1972. McQueen then married his The Getaway co-star
Ali MacGraw on August 31, 1973, but this marriage too ended in divorce in 1978. MacGraw suffered a miscarriage during their marriage. On January 16, 1980, less than a year before his death, McQueen married model
Barbara Minty. One of McQueen’s four grandchildren is
actor Steven R. McQueen.
In the early 1970s, while separated from Adams and prior to meeting MacGraw, McQueen had a lengthy relationship with model-actress
Barbara Leigh, his co-star in Junior Bonner. Leigh became pregnant during the relationship and had an abortion. Biographer Marc Eliot wrote that McQueen had an affair with his Bullitt co-star
Jacqueline Bisset, although Bisset has not confirmed this.
Actress-model Lauren Hutton has claimed that she and McQueen had an affair in the early 1960s.
McQueen had a daily two-hour exercise regimen, involving weightlifting and at one point running five miles, seven days a week. McQueen also learned the martial art Tang Soo Do from ninth degree black belt Pat E. Johnson.
Arrested in Anchorage for drunk driving.
However, he was also known for his prolific drug use (William Claxton claimed he smoked marijuana almost every day; others said he used a tremendous amount of cocaine in the early 1970s). In addition, like many actors of his era, he was a heavy cigarette smoker. He sometimes drank to excess, and was arrested for driving while intoxicated in Anchorage, Alaska in 1972.
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 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. In fact, 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 with him, she instead suggested an intimate night at home which saved his life.
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.
After discovering a mutual interest in racing, McQueen and his Great Escape co-star James Garner 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”.
Barbara Minty McQueen in her book, Steve McQueen: The Last Mile, writes of McQueen becoming an Evangelical Christian toward the end of his life. This was due in part to the influences of his flying instructor, Sammy Mason, and his son Pete, and Barbara. McQueen attended his local church, Ventura Missionary Church, and was visited by evangelist Billy Graham shortly before his death.
McQueen was an avid dirt bike rider, running a BSA Hornet. 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. 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, once flown as part of the U.S. 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.
On November 7, 1980, McQueen died at the age of 50 in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, following an operation to remove or reduce several metastatic tumors in his neck and abdomen.
McQueen developed a persistent cough in 1978; he gave up smoking cigarettes and underwent antibiotic treatments without improvement. Shortness of breath became more pronounced and on December 22, 1979, after the filming of The Hunter, a biopsy revealed pleural mesothelioma, a type of cancer associated with asbestos exposure for which there is no known cure. 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 for unconventional treatment after U.S. doctors advised him that they could do nothing to prolong his life.
Controversy arose over McQueen’s Mexican trip, because McQueen sought a very non-traditional cancer treatment that used coffee enemas, frequent shampoos, injection of live cells from cows and sheep, massage and laetrile, a supposedly “natural” anti-cancer drug available in Mexico, but not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. McQueen himself paid for his unconventional medical treatments out of his own pocket with cash. McQueen was treated by William Donald Kelley, whose only medical license had been (until it was revoked in 1976) for orthodontics.
Kelley’s methods created a sensation in both the traditional and tabloid press when it became known that McQueen was a patient. Despite metastasis of the cancer to much of McQueen’s body, Kelley publicly announced that McQueen would be completely cured and return to normal life. However, McQueen’s condition worsened and “huge” tumors developed in his abdomen. In late October 1980, McQueen flew to Ciudad Juárez to have an abdominal tumor on his liver (which weighed around five pounds) removed, despite the warnings by his U.S. doctors that the tumor was inoperable and that his heart would not withstand the surgery. 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 real identity. McQueen died of cardiac arrest. A following article in the El Paso Times noted that right before his death he awoke and asked for some ice and then died.
A few months before his death, McQueen had given a medical interview in which he blamed his condition on asbestos exposure. While McQueen felt that asbestos used in movie soundstage insulation and race-drivers’ protective suits and helmets could have been involved, he believed his illness was a direct result of massive exposure while removing asbestos lagging from pipes aboard a troop ship during his time in the Marines.
A memorial service was presided over by Leonard DeWitt of the Ventura Missionary Church. McQueen was cremated, and his ashes spread in the Pacific Ocean.
With Virginia Gregg inWanted: Dead or Alive
Posthumously, McQueen remains one of the most popular stars, and his estate limits the licensing of his image to avoid the commercial saturation experienced by some other deceased celebrities. As of 2007, McQueen has entered the top 10 of highest-earning deceased celebrities.
He was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers in April 2007, in a ceremony at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
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.
A film based on unfinished storyboards and notes developed by McQueen before his death was announced for production by McG’s production company Wonderland Sound and Vision. Yucatan is described as an “epic adventure heist” film, and is scheduled for release in 2013. Team Downey, the production company started by Robert Downey Jr. and his wife Susan Downey, has also expressed an interest in developing Yucatan for the screen.
The Beech Grove Public Library, in Beech Grove, Indiana, formally dedicated the Steve McQueen Birthplace Collection on March 16, 2010 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of McQueen’s birth on March 24, 1930.
In 2005, TV Guide ranked McQueen # 26 on its “50 Sexiest Stars of All Time” list.
In 2005, Ford used Steve McQueen’s likeness 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 then tosses his keys to McQueen, who drives off in the new Mustang. McQueen’s likeness was created by a body double and some 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. 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. Except for three motorcycles sold with other memorabilia in 2006, most of McQueen’s collection of 130 motorcycles was sold 4 years after his death. The 1970 Porsche 911S that he bought while making the film Le Mans and which starred in the opening sequence was sold at auction in August 2011 for $1.375 million. The Rolex Explorer II Reference 1655, is also now so-called Rolex Steve McQueen in the horology collectors world, but the Rolex Submariner Reference 5512 he was often photographed wearing in private moments sold for $234,000 at auction on June 11, 2009, a world-record price for the reference. McQueen was left-handed and wore his watch on his right wrist.
McQueen was a sponsored ambassador for Heuer watches. In the 1970 movie Le Mans, McQueen famously wore a blue faced Monaco 1133B Caliber 11 Automatic which has led to its cult status with watch collectors. His sold for $87,600 at auction on June 11, 2009. Tag Heuer continues to promote its Monaco range with McQueen’s image.
From 2009, Triumph Motorcycles Ltd, licensed by his estate, marketed a line of clothing inspired by Steve McQueen’s strong association with their brand, particularly his 1964 ISDT participation.
1953 Girl on the Run
1955 Goodyear Playhouse
1956 The United States Steel Hour
1956 Somebody Up There Likes Me
1957 Studio One in Hollywood
1957 West Point
1957 The 20th Century-Fox Hour
1957 The Big Story
1958 Tales of Wells Fargo
1958 Never Love a Stranger
1958 The Blob
1958 Wanted: Dead or Alive
1959 The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery
1959 Never So Few
1959 Alfred Hitchcock Presents
1960 Alfred Hitchcock Presents
1960 The Magnificent Seven
1961 The Honeymoon Machine
1962 Hell Is for Heroes
1962 The War Lover
1963 The Great Escape
1963 Soldier in the Rain
1963 Love with the Proper Stranger
1965 Baby the Rain Must Fall
1965 The Cincinnati Kid
1966 Nevada Smith
1966 The Sand Pebbles
1967 Think Twentieth
1968 The Thomas Crown Affair
1969 The Reivers
1971 Le Mans
1971 On Any Sunday
1972 Junior Bonner
1972 The Getaway
1973 Bruce Lee: The Man and the Legend
1973 The Magnificent Rebel
1974 The Towering Inferno
1976 Dixie Dynamite
1978 An Enemy of the People
1980 Tom Horn
1980 The Hunter
Awards and honors
• (1967) Nominated – Best Actor in a Leading Role in The Sand Pebbles
Golden Globe Awards
• (1964) Nominated – Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama in Love with the Proper Stranger
• (1967) Nominated – Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama in The Sand Pebbles
• (1970) Nominated – Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy in The Reivers
• (1974) Nominated – Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama in Papillon
Moscow International Film Festival
• (1963) – Won – Best Actor in The Great Escape