The life story of Steve McQueen

I don’t give interviews because, firstly, I don’t think I have anything to say, and secondly, I believe that the media is full of s***. I think I gave the last interview ten years ago. I don’t know who, which tells you enough what I think about these things. But, as I certainly respect my youth, I decided to give an interview for your paper – said Terence Stephen McQueen, to the journalist of the school newspaper Richard Kraus while he was shooting the film “The Hunter” in the early 1980s, ten months before he passed away.

On November 7, 2020, it was 40 years since the commander of the Hollywood antiheroes from the golden period of the film and dream factory came down from the life scene. And while the younger generations have to google the basic information about who Steve McQueen was and what he represented, the older ones, in the 40+ selection, nostalgically remember the cinematic hero with whose characters, depending on the genre, they cried or laughed. In the movies in which he appeared with a purchased cinema ticket, emotion was inevitably obtained, unlike today, when, in most cases, popcorn is the best part of sitting in front of a big screen.

As is the case with most of the greats of pop culture, his character was not one-dimensional: on the one hand careful and humane, on the other hand, a womanizer prone to deception and fraud. Despite his shortcomings, he had several life principles that he adhered to: do not be heroes on the weaker ones, do not underestimate others and always give your maximum when you accept a job.

I’ll tell you the life story of Steve McQueen!

Earlier years

The start was not promising. He was born as an outsider, and then, after frequent stays in the knockdown, he straightened up and grabbed his luck. Like many of his colleagues, he reached the lead roles by side roads. Born March 24, 1930, in Beach Grove, Indiana, he was doomed. He inherited only his last name from his father, William McQueen, a circus stunt pilot. He didn’t meet him, because McQueen’s senior, left Julian, Steve’s mother, a few months after she became pregnant. This left serious consequences on its formation. For a long time, he tried to get rid of the trait of quickly giving up people and space, avoiding taking responsibility for others. His father’s absence largely determined his childhood and youth.

Great school and great depression!

When he was three years old, during the Great Depression, his mother sent him from his native Indianapolis, together with his grandparents, Lillian and Victor, to Slater, Missouri, to his grandmother’s brother Claude, who soon took him under his wing. Along with him, he fell in love with car and motorcycle racing and received some of the most valuable lessons, as well as a gold pocket watch that read “Steve – who was like a son to me”.

As an eight-year-old, he returned to his mother, who had remarried in the meantime. Dyslexic and partially deaf as a result of an ear infection, young Steve was a withdrawn child. His stepfather beat him so much that he left the house at the age of nine and lived for a while on the street, where he became part of a gang accused of several burglaries and thefts. Unable and uninterested in raising her son, Julian sent him to her grandfather-uncle, Claude, in Slater.

Unable to experience any place as his own, to build a relationship of belonging to the family and the local community, he easily left home with any problems. And there were plenty of them. He was 12 years old when he joined his mother in Los Angeles, where she married for the third time. After the police brought him home handcuffed after stealing car tires, his stepfather thoroughly let him through his fists. As he threw him down the stairs, Steve straightened and gritted his teeth.

“If you put your stinking hands on me one more time, I swear I’ll kill you.” After the incident, the stepfather persuaded Julian to submit a request to the court to stay in the home in Chino, considering that he is “irreparable”.

Surrounded by other boys with similar life stories, he felt part of the community for the first time. Staying in the home, by his own admission, helped him mature. In the end, he became a role model for others, so he was elected to the Boys’ Council, which proposed rules of conduct in the home. Later, when he was already a star, he kept returning home to hang out with abandoned boys.

Going to the army

He left the institution in China at the age of 16 and went back to his mother, who was living in New York’s Greenwich Village at the time. After short experiences working on a cargo ship and in a brothel, he enlisted in the Navy with the written permission of his mother, because he was less than 18 years old. The army, as is the case with most men, made a man out of him. Having successfully mastered the training, he progressed quickly. He reached the rank of first class in record time, only to show his old face as a rebel and a scoundrel. He was demoted seven times. The last time was because he did not return to the unit two weeks after the end of his weekend leave. Military police found him in a bay with a girl.

He resisted during the arrest, for which he ended up in prison for 41 days. It was a charitable punishment. Determined to earn a new chance and regain respect, he changed. During his stay in Alaska, he saved the lives of five sailors, and thanks to that, he was included in the honor guard that secured the yacht of President Harry Truman.

Early career

As much as he liked the regular salary and discipline, the army suffocated him, he felt trapped in the predictability of the path he chose. So he left the Navy and enrolled in acting school in New York. In parallel with his studies, he went to motorcycle races in neighborhoods known as places to avoid. On the weekends, he could earn 100 dollars for the victory, which would be ten times more by today’s standards. After several miniature roles in New York theaters, he made his Broadway debut in 1955 in the play “A Hatful of Rain” with Ben Gazar in the lead role. He took a shortcut to fame the same year he moved to Hollywood. He hired an agent and faster than he himself expected, he started getting roles.

After modest beginnings in the form of mini-roles in less successful films, he got an engagement in the western series “Trackdown”. He left a good impression and bought a ticket for the new series “Wanted: Dead or Alive”, which has just started filming. Although he also played a villain, a bounty hunter, McQueen showed his ability to defend a character who interprets and win the sympathy of the audience. Good fees from the western series could not have come at a better time. With his first wife, Neil Adams, whom he married in 1956, he began planning to buy a house because they both wanted offspring. Terry Leslie’s daughter was born in 1959, and a year and a half later, her son Chad.

One magnificent one!

Happiness smiled at him again without having to move a finger. Although the division for “Never So Few” was largely over, the capricious and powerful Frank Sinatra decided to expel Sammy Davis Jr. from the film because he dared to talk about him in a slightly negative context in a radio interview. The role was assigned to McQueen. With Sinatra as a protégé, he got a lot of big shots, which ultimately resulted in positive reviews.

After a good experience in “Never So Few”, director John Sturgess invited Steve to “Seven Magnificent Ones”, which will turn out to be a masterpiece of the seventh art a few years later. Already there, almost at the very beginning of the film’s life, he showed an upright spine and a strong character. In his autobiography, Eli Wallach revealed how Jul Briner, a big Hollywood star at the time, was quite upset by the appearance of an actor who attracted more attention than him, was more popular among the team and easily won every shot.

The film “Seven Magnificent Ones” was a great success. In addition to bringing him commercial boon and fame, he enabled him to enter the ranks of great Hollywood seducers. Women persecuted him. In a short period, he transformed from a shy guy into a swindler with a high degree of self-confidence. With the face of a thug and the charm of a boy, he easily took women to bed, despite the fact that he was married.

Thanks to the films “The Great Escape”, “Love with the Proper Stranger”, “The Sand Pebbles”, “The Thomas Crown Affair” and especially “Bullitt”, he earned the status of the highest paid actor during the sixties. He spent his wealth on his passions: fast cars, motorcycles and drunkenness with friends. He was as popular as Jesus, at a time when television was still a novelty that not everyone could afford. This is evidenced by the song “Star Star”, which the Rolling Stones dedicated to him on the album “Goats Head Soup” in 1973. Shooting the movie “The Getaway”. He soon divorced his wife Neil and married Ali.

Steve’s close friends, and there were not many of them, claimed that she was his only true love: “He was crazy about her, he loved her the day he died,” said one of his intimates. The marriage with Ali lasted until 1978, when they divorced by mutual consent. A few months before his death, in January 1980, he married for the third time. His choice fell on model Barbara Minty. In addition to the official wives, it has been confirmed that he was in a relationship with Lauren Hutton, Candice Bergen, Mami van Doreen, Barbara Lee, Natalie Wood…

Body discipline!

Even in the moments of the greatest glory and success, during the seventies, he did not deviate from the routine acquired during his stay in the Navy. He trained for two hours every day, including running no less than eight kilometers. Disciplining the body, he practiced the spirit, concluded his friend, photographer William Claxton. “He smoked marijuana almost every day,” he added, while biographer Mark Eliot claimed he was at the height of his popularity, consuming large amounts of cocaine. Despite the stories about the use of psychoactive substances, McQueen was a standard of professionalism. He was never late for filming or came to them unprepared. He respected other people’s time. His real vices were cigarettes and alcohol.

And it was nicotine that was the trigger for Steve’s first health problems. During 1978, he could not get rid of the persistent cough. He found it increasingly difficult to catch his breath, so after the filming of “The Hunter” was completed in December 1979, he underwent a detailed examination. He was diagnosed with a tumor on the pleura of the lungs, which usually occurs due to prolonged exposure to asbestos. And as he often wore asbestos suits while driving races, it became clear that two of his passions – nicotine and car racing – caused the disease.

The last days

Things were deteriorating rapidly. Already in February, information was leaked that he had metastases in the abdominal cavity, and the “National Enquirer” claimed that the actor was in the “terminal phase”.

As official medicine had no answer for his illness, he sought a solution in Mexico from the controversial William Donald Kelly, who treated seriously ill patients with modified Gerson therapy, using coffee enemas, frequent shampooing and injections of cow and sheep cells. Such treatment, of course, did not yield results.

Steve had a huge tumor in his stomach that American doctors did not want to operate on, estimating that such a surgical intervention would not be able to withstand his heart. Because of that, at the end of October 1980, he went again to Mexico, to Ciudad Juarez, where he reported to the hospital under the false name of Samuel Shepard. He passed away on November 7, at three hours and 45 minutes, 12 hours after the operation during which a tumor weighing five kilograms was removed.

At his own request, he was cremated, and his ashes were scattered across the Pacific Ocean.

There are few movie stars who were a combination of waif and gentleman at the same time. Hollywood beauty Robert Redford spoke about this alchemical formula for professional and life success, emphasizing that he “was unhappy that he did not look like Steve McQueen, because he was a man when women fall in love for a long time and persistently.” .

McQueen’s legacy, although rich, remained vague. He left the stage of life too soon, at a time when he could provide more brilliant roles. Despite the handicap of having a limited shelf life of only twenty years on the movie screen, he became an icon of pop culture, because he united a hero and an antihero in his personality.


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