“I live for myself and I answer to nobody.”
“The King of Cool,” “The Bandito,” and “The Rebel Legend” are all terms used to describe the man known for his great films, crazy life, and wild antics. Steve McQueen was the quintessential Hollywood bad boy, driving fast cars, riding motorcycles, performing his own stunts, fighting with other actors, and playing the rough and tumble drifter in numerous movies. He was one of the movie industry’s biggest draws during the 1960s and ’70s, all thanks to a rugged persona cultivated right here in Missouri.
THE EARLY YEARS
Terrence Steven McQueen was born on March 24, 1930, in Beech Grove, Indiana. His father deserted the family when Steve was just a few months old, sending him and his mother packing to the small town of Slater in west-central Missouri. He lived with his uncle on a farm outside of town, where his love for racing apparently began. But trouble seemed to follow McQueen wherever he went, both at school (when he attended) and all over town.
When his mother remarried, she moved Steven back to Indianapolis. He didn’t like the new city and ultimately joined street gangs. His mother moved the family to California a few years later with her abusive husband, where Steve once again found trouble. After eighteen months in a reform school, he joined the military, then landed on his feet in New York City after a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps.
RISE TO FAME
McQueen moved to Greenwich Village in 1950 at the age of twenty. The Village was the center of counterculture, and he seemed to find a group that he could identify with. He met a woman who stimulated his interest in acting and urged him to take classes. Those classes helped him land several small roles before he finally got a shot on Broadway in A Hatful of Rain.
His explosive temperament and rough childhood experience finally paid off, as critics hailed his wide range of emotions portrayed on-stage. He was very successful on Broadway, but Hollywood and the world of motion pictures were calling McQueen to bigger and better things.
SHOW ME SUCCESS
In the early 1960s, the “King of Cool” attained nationwide stardom, appearing in The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. Both movies were huge hits, landing him on Hollywood’s A-list. He became the highest paid actor in Hollywood with roles in films like The Thomas Crown Affair, which turned out to be one of his most famous performances.
The 1970s were equally as good for the rugged and popular actor. He starred in The Getaway, Papillon, and The Towering Inferno. He also became a producer during that time with the film An Enemy of the People.
McQueen’s health began to deteriorate in the late 1970s. His final film was in 1980, where McQueen played a bounty hunter in The Hunter. He became a born-again Christian shortly before he died due to the influence of his wife, Barbara.
He died of a heart attack at the age of fifty, but his lifetime of work continues to be enjoyed by moviegoers today.
*McQueen was ranked No. 30 in Empire Magazine’s “The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time” list.
*He was expelled from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) for riding his motorcycle through the College of Fine Arts Building.
*He had mesothelioma at the time of his death, which he may have contracted from the asbestos suits he wore while racing cars.
*His body was cremated and his ashes scattered into the Pacific Ocean.
*He was a pallbearer at the funeral of actor Bruce Lee.