He was the ultra-cool male film star of the 1960s, and rose from a troubled youth spent in reform schools to being the world’s most popular actor. Over 25 years after his untimely death from mesothelioma in 1980, Steve McQueen is still considered hip and cool, and he endures as an icon of popular culture.
McQueen was born in Beech Grove, Indiana, to Julia Ann (Crawford) and William Terence McQueen, a stunt pilot. His first lead role was in the low-budget sci-fi film ‘The Blob’ (1958), quickly followed by roles in ‘The St. Louis Bank Robbery’ (1959) and ‘Never So Few’ (1959). The young McQueen appeared as Vin, alongside Yul Brynner, in the star-laden ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (1960) and effectively hijacked the lead from the bigger star by ensuring he was nearly always doing something in every shot he and Brynner were in together, such as adjusting his hat or gun belt. He next scored with audiences with two interesting performances, first in the World War II drama ‘Hell Is for Heroes’ (1962) and then in ‘The War Lover’ (1962). Riding a wave of popularity, McQueen delivered another crowd pleaser as Hilts, the Cooler King, in the knockout World War II P.O.W. film ‘The Great Escape’ (1963), featuring his famous leap over the barbed wire on a motorcycle while being pursued by Nazi troops (in fact, however, the stunt was actually performed by his good friend, stunt rider Bud Ekins).McQueen returned to the United States in early October 1980. Despite metastasis of the cancer through McQueen’s body, Kelley publicly announced that McQueen would be completely cured and return to normal life. McQueen’s condition soon worsened and “huge” tumors developed in his abdomen. In late October, McQueen flew to Chihuahua, Mexico to have an abdominal tumor on his liver (weighing around five pounds) removed, despite warnings from his American doctors that the tumor was inoperable and his heart could not withstand the surgery. McQueen checked into a Juarez clinic under the alias “Sam Shepard” where the local Mexican doctors and staff at the small, low-income clinic were unaware of his actual identity. Steve McQueen passed away on November 7, 1980, at age 50 after the cancer surgery which was said to be successful. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea. He married three times and had a lifelong love of motor racing, once remarking, “Racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting”.