Steve McQueen

by Erika Cox
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Known as the "King of Cool," Steve McQueen was one of Hollywood's leading actors of the 1960s. He had a reputation for being hard to work with, but was in high demand from the American public, so McQueen also was one of the highest paid actors of this time period. He appeared in a number of films, including The Great Escape and The Sand Pebbles.

Steve McQueen was born Terence Steven McQueen in 1930 in Beech Grove, Indiana. He was the son of a circus stunt pilot, who left the family when McQueen was born. His mother also abandoned the boy, leaving him to be raised by his uncle. She returned when he was 12, but after only a couple of year living with his mother, McQueen was sent away again, this time to Chino Hills, California to a boarding school for delinquents.

Once graduated, he served in the United States Marine Corps for three years and then took advantage of the G.I. Bill and went to school to study acting. Along with over 2,000 other hopefuls, McQueen auditioned for Lee Strasberg's Actors' Studio. He was one of two who got into the program.

McQueen made his debut in 1955 in the Broadway show A Hatful of Rain. He stumbled into a number of television guest roles throughout the 1950s before his breakout role as Josh Randall in Wanted: Dead or Alive. The show featured McQueen as a bounty hunter and gave McQueen an image that would stick with him—that of a mysterious anti-hero. McQueen starred in this role from 1958 to 1961.

After playing small roles in the movies Girl on the Run and Somebody Up There Likes Me in 1953 and 1956, respectively, McQueen got the lead role in The Blob. This American science-fiction film in 1958 was directed by Irvin Yeaworth and features a blob alien that attacks the small neighborhood of Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

The film was a surprising hit. McQueen played his part for $3,000, which he took after turning down an offer for 10% of the profits because he thought the movie would be a bomb. It went on to gross $4 million and is still a classic horror film today.

His first mainstream Hollywood hit came in 1960 with the movie The Magnificent Seven, directed by John Sturges. Modeled after Seven Samurai, this American remake featured McQueen plays Vin, one of seven men who protect a Mexican town from a group of bandits.

In 1963, McQueen played in his next major role in The Great Escape, the fictionalized story of an escape from a World War II Prisoners of War camp. McQueen, an avid motorcycle and car enthusiast did much of the driving in this film himself, although he was not allowed to perform the famous motorcycle jump at the end for insurance reasons.

McQueen was nominated for an Academy Award in 1966 for his performance in The Sand Pebbles and had another big hit in 1968 with the car chasing movie Bullitt. He went on into the 1970s to play roles in the movies Les Mans, Papillion, The Getaway, The Towering Inferno, and An Enemy of the People. He created a large following of fans with all of these films.

While making movies, McQueen also had time for a personal life. In 1956 he married the actress Neile Adams. They divorced in 1972, but not before having two children—Terry and Chad. After divorcing his first wife, he married actress Ali MacGraw, with whom he had co-starred in The Getaway. She left her husband at the time, producer Robert Evans, for McQueen, but the two were divorced less than five years later. McQueen then stayed single until 1980, when he married a third time. This wife, Barbara Minty, was a model, but their marriage was also short-lived, not because they divorced, but because McQueen died less than a year after the ceremony.

He passed away at the age of fifty, due to a heart attack that followed surgery he had to remove a tumor in his liver. The cancer was the result of his exposure to asbestos, which most likely occurred during his time racing or when he was in the Marines. Posthumously, McQueen is still one of the highest-paid stars of all time.

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