Steve McQueen starred in over thirty movies, including Le Mans, Towering Inferno and The Great Escape.
If you thought he was like the characters he played, you wouldn’t be far wrong. He was a wild and troubled man, and something of a loner. His early life was very traumatic.
As one friend stated, “Steve knew what it was like to be dyslexic, deaf, illegitimate, backward, beaten, abused, deserted.”
Steve McQueen was a rebel
Once, during his military service he spent 41 days in the brig for resisting arrest when caught AWOL. He loved fast cars and motorcycles.
Nicknamed the “King of Cool”, he told people that he lived for himself and answered to no one.
Asked once if he believed in God, he replied, “I believe in me. God will be number one as long as I’m number one.”
Despite this bravado, his life was desperately troubled. His addiction to alcohol and drugs, together with his womanising and violence, wrecked two marriages.
By the late 1970s McQueen was as broken down as the characters he played. His health deteriorated and he became more of a loner. For a while, he lived with his wife in an airport hangar which housed his motorcycle collection.
Learning to fly
He bought a bi-plane and learned to fly it.
His instructor, Sammy Mason, soon became a close friend of McQueen.
Sammy said, “We talked intimately about our feelings about life and our purpose for being here.”
Through this, Steve realized that there was something different about Sammy. He asked him what it was.
Mason explained that it was Jesus Christ who made the difference. As a result, Steve started attending the Ventura Missionary Church with the Masons.
After several months of regular attendance, McQueen spoke to the pastor, Leonard Dewitt. He had a string of questions about the Bible and Christianity.
After the actor had finished, the pastor said, “Steve, I have just one question for you.” McQueen knew what was coming. “You want to know if I’ve become a born-again Christian.”
Then he explained what had happened at a recent service.
“When you invited people to pray with you to receive Christ, I prayed. So yes, I have asked Jesus Christ to take over my life.”
A radical change
From then on Steve McQueen’s life dramatically changed.
Sammy Mason commented, “I had always felt that he possessed a depth of character, but when Christ infiltrated his life, and brought it in tune with God’s will, the full beauty of the man began to blossom. Oh, he still had problems with his quick temper and with areas of his life that had been poorly cultivated for many years, but I doubt that I have ever seen a man flourish with more spiritual reality in such a short time.”
Steve told his friends and the people he worked with what had happened to him and how he had made his peace with God and been forgiven. He tried to help as many people as he could, especially the disadvantaged.
He had always been generous, but now he did good because he wanted to serve God, instead of trying to “make up” for the wrongs he had done, which he knew had been dealt with only through Christ’s death.
A devastating blow
Then Steve was diagnosed with an aggressive and incurable cancer.
He was devastated, because he had expected God to use him now that he was a Christian. But he told his pastor that he could endure it, because he knew for sure where he would spend eternity.
One writer* tells of “a tape-recorded conversation from this time where McQueen is talking about his illness, his faith, and the change in his life. ‘My body is broken,’ he says, ‘but my spirit isn’t broken. My heart isn’t broken.’
You can hear his voice crack when he shares dreams of ‘changing some people’s lives with what I know of the Lord, and what I have to offer with what’s happened to me.’”
One of the last people Steve talked to was Billy Graham.
It was arranged for them to meet just before Steve was flown to hospital for surgery.
He told the evangelist how he had repented of his sin, and how God had completely changed him.
It is on record that “McQueen had misplaced his Bible, so Graham personally inscribed his own Bible and gave it to the dying actor. He stayed by McQueen’s side and prayed with him until they reached the airport, then saw him off on the plane.”
Four days later, Steve died of a heart attack. Resting on his chest was the Bible that Billy Graham had given him. It was open at Steve’s favourite part:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
*Greater Grace: A Story of God, Redemption and Steve McQueen – from this blog post by Esther O’Reilly.
Steve McQueen, The Final Chapter by Grady Ragsdale, Jr.
The images in this post are used under Creative Commons License (CC BY-SA 2.0)