Steve McQueen Biography

Steve McQueen photo

Born: March 24, 1930


Date of Birth: March 24, 1930

Steve McQueen was born in Beech Grove, Indiana. When he was an infant, his father, a stunt pilot, abandoned his mother and so she handed Steve over to her relatives to raise. McQueen spent most of his young life at his great-uncle’s farm in Slater, Missouri. He was treated like a son and spent his happiest times there, although he left periodically at his mother’s bidding. He suffered abuse at the hands of his stepfathers (his mother re-married at least twice) and took to the streets to escape. McQueen eventually landed in reform school as a teenager and rebelled at first. He lived at the Junior Boys Republic in California, which made a huge impact on his life and he turned his life around. He continued to visit the school years later to speak to the boys and often made donations to the institution.

In the 1940s, Steve McQueen worked odd jobs around the United States, including stints at a carnival and as a “towel boy” at a brothel. His life continued its unpredictable course until 1947 when he enlisted with the U.S. Marine Corps. Once again, he fought back against authority at first and got himself demoted to Private seven times for misbehavior. Once, he turned a two day leave into a two week vacation and spent time in the brig for resisting arrest. McQueen eventually settled down, was promoted, saved a few lives, and was honorably discharged in 1950. It was in 1951 that he first discovered acting and after landing a few bit parts here and there in the mid 1950s, his career began to take off.

The Blob gave McQueen his first leading role. Shortly after, in 1958, he received what is widely considered his biggest break to date—the starring role as bounty hunter Josh Randall in the television series Wanted: Dead or Alive. The series ran three seasons and during his time on the program, McQueen caught the eye of John Sturges, who cast him in Never So Few with Frank Sinatra, and The Magnificent Seven with Charles Bronson, Yul Brynner and Eli Wallach. Roles in The Cincinnati Kid and The Great Escape followed. In 1967, he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role as Jake Holman, an engineer on board the U.S.S. San Pablo in 1920s China, in The Sand Pebbles with Candice Bergen and fellow former “Great Escapee” Richard Attenborough. It was his only Academy Award nomination. He was also nominated —but never won—Golden Globes for Love With the Proper Stranger, The Sand Pebbles, The Reivers and Papillon.

McQueen usually stuck to action movies and his few forays into other genres did poorly in comparison to his flashier films. His most famous roles include Hilts in The Great Escape, the lead in The Cincinnati Kid, and the car-chasing cop Frank Bullitt in Bullitt. McQueen was known for his car-racing and motorcycle riding skills, which were showcased in many movies and helped to bolster his reputation as the “King of Cool.” His dislike of authority and daredevil attitude created problems with directors and producers, but they put up with him anyway—he was too big of a draw to lose.

In 1974, with The Towering Inferno, Steve McQueen, became the highest paid actor in the industry, but shortly after, he promptly took a break from Hollywood and didn’t return to the spotlight until four years later. His role as a bearded environmentalist in An Enemy of the People startled much of his fan base and the movie wasn’t well received. His career slump didn’t last long; McQueen rebounded with a memorable performance in Papillon alongside Dustin Hoffman, a critically-acclaimed film that leant a bit of brightness to the end of the action-star’s career. His last two films were Tom Horn and The Hunter, both of which were released in 1980 and re-cemented McQueen’s reputation as an action star after a lengthy absence from the screen and a number of controversial and unpopular movie flops.

McQueen’s personal life was bumpier than his rise to fame. In addition to his daredevil driving addiction, McQueen had drug and alcohol abuse problems, which plagued him for most of his life. He was married three times, first to Neile Adams from 1956 to 1972. They had two children—daughter Terry and son Chad. In 1973, after an affair on the set of one of his movies, he married Ali MacGraw, which lasted until 1978. Both of his first two wives claimed McQueen cheated on them and physically abused them. He married once more, in January 1980, to Barbara Minty, shortly before his death.

During the late 1970s, McQueen developed a persistent cough and shortness of breath. A biopsy in 1979 led to a cancer diagnosis. McQueen battled the disease, which doctors related to asbestos exposure, and tried to use experimental treatments to curb its spread. It didn’t work. On November 7, 1980, at the age of 50, McQueen passed away in his hospital bed in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, from complications following surgery to remove tumors in his neck and abdomen. His ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean.


The Hunter(1980)
Tom Horn (1980)
An Enemy of the People (1978)
Dixie Dynamite(1976)
The Towering Inferno(1974)
The Getaway(1972)
Junior Bonner(1972)
Le Mans (1971)
The Reivers (1969)
The Thomas Crown Affair(1968)
The Sand Pebbles(1966)
Nevada Smith (1966)
The Cincinnati Kid(1965)
Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965)
Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)
Soldier in the Rain (1963)
The Great Escape(1963)
The War Lover (1962)
Hell is for Heroes (1962)
The Honeymoon Machine (1961)
The Magnificent Seven(1960)
Never So Few (1959)
The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery(1959)
The Blob (1958)
Never Love a Stranger (1958)
Somebody Up There Likes Me (uncredited)(1956)
Girl On the Run (uncredited)(1953)
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