“They said that he could act with the back of his head! No fancy dialogue or frills required—his mere presence loomed larger than life in every shot. Put him next to some of the finest actors in the business, and he would undercut every one of them simply by being in the frame. His piercingly distinctive blue eyes were set in a rough-hewn, unconventionally handsome face that rarely betrayed strong emotion. His smallest physical gesture was precisely calculated and gracefully executed. You couldn’t best him, you couldn’t buy him, you couldn’t touch him. He was the King of Cool. He was Steve McQueen.” (Esther O’Reilly)
The much-anticipated one-night Fathom event, Steve McQueen: American Icon comes to theaters September 28. This fascinating, entertaining documentary is hosted by Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California. Steve McQueen: American Icon tells the story of the life of one of America’s most enduring and intriguing movie stars. It is a redemption story which chronicles McQueen’s retreat from the world of fame and fortune, as he searched for meaning, truth and significance. It reveals how Steve McQueen experienced a transforming, fulfilling faith at the end of his life. This heartfelt movie is engaging and inspiring.
Greg Laurie, one of America’s leading pastors, is not only an avid McQueen fan, but also experienced a similar childhood. In his mint replica Bullitt mustang, Greg traveled the country in search of the McQueen’s final untold chapter and the redemption he found.
The primary interview for this documentary American Icon is with Steve’s wife Barbra Minty McQueen. She was a New York model and amateur photographer who took hundreds of never-before-seen candid photographs of Steve in his last years. Other interviews showcased in the film event include Academy Award®-winning actor Mel Gibson, renown stuntman Stan Barrett, celebrated McQueen biographer Marshall Terrill, and actors Barbra Leigh and Mel Novak.
Greg Laurie speaks on Focus on the Family about Steve McQueen’s career in movies, and his life as a Christian. Steve McQueen was a product of the loss of his parents. His father, a wandering stunt pilot, left when Steve was a baby. His mother, an alcoholic involved with many men, gave Steve to grandparents to rear. It was on his grandparents’ farm that Steve developed his love for racing and stunts.
He was arrested several times as a teen and sent to truancy homes for rebellious kids. He served in the Marine Corps, where he demonstrated both valor and rebellion.
He decided to become an actor, studying with Lee Strasberg. He went into movies, displaying skill at reacting to scenes and performing action roles. He eventually became one of the highest paid stars of his generation.
Steve McQueen was a man with many paradoxes. He displayed humility and defiance, stinginess and generosity, gentleness and violence, self-assurance and insecurity. Director Norman Jewison said, “He was a loner, and he was troubled, and he was looking for a father.”
Many who knew Steve McQueen have different, fascinating stories about him. These include fellow Marines, young men from the Boys’ Republic, where Steve had spent some of his teenage years, fellow movie stars….
His superior Marine officers tell how he spent 41 days in the brig for resisting arrest after going AWOL. The young men from the Boys’ Republic tell how he regularly came back and visited the school after becoming famous, personally responded to every boy’s letter, and financially supported the school until his death.
Magnificent Seven co-star, Yul Brynner, could tell how Steve stole scenes with distracting bits of business to grab attention. Bruce Lee could tell about a frightening ride in Steve’s Porsche with Bruce cowering in the foot-well and threatening to kill Steve when they stopped. Steve hit the gas again, refusing to slow down until Lee promised not to hurt him!
Steve said that he lived for himself and answered to no one. He said, “I believe in me. God will be number one as long as I’m number one.” That philosophy guided him as he burned through drugs, two marriages, and a slew of affairs…
In the late 1970s, when his career was fading, he felt empty, unsatisfied, and unfulfilled. He began to retreat and developed lung problems.
He followed doctors’ advice and moved in 1979 to the small, quiet town of Santa Paula, where he eventually married his third wife, Barbara Minty. They lived in an airport hangar filled with his motorcycle collection. He bought a yellow Stearman bi-plane and learned to fly it. He was quick to master flying as he had done earlier with car racing.
Having gone through multiple marriages and affairs, as well as harmful involvement in drugs, as a broken man McQueen started going to church. He had been exposed to Christians throughout his career and now he would become a Christian. Pilot Sammy Mason and Pastor Leonard De Witt each had a profound Christian impact on Steve at the end of his life.
Pilot Sammy Mason was Steve’s flying teacher. In their long hours in the air, they talked about the meaning of life. Steve asked Mason what the secret of his was. Mason told Steve it was Jesus Christ.
McQueen respected Mason so much that he began regularly attending Mason’s church. The pastor was Leonard Dewitt. DeWitt later recalled that the famous icon had sat quietly in the balcony without even introducing himself for several months. Steve requested a meeting with the pastor, Leonard Dewitt, and fired off questions about life and faith. Dewitt said, “Steve, I just have one question for you.” McQueen with his signature grin said, “You want to know if I’ve become a born-again Christian.” Then still smiling but serious, he told DeWitt that “When you invited people to pray with you to receive Christ, I prayed. So yes, I’m a born-again Christian.”
Sammy Mason said that the difference in Steve was “dramatic.” He also said, “I doubt that I have ever seen a man flourish with more spiritual reality in such a short time.” Another close Christian friend, John Daly, said, “I think I had more faith that my hammer and saw would have gotten converted before Steve, but I was hearing it from the horse’s mouth. I was blown away.” Under the discipleship of Mason and DeWitt, McQueen would often pray and read the Bible. He shared his faith with others, including his former assistant, Mario Iscovich. Mario said, that McQueen “felt he had hurt a lot of people” but had finally “made peace with God.” Steve McQueen was finally fulfilled by his faith in Jesus Christ.
At the end of his life, Steve McQueen was generous. For example, he became the legal guardian of a young girl, whom he sent to school.
Steve McQueen was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, which was a fast-spreading and incurable form of cancer. In a recording from this time (Time for Truth in the UK), Steve McQueen talked about his illness, his faith, and the change in his life. He says, “My body is gone…broken, but my heart is not broken and my spirit is not broken…It is part of the plan…to keep me hanging on…” 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, whom McQueen had wanted to meet. Billy Graham came, right before McQueen was flown to a hospital for surgery to remove his tumors. Billy Graham said that as McQueen was bedridden and on oxygen that he was still “a fighter…under that oxygen, he would talk. His eyes were just as bright, but he looked emaciated and old.” McQueen told Graham his life’s story and how God had made him a new man. Because McQueen had misplaced his Bible, Graham personally inscribed his own Bible and gave it to the dying actor. He stayed by McQueen’s side and prayed with him.
Four days after meeting with Graham, at age 50, Steve McQueen died of a heart attack with Billy Graham’s Bible resting on his chest, opened to his favorite verse, “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)
For more movie and ticket information, visit the movie’s website.
To learn more about this author, please visit Dr. Diane Howard