Steve McQueen- the iconic motorcycle-racing cigarette-smoking costar-bedding King of Cool. Hollywood’s first real crossover star, he started on TV and then charmed his way onto the big screen, those piercing blue eyes certainly couldn’t have hurt. But how did a man who came from nothing win over the hearts and souls of the American public? It certainly wasn’t luck, it was dogged hard work and constant reinvention, with more than his fair share of romance along the way.
Born in 1930 to a teen prostitute and a stunt pilot, young Steve McQueen bounced around between his family’s homes. At 14 while living with his mother in LA for a stint, McQueen was repeatedly beaten badly by her new husband. These violent incidents eventually landed him in The Boys Republic, a boarding home for delinquent boys in Chino Hills California. It was here that his life finally gained structure and McQueen learned how to follow the rules in order to get ahead. Decades later on movie sets handlers were shocked at his diva-esque demands for hundreds of jeans, t-shirts and razors. Only later did they find out that Steve was donating them all back to the Boys Republic. When he visited the school after striking it rich in Hollywood his first wife Neile would ask him “Why are you wearing a fancy suit to visit these poor boys?” Steve told her that he wanted to inspire them and show them their lives had possibility.
Without getting into too much detail of his rise to fame, McQueen worked odd jobs including towel boy at a brothel and the Military. In 1952 he started studying acting in New York city as a way to meet girls and boy did that work out for him! Shortly after completing a few projects in the Big Apple he set his sights on Hollywood and the small screen.
His TV ventures were mildly successful and it was then that he met his first wife the successful exotic beauty, dancer and actress Neile Adams. They married a mere four months after meeting and stayed together for sixteen years, despite all his open philandering and drug use. One haunting story of McQueen’s extramarital affairs was that of a dinner party that he missed because his date (not his wife) insisted they stay in and get naked instead. The infamous dinner party was in 1969 at the home of Sharon Tate and none of the guests made it out alive due to the horrible Manson Family massacre that interrupted the evening.
Steve and Neile had two children whom McQueen was devoted to despite his busy work schedule. In 1972 after discovering that his wife had embarked on an extramarital affair of her own (despite turning the other cheek at his dozens of affairs) the celebrity couple split.
McQueen’s next romance came while filming the Getaway in 1972. The star insisted that the Producer, Robert Evans, cast his wife Ali McGraw, the statuesque star of Love Story. McGraw showed up on set totally out of her league- a self proclaimed “repressed New England non-actor”. But the minute she met McQueen she was a goner, they attraction was visceral and undeniable. She literally gave up her marriage and her career for him. They were married for 5 tumultuous years which reportedly ended in her screaming “I WANT A DIVORCE!!!” on a car ride with Steve’s son in the backseat. In true McQueen fashion, he had already moved on to the young model Barbara Minty whom he’d spotted in a Club Med ad and set up an “interview” with at the Beverly Wilshire hotel, they were married shortly after his second divorce was finalized.
By this time in the late 70s, McQueen had retreated from Hollywood, grown his hair and beard long, moved to the country and almost stopped making films entirely. Friends and family believe that he finally seemed at peace living this simplified life, away from the spotlight. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long as he was soon fatally diagnosed with cancer due to asbestos exposure during his stint in the military.
The man, the icon, the sex symbol sadly died at age 50 after saying goodbye to each of his wives one by one. Steve McQueen’s legend lives on through his films, his beautiful family members and those piercing blue eyes.