A men’s fashion magazine recently asked the question, “Who was cooler: Steve McQueen or James Dean?”
Looking over their careers, where they were rated from fashion sense to accomplishments, Steve McQueen won. Maybe that’s why he was dubbed “the king of cool.”
Who can forget McQueen in films like The Magnificent Seven, Bullitt, or The Great Escape? He was the definition of a “self-made man.” He drove the fastest motorcycles and the coolest cars. In many ways, he was running his whole life.
Many do not know that McQueen had a horrible childhood. He was abandoned by his father, and his mother was a raging alcoholic. She married alcoholic, abusive men, two of whom would beat Steve as a boy. McQueen was on his own, on the streets, at the age of nine. He was sent to a boy’s home and later went to New York City to learn how to act. One thing led to another, and Steve had tremendous success, becoming the number-one movie star in the world.
Steve said, “You only go around once in life, and I’m going to grab a handful of it!” It was the ’60s, and everything was free . . . Drugs, sex, you name it. Steve grabbed it all and then some. He was the highest paid actor in Hollywood. He had it all: women, cars, booze, drugs, global fame, money. He said, “I live for myself and answer to nobody!” He was asked once if he believed in God and he brazenly said, “I believe in me!”
But by the late ’70s, McQueen’s star was fading. He felt empty and unsatisfied. He began turning down huge offers and retreated into his private world. He was also having problems with his lungs, and his doctors told him he should move. He left Malibu for the small quiet town of Santa Paula, where he married his third wife.
She wrote in her book, Steve McQueen: The Last Mile, that despite his worldwide fame and the fact that he financially never wanted for anything, an absolute peace had eluded Steve for most of his life. He had seen and done it all in his fifty years on earth, but there was one thing he didn’t have—the one thing he wanted most: inner peace.
They lived in an airport hangar, where Steve kept his massive motorcycle collection. One thing Steve had not mastered was flying. So he bought a vintage plane known as a Stearman biplane. He asked who could best teach him how to operate it and he was told there was only one man: Sammy Mason, who was in his mid-60s. Sammy was a former test pilot for Lockheed and was a stunt pilot.
Steve and Sammy spent long hours talking about the meaning of life. Steve noticed something different about Sammy and asked what it was. Sammy Mason told Steve McQueen it was his relationship with Jesus Christ. He invited Steve to church, and much to Sammy’s surprise, McQueen showed up.
The pastor, Leonard Dewitt, knew that McQueen had come and told people to leave him alone so he could take it in. One day, Steve McQueen tapped the pastor on the shoulder and asked to meet. Steve fired a bunch of questions Pastor Dewitt’s way, and the pastor answered them. Steve wanted to know: What is God like? Does God truly forgive?
After all, McQueen had the life of sex, drugs, booze, and the coolest machines ever. He had made a lot of mistakes and hurt a lot of people. Pastor Dewitt answered him, and McQueen said, “That takes care of my questions!”
Pastor Dewitt responded, “I have a question for you, Steve!”
Steve smiled and said, “You’re wondering if have become born again? When you invited people to pray with you to receive Christ a few Sundays ago, I prayed. So yes, I’m a born-again Christian!”
The “king of cool” met Christ!
Everyone who knew Steve said the transformation was immediate and dramatic. Steve spent hours poring over his Bible and praying. McQueen met with Pastor Dewitt once a week for a year. Steve brought his friends and kids to church with him every Sunday. He said, “I don’t want to get on a soapbox until I know what I’m talking about!”
McQueen had returned to films, and while filming The Hunter, he did not feel well. He went to the doctor and was told he had an incurable form of cancer. He was also told he only had months to live. Steve called his pastor and told him.
Pastor Dewitt vividly remembers what Steve said next: “Now that I’m a Christian, I want to live! But if I don’t make it, I know where I’m going!”
Steve said, “The one regret I have is I was not able to tell people what Christ did for me.”
Steve had always wanted to meet Billy Graham. Billy came to see him, and when he realized McQueen had misplaced his Bible, Billy gave him his. Steve went in for surgery but died because his heart gave out. Billy’s Bible was on Steve’s chest. It was opened to John 3:16.