Actor and screen heartthrob Steve McQueen is one of the biggest stars that Hollywood has ever produced. He was the King of Cool and a speed racing dare devil who seduced movie goers with his bad-boy ways.
At the height of his popularity, he was the highest paid movie star in Tinsel Town, who boasted a string of blockbusters such as the WWII epic The Great Escape, Bullitt and action flicks The Getaway and The Magnificent Seven.
However, despite all the power and success, McQueen only found true contentment and fulfilled desire towards the end of his life.
Born in a poor farming community, Steve was abandoned by alcoholic parents at an early age. Acting became a vehicle to escape his deprived beginnings and rewrite the script of his life.
"When a kid doesn't have any love when he is small, he begins to wonder if he is good enough. If my mother didn't love me and I didn't have a father, well I began to wonder if I was good enough," he said.
He tried to find affirmation through the big screen. Movie goers adored his charisma, sex appeal and daredevil stunts. His genius was to redefine the modern movie star, setting a new template for the action hero which endures today nearly 40 years after his death.
McQueen had an insatiable desire for speed, a love that he fed with fast cars and motorbikes. The danger fuelled his adrenalin and gave him an escape from the pressures of superstardom. He briefly toyed with the idea of becoming a racing car driver, instead doing many of his own film stunts.
As his fame grew, the star felt increasingly trapped in the glare of the public spotlight, and had to don disguises before venturing out to enjoy ordinary life.
"An actor is a very strange situation to be in. You have to be very, very careful," he said.
"I had to find a place for me to go for my own personal salvation. But if you have heat on you all the time, people constantly wanting me to live up to things they see on screen. I can't do that. I'll die."
Fame and fortune delivered him every material blessing he wanted. So, why, he wondered, was he unhappy, driven to fill an emptiness inside? How could he have all this stuff but know that something was missing?
He retreated to alcohol and drugs, dropped out of Hollywood and took up his newfound passion of flying.
For McQueen, now in his forties, flight instructor Sammy Mason was an enigma. McQueen had wealth, a palatial home, multiple vehicles and had many relationships with different women. Yet Sammy, a former fighter pilot and war hero, with his simple family, seemed to be richer. He had an inner peace that McQueen envied.
Steve was curious. Sammy was a faithful Christian and during the many hours together in the sky, the pair talked about God. Sammy explained how he lived his life following Christ.
"Sammy and me would fly, and he'd tell me about the Lord. Flying and the Lord. I learned about the Bible. I'd listen and fly. It made sense. It made me feel good," McQueen recalled.
Steve asked to attend church where he heard the good news about Jesus Christ who lived and died and rose from the dead so people could be made right with God. McQueen asked the pastor, Reverend Leonard DeWitt, many questions about Jesus and the Bible to satisfy himself that the Bible was reliable and Jesus was God's Son. Then he decided to follow Jesus himself.
Those close to him noticed a big change in his lifestyle.
"One of the things I saw was a genuine sense of happiness. There was a peace. There was a calmness that had come into his life," Pastor DeWitt said.
McQueen began making amends, donating to, and volunteering at a home for wayward boys. He would visit and encourage the boys with the story of his own transformation.
He also married his long-term girlfriend in a small, private ceremony.
"In my life there was so much, you know," Steve said towards the end. "I had done everything there is to do. But a lot of my life I have wasted.
"I really believe that I have something to give the world, a message that I can give, something that I can teach other people about a relationship with the Lord."
Sadly, McQueen didn't have long to share with others what Jesus had come to mean to him because he died of cancer soon afterwards in 1980, aged just 50.
However, if he were here today, he would surely say with Jesus: "What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" (Mark 8:36). Fortunately, McQueen made the right choice before it was too late. Will you?
Two recent releases tell the story of Steve McQueen's search for peace with God: the movie Steve McQueen–American Icon and a book by Greg Laurie Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon.•