He was a Hollywood bad boy and headstrong thrill-seeker, drawn to drugs, women, fast cars and motorcycles. At the height of his stardom in the 1960s and ’70s, Steve McQueen was at the top of his game, yet the “King of Cool” was still searching for something more. That’s the subject of a new documentary, Steve McQueen: American Icon.
With an alcoholic mother and a string of abusive stepfathers, McQueen had always wanted a real dad in his life—someone to look up to. He found a father figure in his flight instructor, Sammy Mason, who answered his countless questions about faith and told him about the perfect Father, God Himself.
Little by little, this lead role in The Great Escape stopped running in the opposite direction of God. Three months after McQueen and his wife started attending Mason’s church in California, McQueen invited the pastor to lunch and asked another round of questions. What does it look like to follow Jesus Christ?
With a slew of fictional movies under his belt, this actor wanted to know the truth.
It was during that lunch that the pastor, Leonard DeWitt, asked McQueen about his own beliefs, and McQueen shared that he had devoted his life to Christ a few weeks back. He had a new purpose and an ever-softening demeanor.
Six months later, in late 1979, McQueen was diagnosed with cancer. Although he wanted to live, friends and family could see he was also . If and when he died, he said, he knew where he was going.
On Nov. 3, 1980, four days before his death, one of McQueen’s wishes came true. He’d wanted to meet evangelist Billy Graham for some time, and on that day, Mr. Graham paid him a visit. The pair prayed together and talked about the afterlife, and McQueen told him how his faith in Christ helped him deal with the cancer. At the end of their meeting, Billy Graham left McQueen his personal Bible, the name “Billy Graham” printed on the front and all.
Inside, he wrote the date, along with a message: “To my friend Steve McQueen, may God bless and keep you always.” He signed his name, along with a reference to a Bible verse, Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Billy Graham’s Bible became McQueen’s most valued possession. He died on Nov. 7—Billy Graham’s 62nd birthday—and was found clutching that Bible.
Before his death, McQueen said he wanted to tell more people about God. While he grew weaker physically, he grew stronger spiritually, and wanted others to know where that strength came from.
God began something wonderful in McQueen’s life—a total transformation—and has continued impacting others through his story. Nov. 7 is much more than his death date; it’s the day the King of Cool met the King of kings.
Whatever you’re chasing after in life, nothing compares to God Himself. If He can change Steve McQueen’s life, he can change yours, too.