Steve McQueen: The Life of the King of Cool

Steve McQueen on the set of one his movies. Gentlemen's Gazette photo.
Steve McQueen on the set of one his movies. Gentlemen’s Gazette photo.

He Defined Cool Before Cool Even Was Cool

I’ve just finished a quick read–a biography of movie idol and all-around adventurer Steve McQueen by Dwight John Zimmerman.  This series of biographies published by Motor Books incorporates an interesting design twist. Every page has a huge photo and the text is more minimal than you might think it would be in a regular biography. It’s called The Life Steve McQueen.

I learned a great deal about his life, like his very sad upbringing with two parents who both threw him out of the house and were drunks and drug-addled. Young Steve was sent to the California Boy’s Republic, a get-tough boot camp and it straightened him out. Later in his life he would return to this reform school often, as he said it was how he got straightened out.

He got out early, living on his own from Slater, Missouri in 1930, as the depression set into life in the US, and this started a life of restlessness that became a hard to scratch itch.  The one thing McQueen loved throughout his life was motorcycle racing; he even made his living racing for a while.

When he became a big-time movie star with lots of clout, he even made a movie about motorcycle racing called ‘On Any Sunday,’ along with another about auto racing, “Le Mans.”  He was so interested in making the motorcycle movie that he helped finance it.

When I was a young kid, no one was cooler than old Steve.  But the book makes it clear that he was a hard guy to get to know, he had a hard time getting past the pain of his early life.  He was perhaps happiest, said his last wife, Barbara Minty McQueen, when he was flying his Steerman biplane, one of six planes he owned when he died in 1980 from mesothelioma.

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