It Is 35 Years Since The Death Of Steve McQueen


November 6, 2015 — For many people who grew up watching Steve McQueen’s movies, it was difficult to believe that he was only 50 years old at the time of his death. The influence he had on film and on popular culture was enormous. It felt as though he had been around far longer.

It wasn’t until 1958, at the age of 28, that he first came to wide attention, in the cheesy B-movie The Blob. The horror film was not well-received by critics (and McQueen’s acting was widely panned) but audiences enjoyed the low-budget sci-fi film, and it helped catapult McQueen to fame.

It was television stardom at first. The television Western, Wanted, Dead or Alive, would run for three years, from 1958 to 1961. McQueen’s role as Josh Randall, the bounty hunter, made him a big enough name for him to be cast in The Magnificent Seven in 1960. And from then on, McQueen would always be a huge star.

His next blockbuster would come in 1963. The Great Escape is an ensemble film, but McQueen’s performance as smart-alecky American Captain Virgil Hilts (also known as “The Cooler King”), an insolent loner who despises authority, was the stand-out. The image of McQueen astride a motorcycle during his attempted escape has become iconic.

The Sand Pebbles, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Towering Inferno, The Cincinnati Kid, Papillon, Bullitt — most of his movies were successful, many were huge hits. He spent numerous years at the top of the list of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. He became known as “The King of Cool.”

He used that status to make the film of his dreams — but the process turned into a nightmare. An avid race car driver, McQueen wanted desperately to make a movie about the Le Mans endurance race. The desire consumed him, but he never got a handle on the production. The film, which began production without a completed script, careened out of control. It was eventually taken away from McQueen, who had wanted so desperately to make the movie his own way — as he wanted to do everything else.

Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans tells the story of that failed effort. McQueen’s 1971 movie would get released to poor reviews. Some people feel that his behavior during the filming cost McQueen his marriage. Others felt the film broke his spirit. 

Over the last nine years of his life, McQueen would be involved in eleven more film projects. He would take off nearly three years (1976-1978), during which no new movies appeared. In total there were fewer than 20 years during which he actually made movies.

By 1978 he was starting to suffer from the pleural mesothelioma that would eventually take his life. Although the disease would not be correctly diagnosed for another year, the symptoms of the asbestos-related cancer were taking a toll. By 1979, when the diagnosis was confirmed, the cancer, for which there is no known cure, had already metastasized.

He would die on November 7, 1980.

His films are still popular, his image still resonates. He remains, to this day, “The King of Cool.” 

FilmRise has acquired select rights to Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans and will release the film in New York and Los Angeles on November 13. There will also be a day-and-date release for Internet VOD, Download to Own platforms, and DVD and Blu-ray.
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