Some men live life, legendary actor and adventure-enthusiast Steve McQueen attacked it. From his early days in the Merchant Marine and the United States Marine Corps to his rise to the being the highest paid movie star in 1974, McQueen captured the essence of masculinity in a way that was brash but never arrogant. Through his acting, motor sports racing and airplane flying, McQueen made thrill-seeking a style and few have been able to do it with as much class and savoir-faire.
Known for being a born rebel, McQueen abandoned his post in the Merchant Marines in the Dominican Republic and also spent 41 days in the Marine Corp brig for unauthorized absences. After being honorably discharged in 1950 McQueen would embark on a journey that was as unexpected as it was thrilling and would create a larger than life persona that is still the standard by which cool is measured.
While many men would find comfort in a specific character, McQueen was just as commanding racing dirt bikes as he was in three-piece suits and blue-tinted Persol 714 sunglasses
McQueen began his acting career in the early 1950’s and would achieve his breakout role on the TV western series Tales of Wells Fargo, which in turn led to a role in Wanted: Dead or Alive. McQueen quickly made his presence known by forgoing the typical six-gun most actors carried in favor of a sawed-off .44-40 Winchester rifle. This weapon of choice signified the way McQueen would approach his roles and his life; on his terms and with barrels blazing.
The western roles became a launch pad for McQueen’s penchant for playing the anti-hero, a rustic and rebellious character that was on the good side but played by his own rules. This method would later be capitalized on by other rogue lawmen played by the likes of Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson.
Though the silver screen made McQueen a household name it was his passion for motorsports that best defined his unique hell-raising style. At the beginning of his acting career, he would earn extra money by racing motorcycles at the Long Island City Raceway and his skills would develop to the point that he could perform his own stunts in movies, a pre-cursor to modern day stuntmen-turned actors such as Jason Statham.
Two of McQueen’s most memorable stunts were the car chase scene in Bullit and motorcycle chases in The Great Escape. Though McQueen would own many motorcycles during his career his preference was a Triumph 500cc and when it came to cars he owned several Porsches.
McQueen wasn’t playing roles, he was living them and his greatest performance was his own personal life.
McQueen would act from 1953 until 1980 and during that time became an icon for masculine style. While many men would find comfort in a specific character, McQueen was just as commanding racing dirt bikes as he was in three-piece suits and blue-tinted Persol 714 sunglasses for the Thomas Crown Affair and making black turtlenecks popular way before Steve Jobs. McQueen was also known for his expensive watch collection that included rare Rolexes and his being a sponsored ambassador for Tag Heuer timepieces.
From westerns to Formula One racetracks, McQueen fit naturally in almost any setting and it was his dominating presence that made him not only Hollywood’s biggest draw in the 1970’s but also a cover story for Sports Illustrated.
Though McQueen was known for his wild side, indulging in cocaine and alcohol, he balanced his vices with grueling exercise routines and a keen interest in the martial arts, at one point studying under the tutelage of Bruce Lee.
A rule-breaker, a hell-raiser and a man who only seemed comfortable when doing 150 mph on dangerous tracks, McQueen saw life’s warning signs and blew past each with a devil-may-care attitude. However, there was no malice to McQueen’s persona, no intent to harm or endanger those he cared about. He simply had a passion for thrill seeking and would go to extreme lengths to satisfy his burning desires.
While many have tried to emulate the McQueen myth none come close. McQueen wasn’t playing roles, he was living them and his greatest performance was his own personal life. The same way Hunter Thompson will be remembered more for who he was than what he did, McQueen will always be grander than any role he played.