Many members of the automotive community, myself included, claim Steve McQueen as an icon and inspiration. In many ways, McQueen has played an influential role in my life and career: I’ve watched his movies since I was a child; I attend the “Friends of Steve McQueen Car Show” at the Boys Republic each year; I run in the same circle as his son, Chad McQueen; I’ve even helped to build a car inspired by the “King of Cool” himself, which was then raffled off for his charity. When I first read the synopsis of the new documentary based on his life, “Steve McQueen: American Icon,” I must admit, I was surprised.
Somehow, I’d never managed to hear his story of finding true meaning and happiness. I knew that McQueen loved women, and even more so, anything with an engine—but I didn’t know that in his final days, he found a love so great that none of those things could compare.
Greg Laurie, an American author and pastor who serves as the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, felt similarly when he first discovered the untold, latter part of Steve McQueen’s life. Determined to share the story that McQueen himself never had the chance to tell, Laurie then set out to make “Steve McQueen: American Icon,” which releases in a one-night cinema event on September 28, 2017. The insight this film offers into the widely unknown final chapter of McQueen’s journey towards and ultimate surrender to Christ leaves a note of peace and joy not seen anywhere else in his life.
Both Laurie and McQueen grew up in broken homes with absent fathers who each left them with deep feelings of abandonment and empty voids begging to be filled. As adults, both dealt with their difficult childhoods in very different ways: Laurie filled his void with faith, discipline and truth, whereas McQueen, straight from scrubbing boat hulls in the military, went to New York City to pursue acting. He quickly became a reckless danger to himself and others, embodying a sentiment he once expressed aptly: “You only go around once in life and I’m going to grab a handful of it.”
Few men in Hollywood have had the kind of passion for automobiles that McQueen did.
He owned incredible sports cars ranging from Porsche to Ferrari, including his signature Jaguar D-Type XKSS. In 1971, his love for all things automotive drove him to create the now-beloved cult film,“Le Mans,” in which McQueen races the legendary Porsche 917K in the famous race, 24 Hours of Le Mans.
This film is praised among the automotive racing community for its authenticity, featuring actual footage captured during the race held previously in June of 1970. McQueen wanted so badly for his automotive passion to be brought to the big screen that it caused him to create unrealistic expectations for himself and the rest of the production team. The film was shut down due to its skyrocketing budget and the disorganized chaos of production, which ultimately drove him into depression and an early mid-life crisis. Because of this, McQueen lost everything, but he bounced back despite his own self-destructive behavior, gaining success again after his role with Paul Newman in “The Towering Inferno.”
McQueen was back on top. He had it all: money, women, cars, motorcycles and houses—but it still wasn’t enough to satisfy him. This feeling sent McQueen into a tailspin of depression once again, causing him to disappear from Hollywood and into hiding, still searching for something to fill the void.
In that search, McQueen married his third wife, Barbara Minty, and discovered a new passion in flying airplanes. He met a pilot named Sammy Mason, who not only taught him how to fly, but also taught him what a truly fulfilling life was supposed to look like. When McQueen questioned the root of Mason’s joy and contentment, he was answered by Mason with simply: “I’m a Christian, Steve.”
As the film progresses, part of McQueen’s rarely told story begins to unfold. He moved to Santa Paula and became close with Leonard Dewitt, the head pastor of Ventura Missionary Church. Dewitt listened to McQueen and answered questions that fueled his constant search for something greater. Eventually, McQueen made the decision to give his life to Jesus, finding the true peace and comfort he’d spent his life searching for.
Anyone familiar with the life of Steve McQueen knows about the unfortunate news he received shortly after moving to Santa Paula and accepting Christ: he was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, a deadly form of lung cancer. McQueen was given six months to live, but he was determined to fight so that he could share the good news that changed his life from the inside out.
“I really believe that I have something to give the world,” he said. “…A message I can give, something I can teach other people. As far as my relationship with the Lord.” —Steve McQueen
McQueen knew that he had found something much greater than anything else he had encountered before, even amidst the impending reality of death.
During the entirety of the film, many friends, family and fans are interviewed about McQueen’s journey, his personality and the larger-than-life persona he established on the screen, which he went on to discover could never quite quench the thirst for something more.
At 50 years old, McQueen said, “You mentioned earlier about a cure in my life. Well, that cure was finding the Lord in my life. I’d like to think that I’m a good Christian. I’m trying to be… it’s not easy. I want to change some people’s lives somehow. To tell people… that I know the Lord. What I have to offer, what’s happened to me, I know that I’ve changed a lot.”
“I used to be more macho and now my body is gone—it’s broken… but my spirit isn’t broken,” McQueen concludes with a note of triumph, of resolution and assurance.
Whether you’re a McQueen fan or not, the story of his trials, successes, suffering and ultimate redemption—shared so passionately in this film by Greg Laurie—is truly a story worth hearing.
If I’ve learned one thing from McQueen, it’s that even though he had it all, nothing on this earth can be enough to satisfy a desire not created for this finite world.
His death no longer needs to mark the sad end of a troubled movie star’s life. Rather, it concludes the story of a man’s search for peace, which he was never able to find anywhere else but in Christ.
Greg Laurie also tells McQueen’s rarely told story in, “Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon.”