Monday, January 12, 2015
When Steve McQueen started to live
Everyone had a Steve McQueen story.
His superior officers in the Marines could have told you how he spent 41 days in the brig for resisting arrest when caught AWOL. The young men at the Boys’ Republic where Steve had spent some of his teenage years could tell you how he regularly came back and visited the school after becoming famous, personally responding to every boy’s letters and financially supporting the school until his death. “The Magnificent Seven” co-star Yul Brynner could tell you how McQueen stole scene after scene by deliberately throwing in extra, distracting bits of business. Bruce Lee could have told you about a hair-raising ride in Steve’s Porsche that had Lee cowering in the foot-well (and threatening to kill Steve when they stopped, causing a fearful McQueen to hit the gas again and refuse to slow down until Lee promised not to hurt him). He was known to say that he lived for himself and answered to no one. Asked once if he believed in God, the actor brazenly replied, ‘I believe in me. God will be number one as long as I’m number one.’” (Esther O’Reilly)
When McQueen’s health started to fail and his career started to wane, he took up flying. His instructor was an older man named Sammy Mason, and the actor was so impressed with Mason that he finally said, “What makes you different?” Mason sat down with him and said, “Steve, it’s not what. It’s who. I am different because of Jesus Christ.” McQueen started going to church with Mason and several months later he asked the pastor if they could meet. After several hours of questions, McQueen walked out of the church convinced that he was a new man in Christ. A large part of his struggle to believe was that McQueen had been, in his own words, lost on the “dark, ugly road” of sin his whole life. He had lived for himself, gained a deserved reputation as a hard man to work with, and hurt a lot of people along the way. When he believed “the hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began,” McQueen’s life changed as radically as anybody’s ever could. He had already been a generous man, but now he started to give and serve, not to try and win God’s favor, but because of what God had done for him through Jesus’s sacrifice. One friend, John Daly, said that he had expected his hammer or his saw to be converted before Steve McQueen ever came close to believing. He was blown away at the change. Afterward, McQueen could often be found reading and studying his Bible.
Just before McQueen died, as he was preparing for cancer surgery, he met Billy Graham. He had expressed a desire to talk to the evangelist, and Graham arranged his schedule to come and spent time with McQueen. The actor talked about his life and his conversion to Christianity, and somewhere in the conversation, he mentioned he’d misplaced his Bible. Billy Graham gave him his own, inscribing it for McQueen. He died after surgery four days later, with the evangelist’s Bible on his chest.
Faith became sight that day for McQueen, as he fully and finally received the hope of eternal life.