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Celebrate Steve McQueen’s Birthday With Bullitt’s Legendary Chase Scene
“I’m not sure whether I’m an actor who races, or a racer who acts.” – Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen is a man who should need little introduction. Born on March 24, 1930, in Beech Grove, Indiana, Terence Steven McQueen was a legend in motorsport and Hollywood, and would go on to become a dominant personality of 1960s and 1970s—the modern James Dean of the time, if you will.
McQueen served in the Marines between 1947 and 1950. He was initially rebellious, spending time in the brig for skipping town while out on a weekend pass, but McQueen would eventually instill the discipline of the Marines. Once honorably discharged, McQueen used the G.I. Bill to study acting at the Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre in New York City.
Throughout the 1950s, McQueen floated between a few different television shows and began picking up feature film roles with another legendary racer and actor, Paul Newman. McQueen’s acting career popped off with roles in The Great Escape, Never So Few, and The Magnificent Seven.
However, in 1968, a green Mustang fastback and Dodge Charger came crashing down on the streets of San Francisco, forever reshaping the way chase scenes were produced in filmmaking. Bullitt was a hit, despite going way over Warner Brothers’ budget, and cemented McQueen in the acting and automotive worlds, simultaneously. McQueen would attempt to combine his two passions, filmmaking and motorsport, into a single vision, but 1971’s Le Mans, a purist’s motorsports movie about the famous French endurance race, was a box-office flop. Nevertheless, McQueen continued to rise in Hollywood as the lovable bad boy.
In the mid-1970s, as the highest-paid actor in the world, McQueen disappeared from Hollywood to focus on motorsport and motorcycles. McQueen was a hardcore enthusiast, competing in several off-road motorcycle races, the British Tour Car Championship, and the 12 Hours of Sebring. While he had a chance to drive in the 24 Hours of LeMans, he instead chose to work on 1971’s Le Mans, at the behest of the film’s backer. McQueen was a well-known collector, with a Le Mans Porsche 917 and 908, Le Mans Ferrari F12, Ferrari 250 Lusso Berlinetta, Jaguar XKSS, Cobra, and even a Ford GT. And we’d be remiss if we forgot to mention that he was an avid pilot, too.
Unfortunately, McQueen was diagnosed with asbestos-fueled mesothelioma in late-1979, and soon after widespread metastasis was found, meaning the cancer had begun to spread to other parts of his body. American doctors told McQueen that they were unable to prolong his life, citing that they believed his heart would not survive major surgery. Eventually, McQueen flew to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and had the 5-pound tumor removed. Twelve hours after the initial surgery, McQueen passed away in his sleep on November 7, 1980.