Steve McQueen was the American film star of the 1960s and 1970s who made the strong and silent loner role his own. That was when he wasn't performing his own stunts. One of the 'The Magnificent Seven', he made 'The Great Escape' and did it again with 'Papillon'.
Terence Steven 'Steve' McQueen was born on 24 March 1930 in Indiana to stunt pilot William and his wife Julian. His father abandoned the family when he was just six months old and his mother couldn't cope with raising a small child so he went to live with his grandparents.
Throughout his childhood he was moved from home to home, including that of his mother who married three times. He drifted into life as a petty criminal and gang member, once being caught by police stealing hubcaps at the age of 14.
In 1947, McQueen joined the United States Marine Corps and was quickly promoted. However, he reverted to his rebelliousness and was demoted to private seven times. He later rescued five Marines during an Arctic exercise from a tank before it broke through the ice. He was honourably discharged in 1950.
McQueen started studying acting at the Sanford Meisner's Neighbourhood Playhouse with financial assistance from the GI Bill in 1952. He made extra money by taking part in motorcycle races at the weekend, a skill that would come handy for an iconic scene in his best known film 'The Great Escape'.
McQueen's feature debut came in 1956 in 'Somebody Up There Likes Me', but he really began to develop his screen persona between 1958-60, in the TV series, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive'.
Director John Sturges, impressed with McQueen's TV work, tapped him to replace Sammy Davis Jr., as Frank Sinatra's driver in 'Never So Few'. The collaboration proved fortuitous for both, as McQueen played key roles in two of Sturges' finest films – 'The Magnificent Seven' (1960) and 'The Great Escape' (1963) - a role for which he may be best remembered.
Two films in 1968 advanced his career to new heights: 'The Thomas Crown Affair' and 'Bullitt'. The crowning jewel of his film career was his performance in 'Papillon'.
More than holding his own with heavyweight Dustin Hoffman, he gave a glimpse of the wonderful character actor he could have become, had his life not been tragically cut short.
He married three times and had two children with his first wife Nelie Adams who he divorced in 1972. He married his last wife Barbara Minty in 1980.
In 1979, McQueen was first diagnosed with cancer, and the following year managed to make his final two films – 'Tom Horn' and 'The Hunter', before he lost his battle with the disease.