The Untold Story of How Steve McQueen Found Faith

In their new book, "Steve McQueen: The Salvation Of An American Icon," Pastor Greg Laurie and biographer Marshall Terrill investigate the untold story of the "King of Cool." 

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The Untold Story of How Steve McQueen Found Faith

In the new book, Steve McQueen: The Salvation Of An American Icon, Pastor Greg Laurie and McQueen biographer Marshall Terrill explore a little known side to the “King Of Cool.”

McQueen, who rose to fame during the 1960s, was an actor known for his love of vintage cars and his wild lifestyle. He played cowboys, millionaires, and race car drivers on screen, but behind the camera, McQueen struggled with the effects of a difficult childhood and a drug addiction. Laurie and Terrill set off on a virtual road trip, checking in with friends and family of the star who shared one of the most powerful stories about the actor that many fans have yet to hear: the story of his faith.

Guideposts.org talked to Laurie and Terrill about McQueen’s legacy, his faith, and what others can learn from his incredible journey.

GUIDEPOSTS: You’ve written five books on McQueen before this one. Why sign on for another?

MARSHALL TERRILL: A couple of reasons: the take on McQueen is new and fresh and the focus is totally different than the other McQueen books I’ve written. Another reason I did this was the hope of introducing McQueen to the faith-based crowd and to a younger generation of fans who might have heard about him, but didn’t know his story. The third and most compelling reason was that Greg Laurie was totally sincere in wanting to tell McQueen’s life story as a way to inspire those who might be struggling with their faith or perhaps were contemplating a decision for Christ. He saw the potential and just awoke me to the fact there are life lessons in McQueen’s story which could inspire many people to come to Christ.

GUIDEPOSTS: What did you learn about McQueen’s life that you didn’t know before going on this journey?

GREG LAURIE: He was abandoned by his father and had an alcoholic mother and many stepdads, some who were very abusive. When he was a boy, he literally ran away from home and joined the circus! Who actually does that? Steve McQueen did. He got in trouble as a young man and was on a prison chain gang. He was once a towel boy in a brothel. I didn’t know several facts until I started research for [this] book.

GUIDEPOSTS: Is there a big misconception about Steve McQueen that you hope this book addresses? MT: Yes, that his decision for Christ wasn’t a deathbed conversion but had taken place a good six months before he was diagnosed, and there’s plenty of proof. There’s the word of Leonard DeWitt, the former pastor of the Ventura Missionary Church, who I first interviewed in the early 1990s who told me the conversion happened about a good six months before McQueen was diagnosed with cancer. He also confirmed inspirational books he had given to McQueen, how McQueen was hungry for information, that he took Bible study classes (sometimes at his airplane hangar), and took classes on marriage before he exchanged wedding vows with Barbara McQueen.

GUIDEPOSTS: What did you want to accomplish by telling this untold story of the actor?

GL: Steve McQueen once said to his Pastor, Leonard DeWitt, after he had become a Christian and found out some months later that he had cancer, “My only regret is that I was not able to tell more people about what Christ has done for me.” I wanted to right that wrong. I thought Steve’s story is an amazing one, and a story that very few people know. Steve McQueen was like a modern-day Solomon. He had it all . . . the coolest cars, the most beautiful women, worldwide fame, lots of money, and more. Steve McQueen had “been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt.” In fact, he had been the T-shirt! But just like King Solomon of old, who also had massive wealth, fame, and the rest, he came to the realization that it was “all emptiness, like chasing the wind.”

GUIDEPOSTS: How did faith play a role in McQueen’s later life and how do you think his story of salvation can inspire others?

GL: Steve’s faith gave him the strength to face the greatest challenge of his life: cancer. He sought to share his faith with other cancer patients who were in the clinic with him where he was receiving treatment. Steve wanted to live, and he wanted to share his story of what Christ had done for him. Sadly, that was not to be, at least in his lifetime. But with this book, and a new documentary film that will be released in September called, Steve McQueen: American Icon, a whole new generation will learn that the “King of Cool” met the “King of Kings” and had his life changed.

GUIDEPOSTS: How do you think his discovery of faith impacted him after coming from such a troubled past and a difficult career in Hollywood?

MT: It brought him great peace. He was such a moody and temperamental person who caused chaos on film sets, demanded certain perks, upstaged other actors, drove producers and directors crazy, and suddenly had mellowed. I remember interviewing Buzz Kulik, the director of The Hunter, McQueen’s last movie. Buzz had directed McQueen in a television episode very early in his career and said it was as if he was dealing with two different people. The young McQueen was cocky, selfish, and was willing to step over anyone to get to the top. The older version of McQueen was cooperative, easygoing and a team player. And then there were stories from the people in Santa Paula, who said he was not only a member of the community, but someone they could depend on.

GUIDEPOSTS: What do you hope readers learn about the actor from this book?

MT: The lesson of the book is that Steve McQueen had everything life had to offer and yet he was still empty inside. He drove fast cars and motorcycles, dated and married beautiful women, had stylish clothes, a huge mansion, was idolized by millions and still it wasn’t enough. It was only when he made a decision for Christ that he found true peace and happiness. There’s a beautiful line that Greg wrote that sums this up perfectly: “I’ve always maintained only when you get to the end of yourself do you get to the beginning of God.” That was Steve McQueen's journey.

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