Greg Laurie drives around in a 1968 Ford Mustang just like Frank Bullitt. That’s the effect Steve McQueen had on some dudes: They wanted to emulate the cool he projected on screen. But Laurie, the pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship in California, saw other connections to the actor.
“As I delved more deeply into his life, I was surprised to find our childhoods were almost exactly parallel,” Laurie says. “He had an alcoholic mother, I was born to an alcoholic mother. He had an abusive stepfather, so did I. He lived with grandparents and aunts and uncles as I did. He was sent to reform school, as was I. I’m not a psychologist, but I understand something about why this guy would have all this armor on. Why he was removed and aloof and had a hard time with relationships. Difficulty giving and receiving love. When you’re not properly raised by adult role models, you have to raise yourself. That contributed to his coolness, that cool detachment on screen. But also all the accolades and attention in his life left him searching for meaning.”
Laurie’s path led him to the church. So he was intrigued by McQueen’s spiritual awakening late in life. Laurie wrote a book about it, “Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon,” which became the backbone of a documentary, “Steve McQueen: American Icon,” directed by Jon and Andy Erwin and screening this month during special theatrical events.
Laurie is among the talking heads in the film, along with admirers like Mel Gibson and friends and family.
‘Steve McQueen: American Icon’
When: 7 p.m. Thursday.
Where: First Colony 24, Sugar Land; Cinemark 18, Webster.
“Icon” presents McQueen’s knockabout youth, as well as his rise in Hollywood, through the roles everybody knows: Vin Tanner in “The Magnificent Seven,” and Hilts in “The Great Escape.” And it also touches on the inevitable misfire, the race car film “Le Mans,” and the career resurrection with “The Towering Inferno” in 1974. After that film McQueen became scarce, demanding a $50,000 fee just to read a script.
“He had everything he ever dreamed of: global fame, incredible wealth, the coolest cars and the hottest women,” Laurie says. “But he knew there was something more.”
Which is where the film takes a different turn. Laurie and the filmmakers reached out to the pilots and stuntmen McQueen befriended late in life, as well as wife Barbara Minty McQueen. They portray a wild-haired, bearded man looking to find some anonymity and some sort of spiritual salvation.
The star befriended Rev. Billy Graham, whose Bible McQueen was believed to be holding when he died in 1980 while being treated for cancer in Mexico. McQueen was 50.
On screen, viewers will see that Bible, with “Billy Graham” on the cover, and Graham’s personal note to McQueen:
“To my friend Steve McQueen, May God bless you and keep you always. Billy Graham.” The evangelist also wrote “Phil 1:6,” a reference to a passage in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in the New Testament.
It reads: ” … being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
The team behind “Steve McQueen: American Icon” also found some tapes made weeks before McQueens death. The audio can be heard in the film.
“He was a man of few words, but we wanted people to hear more of his voice,” Laurie says. “So those cassettes were valuable. You could hear him in his own words talking about his faith.
The film ends with audio of the actor talking three weeks before his death.
“I want to change some people’s lives somehow, to tell people that I know the Lord,” McQueen says. “I used to be more macho. And now my body is gone, is broken. But my spirit isn’t broken.”
It’s a perspective on McQueen that’s rarely displayed or discussed.
“The last years of his life have been largely ignored. But to me that’s the interesting part. Here you have the No. 1 star in the world talking about putting his faith in Christ. Imagine if Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise or George Clooney came out tomorrow and said, ‘I’m a Christian.’ … I think it makes him more interesting. He was called ‘The King of Cool.’ I think the coolest thing he did was become a Christian. It took so much courage for a man in his position to do.”
Read more at Documentary reveals Steve McQueen’s spiritual journey.