Sex, Drugs, and Bad Behavior: 20 Freaky Facts About Steve McQueen
On the eve of a new documentary about the iconic actor, it’s time to get fired up about “The King of Cool.”
His 1976 Porsche 930 Turbo recently sold for $1.95 million, despite the fact that the model usually goes for under $200,000. Baracuta, makers of the G9 Harrington jacket made famous by the style deity, just re-issued it in leather in a move that he would have surely approved. David Beckham channels McQueen in a short film for British brand Belstaff, astride a motorcycle of course. There is a graphic novel tribute, and a racing-themed documentary, Steve McQueen: The Man and Le Mans, is set to roar into theaters next month. But somehow, there’s still plenty of McQueen trivia to go around. Here, 20 things you probably never knew about “The King of Cool”:
1. His mother was a prostitute and his father a circus stuntman who regularly beat him during McQueen’s childhood in Los Angeles. He joined a gang and was sent to reform school for stealing hubcaps.
2. McQueen lost his virginity at 13 to a teenage hooker with a sweet tooth. “You didn’t pay her with money,” he later recalled. “You bought her cakes. She was getting fat but at 15, it gave her big tits.” By 16, he was working as a towel boy in a brothel.
3. While on leave during a troubled three-year stint in the Marine Corps as a tank driver, McQueen saved a teenage girl from being raped by pulling a gun on her attackers. He later said he “coulda shot them all.” He also saved his tank crew from drowning during a botched Arctic exercise.
4. After being discharged from the Marines, McQueen spent time in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Washington D.C., and worked as a getaway driver for bank robbers, foreshadowing his hit 1972 film The Getaway. The gig ended abruptly when one of the robbers was shot and nearly killed.
5. After that McQueen became a pimp for a hooker named Lindy and sold illegal handguns. “I thought I was making easy money—guns and Lindy. And no taxes to pay,” he once recalled. “But it never ends well.” He wised up and went to New York to study acting.
6. In Hollywood in the ‘60s, McQueen frequented the Whisky a Go Go, where he met playboy hairdresser Jay Sebring. The pair met a beautiful young starlet named Sharon Tate there, and the trio engaged in drug and booze-fueled threesomes, even after she married director Roman Polanski.
7. He was supposed to have dinner at Polanski and Tate’s house on the night they and Sebring were murdered by Charles Manson and his gang in 1969, but canceled at the last minute. He later learned he’d been dangerously high on Manson’s “Death List.”
8. After that close call, McQueen renewed his gun license and began carrying a concealed, loaded Magnum pistol at all times, which could have been disastrous considering his crazy temper. He once pulled the gun on first wife Neile Adams and demanded to know if she’d ever had an affair. (Fed up with McQueen’s cheating, she confessed to having slept with Oscar-winning actor Maximilian Schell.)
9. McQueen’s first real movie role in The Blob earned him just $3,000. But by the mid-70s, he was the highest paid actor in Hollywood, commanding $5 million per picture plus 15% of the gross—more than Marlon Brando, Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood.
10. His personal fortune was once estimated at about $30 million. McQueen—or more accurately, his estate—continues to make millions, thanks to lucrative licensing deals with stylish brands like Persol and Barbour.
11. The mercurial McQueen turned down roles in now-classic movies that would have vastly improved his cinematic legacy, including Apocalypse Now, Dirty Harry, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The French Connection and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
12. Professionally he was a “nightmare” to work with, throwing fits over everything from the cut of his jeans to other actors’ lines. When his downstairs neighbor James Garner angered him by starring in the racing movie Grand Prix, McQueen pissed out his window onto Garner’s balcony every night.
13. While married to Ali MacGraw he maintained a suite at the Beverly Wilshire in L.A. just for quickies. He “interviewed” actresses there for movies that didn’t exist, hired escorts in droves and had sex with groupies on set in his trailer.
14. While making The Magnificent Seven in 1960, he and co-star Robert Vaughn spent Good Friday holed up in a Mexican brothel. After getting shitfaced on margaritas, they toasted the film’s title by sharing seven prostitutes between them.
15. To keep up with his debauched lifestyle, McQueen ingested vast quantities of drugs, including cocaine, high-grade peyote he bought from Navajo Indians, LSD and vials of amyl nitrate, aka “poppers”, to supercharge his already-fearsome libido.
16. The FBI saw him as a potential subversive and tried to smear him with gay rumors. He reportedly slept with co-stars Jacqueline Bisset and Faye Dunaway, as well as Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Ava Gardner, Mae West, Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner.
17. He never actually wore the Rolex model that is now known around the world as the “Steve McQueen Explorer,” but did own a Rolex Submariner. He was so stingy he would charge producers of his films $250 for the watch if he wore it on set.
18. While married to MacGraw he would disappear for nights at a time on his motorcycle to hang out with the local chapter of the Hell’s Angels, fueled by cases of Old Milwaukee and piles of cocaine. MacGraw later said he was “somewhat stoned every day of our relationship”.
19. McQueen was arrested for drunk driving in Alaska in 1972, posted bail and then skipped town. The owner of an eye-popping garage filled with Ferraris, Porsches, Jaguars and Lotuses, he racked up so many speeding tickets that he nearly lost his license several times.
20. He was a born-again Christian when he died of cancer in 1980 at age 50. In the last years of his life, McQueen’s then-wife, Barbara Minty, took him to Bible studies with the Rev. Billy Graham. But we’re pretty sure he never really repented. His ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean.