How a private meeting with Billy Graham changed actor Steve McQueen’s life

“Steve McQueen: American Icon” is a documentary feature film about the Hollywood actor’s spiritual journey, which included a meeting late in his life with evangelist Billy Graham.

By Tim Funk

Actor Steve McQueen, who personified cool during his nearly two decades as a Hollywood superstar, retreated from the glamor and excesses of the movie scene late in his short life and embraced Christianity. When he died at age 50, McQueen was clutching a Bible – one given to him by Billy Graham.

In fact, it was Graham’s personal Bible, the one he preached from at crusades. The Charlotte-born evangelist had handed it to the actor, then gravely ill with cancer, during a private meeting Nov. 3, 1980 – just four days before McQueen died after surgery in Mexico.

Nearly 37 years later, the story of Steve McQueen’s faith journey is finally about to be told on the big screen – the medium that made him internationally famous as the action hero in hits such as “Bullitt” and “The Great Escape.” …

Viewers are told that McQueen took along the Graham Bible – with a prayerful note from the evangelist on an inside page – when he traveled to Juarez, Mexico, for the operation to remove a tumor.

The actor died of a heart attack shortly afterward, on Nov. 7, 1980. And when Grady Ragsdale, the manager of McQueen’s ranch in California, went to retrieve the body, he pulled the sheet back and found that McQueen had died clutching the Bible to his chest. …

In an 1980 interview with the Asheville Citizen not long after McQueen’s death, Graham called his meeting with the actor “one of the most heartwarming stories of my ministry. I think it illustrates how lonely most well-known people are, how guarded they must live and how they really are searching for something. Steve McQueen found what he was searching for.”…

Steve McQueen became a movie star in the 1960s, establishing his image as the King of Cool in the roles of the motorcycle-riding POW in “The Great Escape” and the Ford Mustang-driving police detective in “Bullitt.” Other McQueen hits in that decade and in the 1970s included: “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Cincinnati Kid,” “The Sand Pebbles,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Towering Inferno,” “The Reivers,” “Le Mans,” “The Getaway” and “Junior Bonner.”

To read Tim Funk’s Charlotte Observer full article, click HERE.

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