The late Steve McQueen was a popular American actor nicknamed the “King of cool.” He was one of the most remarkable faces and screen presences in Hollywood.
He made a name for himself in the sixties, and even after his death, his fame lived on. Despite his infidelities, he was first married to Filipino Actress and Dancer Neile Adams.
After years of marriage, he discovered that his wife once had a fling. On hearing this, the “king of cool” could not keep his “cool.”
Steve McQueen on the set of ‘Bullitt’ in California in 1968 (left), Steve McQueen and Neile Adams in 1965 | Photo: Getty Images
Terrence Stephen McQueen was born in 1930 in Indianapolis, United States. He was abandoned by his single mother and raised by an uncle.
When he was four, his uncle gave him a red tricycle which sparked his early interest in car racing. After he turned eight, his mother had married, and he went to live with her.
Life was not easy as he could not deal with school, and his stepfather had constantly beaten him up. At nine, he left home to live on the streets, where he joined a gang and started committing petty crimes.
Steve McQueen in a publicity shoot for the movie “The Thomas Crown Affair” in 1968 | Photo: Getty Images
Once his mother realized she couldn’t control him, she sent him back to his uncle. When he was 12, she wanted him to come back and live in Los Angeles with her second husband.
When McQueen joined her, he did not get along with his new stepfather, and his mother returned him to his uncle. At 14, he left his uncle’s place to join a circus.
He drifted back to his mother’s place and resumed life as a gang member. After an incident of theft, McQueen’s stepfather persuaded his mother to sign a court order that remanded him at the California Junior Boys Republic in Chino.
Steve McQueen poses by a race car for the movie “Le Mans” | Photo: Getty Images
At this point, McQueen began to change and mature. He became a role model and was elected to the Boys Council before leaving the Boys Republic at 16.
He rejoined his mother, and in 1947, with her permission, he joined the Marines. He resolved to focus his energies on self-improvement and was honorably discharged in 1950.
In 1952, he began taking acting lessons in New York at Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse and HB Studio. He still loved cars and motorcycles and became an excellent racer.
Steve McQueen at Riverside Raceway, in California in July 1966 | Photo: Getty Images
After a few minor roles in stage productions, he made his Broadway debut in 1955 in “A Hatful of Rain.” That same year, he left New York for Los Angeles and sought acting jobs in Hollywood.
In 1958, he had his breakout role in the series “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” He became a household name but got a significant break in “Never So Few.”
His first major hit was in the 1960 movie “The Magnificent Seven.” McQueen’s first Academy Award nomination came in 1966 for his role in the 1965 movie “The Cincinnati Kid.” In 1971, he was the world’s highest-paid actor.
Photo of Steve McQueen | Photo: Getty Images
On the private side, McQueen was married three times before his death. On November 2, 1956, he married Neile Adams, and they had two children. Their marriage hit the rocks in 1971, and they were divorced the following year.
In 1973, he married Actress Ali MacGraw in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Their marriage did not last as it ended in divorce in 1978. On January 16, 1980, he married Model Barbara Minty. They were together until his death.
Steve McQueen at the Riverside Raceway on April 26, 1959 | Photo: Getty Images
On December 22, 1979, a biopsy revealed that he had pleural mesothelioma. This type of cancer was incurable and was associated with asbestos exposure.
He tried to keep his illness a secret, but on March 11, 1980, the press disclosed that McQueen had “terminal cancer.” On November 7, 1980, McQueen died of heart failure 12 hours after having surgery under a fake name.
Steve McQueen on the set of ‘Bullitt’ in California in 1968 | Photo: Getty Images
Throughout the years of their marriage, Adams revealed that she had to tolerate McQueen’s cheating. It had hurt her, but she never felt threatened by the other women.
He had cheated on her with other actresses such as Lita Milan, Lee Remick, Natalie Wood, and Tuesday Weld. McQueen had told Adams that he could only say no so many times.
She believed that because he was getting “free love” from other women, he didn’t get to work on their relationship. She recalled that he would also buy her presents after he had cheated.
Steve McQueen and Neile Adams, sitting on a Ferrari 275 Cabriolet, Beverly Hills, 1970 | Photo: Getty Images
Adams explained that she put up with it because she believed he loved her, loved the children, and he had been a good dad. She also knew he trusted her so much, put her on a high pedestal, but she fell with a bang.
In 1971, Adams and McQueen were lying in bed in his rented French château while he was filming “Le Mans.” While in bed, he demanded to know if Adams had ever been unfaithful.
To get the truth from her, he gave her hard drugs, and she confessed. She told him she had a brief fling a long time ago. Her truthfulness made him furious, and she knew it.
Steve McQueen and Neile Adams during the filming of an episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” on December 23, 1959 | Photo: Getty Images
She had breached the trust he placed in her. McQueen then grabbed a gun and jammed it against her head. She knew that the gun wasn’t loaded, but she was terrified because he had assaulted her.
As he continuously questioned her, Adams revealed that McQueen was also slapping her. He could not handle knowing that she had a fling in the past.
When she further revealed that she had a fling with an actor, the knowledge made him explode. His behavior gave her the resolve to leave, and their divorce was finalized two years later.
Steve McQueen and Neile Adams at the premiere of the “Doctor Dolittle” in Los Angeles, on December 21, 1967 | Photo: Getty Images
While they were married, Adams revealed that she didn’t like McQueen’s use of drugs. She said it changed his personality. His drug addiction worsened over the years.
Besides the drugs, there was also abuse of alcohol. In 1972, McQueen was arrested for “driving under the influence.” Even his second wife MacGraw once wished they had grown old and sober together.
Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw in a scene from the 1972 movie “The Getaway” | Photo: Getty Images
MacGraw thought that their time together was wonderful, but they were dreadful days. However, she never saw herself as a victim.
McQueen and MacGraw’s marriage started blissfully, and she said their relationship was “chemical.” After five turbulent years together, they parted ways.