Hollywood legend and icon Steve McQueen, who was one of the first action stars of the modern era, and had a presence filled with swagger and confidence of the highest salt and piss and vinegar, passed away today on November 7th, 1980, a victim of cancer.
McQueen was the first alpha male by way of the cool variety, sunglasses at night kind of a vibe; he left no stone unturned in doing things at a casual, yet intensified kind of energy that was infused with rugged good looks, snappy charm, no-nonsense eyes, and a spirit which helped to create some of the silver screen’s all time great visual narratives.
Films like the wacky yet horrifically sprite The Blob; the maximum breakout volume of The Great Escape; co-existing and more than holding his own with people like Yul Brynner and Charles Bronson in The Magnificent Seven; the cop that’s so cool he should have hypothermia in Bullitt, which also sports one of the all-time great chase sequences, a queasy, dizzying oil and screeching tires miasma of kinetic editing, flawless direction, and magnificent work by a stunt team of drivers that sported people like Bill Hickman and McQueen himself, who fancied racing, racing cars, and the whole milieu in particular; channeling director Sam Peckinpah’s moxie in the thrilling The Getaway; going toe to toe in a no man’s land prison with Dustin Hoffman in Papillion and chewing the fiery scenery with Paul Newman and an A and B list ensemble cast in disaster movie king Irwin Allen’s glass tower ablaze The Towering Inferno — they all had the common grace of not even needing to be films that had to make space for McQueen’s presence. It was quite the contrary. McQueen made his own space, effortlessly and dazzlingly.
McQueen seemed to live inside a circle of individuality in a business that has gridlock in terms of the traffic of how many fellow actors all strive for that same circle. For McQueen, it seemed as if he had been metaphorically knighted and imbued with coolness; the man was that kind of actor, because it seemed he was that kind of human being as well.
McQueen’s personal life had race cars and cross country road trips; it was truly wine, women and instead of song, fast spinning race car radial tires and the finest of automobiles at his grasp. The infectious spirit one gleaned watching McQueen on screen, was undoubtedly an extension of Steve McQueen off screen. He unfortunately left us at the young age of 50, but what he left behind was not only an amazing, almost flawless body of work that stretches the boundaries of styles and risk taking, the clunkers at the box office and the blockbusters that at one point made McQueen the highest paid actor in the biz. But he also left a kind of style and icy coolness that to this day seems like a complete automatic pilot to how so many actors who try to emulate McQueen use as a behavior in how they go about things. McQueen was cool before it became chic, became hip, became played out, sold out. Steve McQueen retains every fiber of the Celsius, because he himself is frozen in that guise, a one of a kind guise, transcending and timeless.
If Steve McQueen was before your time, there’s many amazing flicks to get lost in for a couple of hours, and if Steve McQueen was of your time, relive the greatness and now legendary adventures of so many rich and memorable characters portrayed by the man. But most of all, get spellbound in the web by a man who had it right, who had walked on the black keys of the piano, who had glided down the cobblestone, and peeled out of the driveway in the Stingray. Pay the closest of attentions, because coolness like that comes once and never again.