Born on this day in Beech Grove, Indiana, he said of his upbringing, "I'm out of the Midwest. It was a good place to come from. It gives you a sense of right or wrong and fairness, which is lacking in our society."
Before acting, McQueen spent time in reform school and was a Marine, lumberjack, encyclopedia salesman, and bartender. In 1958, he scored the lead as a small-town teenager in the cult film classic The Blob. He then landed the starring role in the Wanted: Dead or Alive.
By the 1960s, he was the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, scoring $1 million for his role as the tough San Francisco cop in Bullitt (1968), which featured a memorable car chase, called the screen's best by many buffs.
McQueen dominated the screen. He oozed charisma.
He was unforgettable as the singer in Baby, the Rain Must Fall (1965) and the gambler in The Cincinnati Kid (1965, w/ Ann-Margret). He received an Oscar nomination for his role as Jake Holman, a sailor assigned to a U.S. Gunboat, in The Sand Pebbles (1966).
An uncompromising antihero with icy blue eyes, clipped unemotional voice, and neat movements, he was trained in martial arts by Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris.
McQueen dominated the screen with an exciting, dangerous edge. "When I believe in something, I fight like hell for it," he once said.
A rare breed of movie stars with potent sex appeal, McQueen's screen presence was described by NY Times critic Renata Adler as "a special kind of aware, existential cool--less taut and hard-shell like Bogart, less lost and adrift than Mastroianni, a little of both."
A motorcycle-racing enthusiast who did most of his film stunts, he once said, "I live for myself and I answer to nobody."
A chain-smoker, McQueen was diagnosed with lung cancer, mesothelioma, and died too young, fighting his disease at an alternative treatment clinic in Juarez, Mexico.
He once told an interviewer about his career, "I'm not sure that acting is something for a grown man to be doing."
More Film-Making Quotations
Keep your eyes on the goal: Focus. Concentrate. Do.