The King of Cool needs no introductions
Without question - "The coolest man on two wheels"
We are all aware of McQueen’s great escape escapades and his prowess on two wheels, but there is more to his man than first impressions of a privileged actor. There is something genuinely earthy about his character that appeals to me. He was a maverick that didn’t fit into the traditional Hollywood image, someone that was true to himself. Although he was a star of many blockbusting movies and one of the highest paid in his industry, he never forgot what made him fell alive.
Terrence Stephen McQueen was born in Indianapolis on 24th March 1930 to a reportedly alcoholic single mother. His father William was a stunt pilot for a flying circus who left his mother Julia Ann, six months after meeting her. Unable to cope with caring for a small child, she left him with her parents for several years. His mother returned when she remarried; he was eight years old and didn’t adjust well to his new environment.
His stepfather beat him to such an extent that at the age of nine he left home to live on the street. McQueen was soon running with street gangs and committing petty crimes. He was sent back to his grandparents twice more, finally after locking horns with stepfather from Julia’s third marriage. He was not averse to using his fists on McQueen and his mother, giving severe beatings.
At the age of 14 McQueen left his grandparents farm for a short period working with a travelling circus, before drifting back to his mother and stepfather in Los Angeles to resume his life as a gang member on the streets. After another fight with his stepfather, which ended with him being thrown down the stairs, McQueen looked up at his stepfather and said, "You lay your stinking hands on me again and I swear, I'll kill you.” This resulted in a court order being granted to remand the youth in the California Junior Boys Republic in Chino.
At the age of 16, he drifted from job to job until in 1947 McQueen joined the United States Marine Corp. He initially reverted to his prior rebelliousness and was demoted to private seven times, before he eventually focused his energies on self-improvement. After 3 years of service he was honourably discharged.
McQueen began to earn money by competing in weekend motorcycle races at Long Island City Raceway and purchased the first of many motorcycles, including a Triumph and a Harley Davidson. He soon became an excellent racer,
McQueen was an avid motorcycle and race car enthusiast. When he had the opportunity to drive in a movie, he performed many of his own stunts, including some of the car chases in Bullitt and the motorcycle chase in The Great Escape. Although the jump over the fence in The Great Escape was done by Bud Ekins for insurance purposes, McQueen did have considerable screen time riding his 650 cc Triumph TR6 Trophy motorcycle. It was difficult to find riders as skilled as McQueen, at one point, using editing, McQueen is seen in a German uniform chasing himself on another bike.
McQueen competed in off-road motorcycle racing, frequently running a BSA Hornet. He was also set to co-drive in a Triumph 2500 PI for the British Leyland team in the 1970 London-Mexico rally, but had to turn it down due to movie commitments. His first off-road motorcycle was a Triumph 500 cc, purchased from Ekins. McQueen considered being a professional race car driver. He had a one-off outing in the British Touring Car Championship in 1961, driving a BMC Mini at Brands Hatch, finishing third.
In 1964 McQueen and Ekins were part of a four-rider (plus one reserve) first-ever official US team-entry into the Silver Vase category of the International Six Days Trial, an Enduro-type off-road motorcycling event held that year in Erfurt, East Germany. McQueen retired due to irreparable crash damage and Ekins withdrew with a broken leg. In 1978 he was inducted in the Off-road Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Although he led an active life which included exercise and learning martial arts, he battled with cancer and tumours, until he died of heart failure on November 7, 1980. He was 50 years old. He will be remembered for more than his celebrity lifestyle, for me, for his passion and commit to live life to the full.