With new social media influencers popping up every five minutes, the way actor, race car driver, “King of Cool,” Steve McQueen was a capital-letter Movie Star at the height of his popularity is now difficult to comprehend. While his adventures on and off the screen are the stuff of legends, as is so often the case, his drive for thrills and success were simply attempts to fill a deep emptiness.
Biographer and pastor Greg Laurie idolized Steve McQueen, as did most men of his generation, and saw in him a kindred spirit. Both men had beautiful, alcoholic mothers who were unable to care for them. Neither man ever met his father. When Laurie heard a rumor that McQueen had become a Christian in his final years, he was compelled to research the mostly unspoken story in the full context of McQueen’s life.
Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon (presented here as an audiobook narrated by John Pruden) is part biography, part autobiography, and part imaginary travelogue. Though Laurie stresses that he really does have a green 1968 Ford Mustang GT like the one McQueen drove in Bullitt, he did not actually take it across the country interviewing people over the grand meals he lovingly describes. The framing device is frustrating, since we know it’s fiction, and often feels like a way to flesh out a thin book.
Raised in small towns, on farms and in reform schools, McQueen shouldn’t have been a success. Had James Dean not died when he did, McQueen might never have claimed the mantle of the King of Cool, and the reckless life he led could have killed him as easily as Dean. In addition to the drugs and car wrecks, if McQueen’s evening had gone as planned Aug. 9, 1969, he would have been at Sharon Tate’s house the night the Manson family killed everyone inside. Providence? Perhaps.
Of all the things that should have killed Steve McQueen, it was cancer he probably got from his early days in the military breathing asbestos that took his life. Though the legends say that McQueen turned to God when he learned the end was near, in interviewing friends and family Laurie found that the change happened long before that. A hard-living celebrity like McQueen hits bottom many times, and a man searching for a father will often find one before arriving at death’s door.
Pruden’s narration is warm and engaging throughout, making even the tangents interesting. In the final chapter, the book becomes less biography and more evangelistic tool in a way that might put off some readers. But Laurie never tries to exploit McQueen or give credit where none is due. No one is given credit for saving Steve McQueen except Jesus Christ, the king of all kings. (Christian Audio)