PHOENIX, Ariz. – Nearly 40 years after his death, acting legend Steve McQueen is still often referred to as the "King of Cool."
His rags-to-riches life story still fascinates fans, new and old. But one chapter of that story is rarely shared. And that is his journey to faith.
McQueen overcame many hardships to become the Hollywood "boy wonder" of the 1960s and 1970s.
Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California – and a lifelong Steve McQueen fan – talked about the actor's childhood in a recent interview with CBN News.
"He had no father, and his mother really did not raise him," Laurie said.
"She was a raging alcoholic, with a lot of guys, and I tracked with that part of the story because I, too, had an alcoholic mother, married and divorced seven times and I never knew my biological father."
An American Icon
By today's Hollywood standards, Steve McQueen's resume could be considered relatively short. But he is an American icon.
"Not everybody from his generation is an icon," Laurie said.
"But James Dean, another contemporary of McQueen is an icon. Elvis is an icon. The Beatles are iconic. Certain people transcend time and they become iconic characters. I think maybe one of the things that makes a person an icon is when there is sort of a timelessness about them. In other words, when new generations can discover them."
"I actually read this article in a men's fashion magazine, and it asked the question, 'Who was cooler, Steve McQueen or James Dean?' And they were examining their lives based on the cool cars they drove ... the movies they made... and kind of their fashion sense. And the conclusion was McQueen was cooler than Dean."
Laurie is such a fan of McQueen's that he owns a replica of the 1968 Bullitt Mustang McQueen made famous with his racing abilities on film. But beyond McQueen's style points and his famous car, there's an even bigger story about the movie icon that Laurie spent time chasing.
"I started delving into Steve's life more, and I had heard that he had become a Christian, and I believed it to be true, but I never had checked it out."
The Pastor Who Led Steve McQueen to Christ
"I had seen a documentary film last year. And it talked about his rise from the worst childhood imaginable to superstardom, where he was the number one star in the world, in films like Bullitt, The Great Escape, The Magnificent 7, The Thomas Crown Affair, et cetera, and then how he walked away from Hollywood and became a Christian, and I thought it this true?"
Laurie's curiosity triggered a Google search.
In that search, Laurie said, "...the name popped up Leonard DeWitt. Leonard is the pastor that led Steve to Christ and I thought, I wonder if this guy is alive still?"
"So, we tracked him down and I said, 'Are you the Leonard DeWitt that prayed with Steve McQueen?' And he said, 'Yes I am.'"
"I was amazed that Leonard did not have like a website that said, the preacher who led McQueen to Christ, that's kind of an accomplishment."
The Salvation of an American Icon
Laurie shares how Dewitt and McQueen met in his new book, Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon. He's also completing a documentary that will hit theaters in the fall.
The book and documentary also detail a special meeting between McQueen and Evangelist Billy Graham.
Doctors diagnosed McQueen with an aggressive form of cancer only months after he accepted Christ. Before McQueen flew to Mexico for surgery, he met with Billy Graham, who gave him his personal Bible for the trip.
Laurie said, "I did ask Billy about this years ago. And he, of course, confirmed the story was true."
"Steve went down, had the surgery done. After they wheel him into recovery, he was waiting in this room alone in the clinic in Juarez, Mexico, and he died. And he went into the presence of God. They came in to find Steve and they pulled the sheet back and he was holding on to that Bible."
"It was indeed Billy Graham's Bible, he was holding onto, maybe reading it, maybe reading it before the Lord called him home."
"One thing Steve said before he died was, 'My only regret in life is that I was not able to tell people about what Christ did for me.' So, I wrote a book that is out now and I am doing this documentary film because I wanted to right that wrong."
"Steve McQueen, the 'King of Cool', realized he needed Christ. So the 'King of Cool' met the 'King of Kings.'"