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The Top Seven Awesome Things You Didn't Know About Steve McQueen

by bradiger   April 08, 2009 at 10:00AM  |  Views: 55,881

It takes more than an awesome turtleneck and a clever PR guy to earn the nickname of “The King of Cool.” From teenage reform schools and jail cells to race tracks and international super stardom, Steve McQueen truly earned his bad boy persona, both on the silver screen and on the street.

Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

7. He Was a Punk


Source: John Dominis/Time & Life Pictures Getty Images

Reflecting on his career, McQueen once said, "If I hadn't made it as an actor, I might've wound up a hood." And while it's always fun to pretend, Steve's assertion actually holds quite a bit of merit.

Though he eventually became the highest paid actor of his time, McQueen's youth was anything but glamorous. His father William McQueen, a stunt pilot, left him and his mother when Steve was still an infant.

This left Steve to be raised by his mother Julia, who struggled with alcoholism and eventually unloaded Steve with his grandparents. Steve rejoined his mother as a teen, but he didn't take to his new stepfather well, once referring to him as a "prime son of a bitch."

After one particularly bad physical altercation with his stepfather (initiated after Steve was caught by the cops while stealing hubcaps), Steve threatened to kill his stepfather, and was sent to the "California Junior Boys Republic" - essentially, a reform school. Steve's combative nature would follow him into Hollywood, where he gained a reputation among directors and producers for being a real pain in the ass to work with. However, McQueen's popularity forced them to put up with it anyway.

6. He Made a Living Racing Motorcycles in the 50s


Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the early 1950s, while McQueen was studying acting in New York City, he began racing motorcycles competitively at Long Island City Raceway, regularly making about $100 per weekend in winnings.

When converted to 2009 dollars, that's about 800 bucks a week, just for kicking ass at motorcycle racing. Not too shabby. He also pulled in extra cash fixing motorcycles at a shop in New York, where he once repaired one of James Dean's bikes.

5. He Loved Getting Loaded


Source: Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

There's no doubt about it: Steve McQueen liked to party. In addition to smoking cigarettes, during his acting heyday he became known for his prolific drug use.

Professional photographer and legendary buzzkiller William Claxton claimed McQueen smoked grass almost every day. Others claim he picked up a cocaine habit in the 1970s (who didn't?).

Despite these vices, McQueen was also known to do a two hour workout regimen daily, which included weight lifting and a five mile run.

4. He Went AWOL in the Marines, Then Later Guarded the President


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At the age of 17, McQueen decided to join the Marines, where he quickly ascended the ranks to become Private First Class of a tank unit. But he was still a punk kid at heart, and was demoted to Private on seven different occasions.

He also went AWOL for a period of time after taking for weekend leave, and splitting town with a chick for two weeks. When he was found by the shore patrol, he resisted returning to base, which landed him in the brig for 41 days.

This time in a dank hellhole must've given him a chance to sort things out, because he went on to become a decorated solider, later saving five Marines in the Arctic just before their tank broke through the ice and sank into the ocean. He went on to be stationed as a guard at then-president Harry Truman's yacht.