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Steve McQueen was known as Hollywood’s bad boy. The cinematic tough guy loved smoking, drinking, cars, and womanising. But everything changed for McQueen in 1980, when the star became extremely close friends with his flying instructor, Sammy Mason.
Author Marshall Terrill delved into the star’s final years in his book, Steve McQueen: In His Own Words.
In the tome, he recalled: “At the end of his life, he met a pilot named Sammy Mason, who was probably 10-15 years older than Steve. However, Sammy had a special presence about him.”
Eventually, McQueen built up the courage to ask Mason: “There’s something different about you. I can’t put my finger on it.”
Mason replied: “Well Steve, I’m a born-again Christian.”
From then on, McQueen “wanted to emulate” Mason and his way of life.
After that, Mason introduced McQueen to his pastor friend, Leonard DeWitt. And McQueen went on to “grill” the pastor for two entire hours before he was asked an important question.
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Pastor DeWitt asked McQueen: “Well Steve, I only have one question for you.” McQueen cut in: “You want to know if I’m a born-again Christian?”
DeWitt said: “Yes, Steve, that’s all that really matters to me.”
After a moment of contemplation, McQueen staunchly replied: “Yes. Do you remember a couple of weeks ago when you asked everyone to bow their heads and accept Jesus Christ? Well, I closed my eyes and did that.”
After this, McQueen didn’t flout his newfound religion, but he didn’t keep it a secret either.
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In June 1979 a columnist published that McQueen had become a born-again Christian.
Just six months later, he was diagnosed with a rare, fatal form of lung cancer.
At the time, he blamed the asbestos used on movie sets, as well as his history of smoking.
But, with a newfound faith in his god, McQueen looked to a religious figure to help him through his tough time.
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Terrill explained McQueen called on the help of famous evangelist Billy Graham.
He said: “Steve McQueen knew he was dying. So he requested Billy Graham to come to see him. And so Billy did, right before Steve McQueen left to go to Mexico for his last operation. They were going to pray together when Steve said: ‘I don’t have my Bible.'”
In a beautiful gesture, Graham handed instinctively gave McQueen his Bible. “It became Steve’s prized possession,” Terrill said. “To Steve, like many people, Billy Graham was perhaps the closest thing that you could probably get to God on Earth. I think Steve wanted to tap on his knowledge. Steve wanted to share testimony with him and what Christ did for him.”
Before long, McQueen lost his battle against the cancer in his body.
McQueen’s cancer worsened in October 1980 and he soon developed huge tumours throughout his abdomen.
In November 1980 McQueen checked himself into a Mexican hospital under the name Samuel Sheppard – both names which have Christian connections – where he had an operation to remove numerous metastatic tumours in his neck and body. He was warned his heart would not be able to withstand the surgery.
12 hours after the operation, on November 7, 1980, at 3am, McQueen suffered a heart attack and died.
DeWitt presided over his memorial service. He was cremated, and his ashes were spread in the Pacific Ocean.
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