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The King Of Cool: 10 Surprising Facts About Steve McQueen

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From hobbies to professional style, here are 10 things you may not have known about King of Cool Steve McQueen.

When one of your many nicknames is “The King of Cool,” you probably have quite a few interesting aspects of your life. Such is the case with actor Steve McQueen; the quintessential handsome, charismatic, antihero of the ’60s and ’70s. The man embodied what it meant to be cool at the time, which has made him an icon even after his death.

Unlike some “bad boy” actors that mostly just play these characters on the big screen, McQueen lived the lifestyle through and through. As such, there are quite a few interesting tidbits about this man’s life that only serve to add to his legend. Here are 10 surprising facts about “The King of Cool,” Steve McQueen.

10/10. Always In Character

In the film Bullit, McQueen plays a hardened police lieutenant in the Los Angeles-area. While preparing for the role, McQueen wanted to shadow actual cops in order to get a better sense of how they operated, what they went through, etc.

The officers, eager to put the so-called tough guy to the test, decided to have him visit a morgue. Needless to say, you will see some pretty horrific things in a place where they store dead bodies. Not Steve McQueen, though. He apparently strolled in munching on an apple. completely unfazed.

9/10. Overly-Competitive

Steve McQueen never had a problem letting you know he was better than you, and he was willing to put these claims on the line. McQueen starred alongside another Hollywood-heartthrob in the movie The Towering Inferno; Paul Newman. Steve had the larger role, which meant he had more lines in the original script. However, he was certain that he was simply more talented than Newman, and was determined to prove it.

McQueen demanded that Newman be given the same amount of lines as him. That way, fans could see who the better actor was without him having any sort of advantage. Petty? Absolutely. Did Steve McQueen care? Absolutely not.

8/10. Motorcycle Machismo

The Great Escape features plenty of breath-taking motorcycle sequences by McQueen, both as his character and as the Nazis chasing him. “The King of Cool” was so insistent on getting as much footage of him in high-speed chases as possible that he disguised himself as one of the villains during a scene in which he is being pursued by the Germans.

For the largest stunt of the movie (a 60-foot jump while being chased by the Nazis), McQueen again made sure to do it himself. He crashed though, injuring himself in the process. A stunt double was then finally allowed to perform a motorcycle sequence.

7/10. He Did Ask Nicely

After McQueen had established himself as a bankable movie star, he purchased a mansion in Malibu, California. His next-door neighbor was Keith Moon, the drummer of the famous English rock band, The Who. Moon lived the riotous, partying lifestyle of many rockstars, which annoyed McQueen, particularly because the drummer would always leave his bathroom light on. The light faced Steve’s bedroom window, which affected his sleep.

After McQueen asked Moon to be mindful of turning off the bathroom light, to no avail, he had had enough. He grabbed a shotgun one night, leaned out the window, and shot the light out. Problem solved!

6/10. A Very Close Call

McQueen was very nearly the victim of one of the most shocking and disturbing crimes of all time. It was August of 1969, and Steve was invited to a dinner at the home of director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate.

Luckily for McQueen, he was unable to attend. That night, Tate and Jay Sebring, a hairdresser that had invited McQueen, were killed by the Manson family. Later on, it was discovered that Steve McQueen’s name was at the top of Charles Manson’s list of celebrities to murder. Understandably, this rattled McQueen. He carried a firearm with him whenever he went out from that day forth.

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5/10. Whatever It Takes

Steve McQueen’s main contribution to the television world was through the show Wanted Dead or Alive, a Western series on CBS. While he was starring in this show, John Sturgess, a well-known director who had worked with McQueen in the past, wanted to cast him in his new film, The Magnificent Seven.

The problem was that the producers of Wanted Dead or Alive would not grant McQueen his release, which would allow him to play a role in The Magnificent Seven. To get around this, McQueen decided to crash his sports car intentionally, citing a neck injury as a reason he could not fill his role in the next season of his TV show. In the interim, as he was “recuperating,” he was then allowed to work with Sturgess on The Magnificent Seven. Whatever it takes.

4/10. A Rough Beginning

“The King of Cool” did not have a pleasant childhood. His biological father abandoned his mother before he was born. Things did not get better for McQueen after his mother married his stepfather, who beat him regularly. Unsafe in his own home, the regular abuse would lead to Steve living a life of crime on the streets as an adolescent.

At the age of 14, after he was arrested for stealing hubcaps off of cars, his mother and stepfather sent him to an all-boys school for juvenile delinquents. It was here that McQueen himself says that he straightened himself out.

3/10. He Raced. Often.

When Steve McQueen would do his own high-speed stunts for his movies, he wasn’t just being reckless; he knew what he was doing. McQueen competed in various motorcycle and car races throughout the 60s and 70s.

One of his most notable performances occurred in 1970 at the 12 Hours of Sebring, an endurance sports car race. He and his partner ended up coming in 2nd overall, finishing behind a team of Italian drivers…led by Mario Andretti. To put it simply, if something had an engine, Steve McQueen probably drove it, as shown by his massive car, motorcycle, and airplane collection. The man liked to go fast.

2/10. What Could Have Been

Steve McQueen’s filmography is impressive, to say the least. And yet, the list of films that he rejected being a part of is arguably just as noteworthy. Among them are Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Apocalypse Now, Ocean’s 11, Dirty Harry, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Some of these parts were turned down due to contractual issues, others were due to petty feuds with co-stars, and others were just the result of “The King of Cool” not being that interested. Whatever the reason, McQueen clearly left a lot of money on the table by spurning these roles.

1/10. Don’t Mess With Steve

McQueen maintained a strict and intense workout routine throughout his prime as an actor. He would exercise for around two hours per day, while also running five miles daily at one point.

As a fighter, Steve trained under Pat E. Johnson, a 9th-degree black belt, who taught him the art of Tang Soo Do, a style developed by Chuck Norris. Being in peak physical condition helped him continue to land roles and perform extreme stunts as he got into his late-30s and 40s.

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