Last Wednesday, North Carolina lost one of its favorite sons when the late Billy Graham, 99, passed away on February 21, 2018, after several years of declining health. The Reverend, born in Charlotte and residing in the town of Montreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains, was considered for decades as "America's Pastor" as he preached and held crusades beginning in the 1940's during WWII. While he lies in honor under the Capitol Rotunda this week, he will become only the 4th private citizen in U.S. history to do so. But there's one fascinating set of events that lies largely unknown by many, and that is Mr. Graham's connection with "The King of Cool".
By 1980, Steve McQueen's body of classic work had been cemented. The Magnificent Seven in 1960. The Great Escape in 1963. The Thomas Crown Affair and Bullitt in 1968. LeMans in 1971. Papillon in 1973. He received "best actor" nominations for numerous others throughout his career. His lifestyle and character portrayal subsequently made him a modern fashion icon of sorts. Blue-tinted Persol 714's. Rolex 5512 Submariner. 1957 Chevy convertible. Heuer Monaco 1133B chronograph. 1937 Crocker motorcycle. About everything McQueen touched, drove, or strapped on his wrist has exploded in value in recent years. He came a long way from his Midwest roots and early life that was headlined by gangs and service in the US Marine Corps (in which he once spent 41 days in the brig early on in his service). Steve wound up on top of the world -- only to be devastated when he was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma cancer in December of 1979. By March of the following year his condition was determined to be terminal.
While doctors in the US maintained that there was nothing they could do, McQueen set out for Mexico for non-traditional treatment by the middle of the year. As his condition worsened, he developed metastatic tumors throughout his core -- and the only surgeons willing to take the chance of operating were South of the border.
Several years prior, McQueen began being influenced by his experiences and where he was in his life, along with his flight instructor, Sammy Mason, leading him to a newfound Christian faith. He began attending Ventura Missionary Church in Ventura, California, with his wife, Barbara. At some point, Steve made it known that he wished to meet the Rev. Billy Graham...and that's where their stories intersect.
In what might seem like an unlikely event on the outset, on November 3, 1980, Mr. Graham paid a visit to Steve McQueen. It is said that they conversed about how McQueen's faith had helped him cope with his affliction of cancer and spent time praying with one another. And then the Reverend took his Bible, which he had been using during his evangelical crusade events across the globe, and he gifted it to Steve.
Inside he inscribed:
The Bible verse he referenced reads, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ".
Four days later, on November 7, 1980 (on Billy Graham's 62nd birthday), Steve McQueen died on an operating table in Cuidad Juárez, Mexico. He was clutching the Bible that the Rev. Graham had given him.
Some say it's the day the King of Cool met the King of Kings.
Sources: "The Moment Steve McQueen’s Life Changed" by BGEA, September 26, 2017 "How a private meeting with Billy Graham changed actor Steve McQueen’s life" by Tim Funk, Charlotte Observer, September 14, 2017
Additional Links: "Steve McQueen: American Icon" "Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon" by Greg Laurie