“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
I’ve been reading about the life of Terrence Steven McQueen – world-acclaimed movie star … macho man, king of cool (Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon). In the 60’s and 70’s he swept every girl off her feet, and drove the heck out of his Mustang in Bullitt (I tried to copy his driving style until my father grounded me). By the world’s standards he had everything money could buy – fame, fortune, women throwing themselves at his feet, cars too numerous to count – yet he had a vacuum deep in his soul he needed to fill, constantly searching for wholeness, purpose, and something more.
At the top of his career in 1979, after starring in “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Great Escape,” and “The Thomas Crown Affair,” McQueen walked away from Hollywood. He retreated from the world’s entrapments as he searched for meaning, truth and significance. He ultimately found a transforming, fulfilling faith at the end of his life.
A product of the loss of his parents, Steve’s father, a wandering stunt pilot, left when Steve was a baby. His mother, an alcoholic involved with many men, gave him to grandparents to rear. It was on his grandparents’ farm that McQueen developed his love for racing and stunts.
McQueen was rebellious and was sent to truancy homes, but later served in the Marine Corps, where he both demonstrated valor. After the marines, he decided to become an actor, studying with Lee Strasberg. He went into movies, displaying skill at reacting to scenes and performing action roles where he ultimately became the highest-paid star in Hollywood.
At one time, McQueen declared he lived for himself and answered to no one. He said: “I believe in me. God will be number one as long as I’m number one.” That philosophy guided him as he burned through drugs, marriages, affairs, and lots and lots of money.
By the late 1970s, when his career was fading, he felt dissatisfied, empty, and unfulfilled. He began to retreat from the world and subsequently developed lung problems.
On the advice of doctors he moved to a quiet town in 1979 , living in an airport hangar filled with his motorcycle collection. He bought a bi-plane and learned to fly, which he mastered quickly.
Sammy Mason was McQueen’s flight instructor. In their long hours in the air, they talked about the meaning of life. McQueen asked Mason what made him different than other people McQueen knew. Mason told him it was Jesus Christ.
McQueen respected Mason so much that he began regularly attending Mason’s church. The pastor was Leonard Dewitt, who later recalled that the icon had sat quietly in the balcony without even introducing himself for several months. McQueen requested a meeting with the pastor and fired off questions about life and faith.
At the end of their time, Dewitt said, “Steve, I just have one question for you.” McQueen, with his signature grin, said, “You want to know if I’ve become a born-again Christian.” Then, still smiling but serious, he told DeWitt: “When you invited people to pray with you to receive Christ, I prayed. So yes, I’m a born-again Christian.”
Mason said the difference in McQueen was “dramatic.” He also said, “I doubt that I have ever seen a man flourish with more spiritual reality in such a short time.” After making amends to the people he felt he had hurt, McQueen finally made peace with God and became fulfilled by his faith.
Soon thereafter McQueen was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, a fast-spreading and incurable form of cancer. In an audio recording from that time, McQueen talked about his illness, his faith and the change in his life. “My body is gone … broken, but my heart is not broken, and my spirit is not broken. … It is part of the plan … to keep me hanging on,” he said.
One of the last people he talked to was evangelist Billy Graham, whom McQueen had wanted to meet. McQueen told Graham how God had made him a new man. Because McQueen had misplaced his Bible, Graham personally inscribed his own Bible and gave it to the dying actor. He stayed by McQueen’s side and prayed with him.
Four days after that meeting, at age 50, McQueen died of a heart attack with Graham’s Bible resting on his chest, opened to his favorite verse, John 3:16.
There are a lot of people in this world looking for meaning and purpose for themselves in the material items of this world, or their jobs, or in science, or in knowledge. What are you looking for to fill your vacuum?