Relatively few people know of the miraculous encounter actor Steve McQueen had with Christ over a year before his death in November of 1980. Billy Graham discovered the famous actor’s conversion to Christ when he was asked to meet with Steve in his California home several days before his death.
In September of 1980, McQueen attempted to call the evangelist by phone, but Dr. Graham was overseas holding several crusades in Japan. “I didn’t know he was sick until I read about it in the English newspapers in Japan,” Billy was quoted in a story by reporter Bob Terrell. After returning from Japan, Dr. Graham received yet another message at his Los Angeles hotel from Grady Ragsdale, McQueen’s ranch manager, informing the evangelist that “Steve really wants to talk to you … he’s in a bad way.”
The next day Ragsdale drove Dr. Graham to McQueen’s ranch. When Graham first saw Steve, he said “he looked … all wrinkled and shrunk. But his eyes sparkled above the oxygen mask he was using.” Billy remembers that Steve “sat up in the bed and greeted me warmly. He told me of his spiritual experience. He said that about 3 months before his knew he was ill, he had accepted Christ as Savior and started … reading his Bible and praying. He said he had undergone a total transformation of his thinking and his life…”
That afternoon Dr. Graham got a chance to share the scriptures with Steve including a passage from the book of Romans that read, that read “there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit…” Both shared and prayed together as the actor was preparing to leave for his flight to El Paseo and subsequently for his operation in Juarez, Mexico.
Before he departed, Steve asked Dr. Graham to pray for him one more time. He prayed, “Lord, it’s your will if you want to take him to heaven, thy will be done. He’s ready to go”. Steve smiled and said “that’s what I’m praying, too … I’m ready.” Grady vividly remembered last seeing his friend entering the hospital in Juarez clutching the Bible that Billy gave him. The next morning the redeemed believer who was known to so many millions of people around the globe departed this world and entered a new life with His Creator in Heaven.
To many Americans, Steve McQueen’s legacy will continue in the many well-known movies he starred in from the late ‘50s through the ‘70s. While Steve’s life on earth ended in the arms of a loving Savior 35 years ago, his journey can be described as anything but normal.
Terrance Steven McQueen was born in Beech Grove, Indiana on March 24, 1930. When he was only 6 months old, his father abandoned him to seek fame and fortune as a stunt pilot. Sadly, his mother, Julia, resorted to alcohol to deal with her problems. The young boy eventually found some refuge with his uncle who had a farm in Slater, Indiana. For most of his childhood, Steve was bounced around different locations including a period of time when he lived on the streets. His step father pressured Julia into signing a court order stating that Steve was incorrigible, which caused Steve to be sent to the Boy’s Republic. McQueen later credited the school as a catalyst that significantly changed the direction of his life.
After a stop in the military, he moved to New York City. It was there that he decided to attend drama school and also met his first wife, Neile. Neile’s dancing and acting ability earned her a call from movie representatives in California. She encouraged Steve to join her; which he did, and by Nov. 2, 1956 they were married. Her agent, Hilly Elkins, paved the way for Steve’s first acting jobs in L.A.
From 1963 to 1978, McQueen’s career skyrocketed (starring in numerous big screen successes including The Great Escape, Bullitt, the Towering Inferno, The Magnificent 7, Papillion, Le Mans, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Sand Pebbles, and many others). McQueen also co-starred with his second wife, Ali MacGraw, in The Getaway.
From the mid to the late 1970s, McQueen’s interest in the acting profession waned as his personal life had become tumultuous. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Steve “delved … into a dark … Hollywood scene filled with drink, drugs and womanizing.”
Steve had always maintained an on-going love affair with his hobbies whether it was sports cars or motorcycles. His fascination with vintage planes led him to Santa Paula. In his quest to learn how to fly bi-planes, he sought the services of Sammy Mason, who was instrumental in sharing the gospel with the actor. According to Barbara Minty (whom Steve married on January 16, 1980), “conversion to Christianity took place over the course of several years.” Ragsdale would later say that he “saw a dramatic change in his life … but I doubt I have never seen a man flourish with more spiritual reality in such a short time.” Steve and Barbara attended the Ventura Missionary Church in Santa Paula. As Barbara noted in her book (The Last Mile), “being born again in Christ was important to Steve and helped him find inner peace that eluded him so long.”
James Lambert is the author of www.16AmazingStories.com . Sales of his book of testimonies help support his evang. outreach to college students. James can be reached at 800-656-8603