"It was all very pleasant just lying in the sun and watching the girls go by, but one day I suddenly felt bored with hanging around and went and joined the Marines."
Steve McQueen's legacy as the "King of Cool" began early in his acting career and carries on to this day. He loved racing, frequently got in trouble, had three wives, and donated to the California Junior Boys Republic. Born to a stunt pilot and an alleged alcoholic prostitute, his childhood was tumultuous. His father left both he and his mother after six months, and McQueen lived with his grandparents until he was eight. His step-father beat him and his mother which drove McQueen to live on the streets for a time. He was later sent to the California Junior Boys Republic where he began to mature.
After drifting from job to job, he decided to join the Marines in 1947. He was promoted to Private First Class and served with an armored unit, but he was demoted back to private seven times. His rebellious nature came to a head when he let a weekend pass turn into a two week tryst with his girlfriend. Shore patrol apprehended him, but he resisted and spent 41 days in the brig; the first 21 were spent living off of bread and water.
His time in the brig served to reform as he attempted to improve himself and embody Marine values. Later on his unit was performing a training exercise in the Arctic which turned disastrous. The ship McQueen, his unit, and their tanks had boarded hit a sandbank which threw several tanks and their crews into the water. Many drowned immediately, unable to get out of their tanks, but McQueen jumped in and saved the lives of five men.
In recognition of his actions, McQueen was chosen to partake in the Honor Guard protecting Harry S. Truman's yacht. McQueen stayed with the Marines until 1950 when he was honorably discharged. "The Marines gave me discipline I could live with. By the time I got out, I could deal with things on a more realistic level. All in all, despite my problems, I liked my time in the Marines," McQueen said.
After leaving the Marines, McQueen used money earned through the G.I. Bill to study acting at Sanford Meisner's Neighborhood Playhouse. He began entering races at the same time and brought home about $100 home per week in winnings. McQueen became steadily employed on the show "Wanted: Dead or Alive". Later on his Hollywood break came by way of Frank Sinatra who hired him for the part of Bill Ringa in "Never So Few".
McQueen's career was prolific -- he starred in numerous roles and maintained his star status up until his untimely death in 1980. McQueen suffered from mesothelioma and underwent surgery to remove multiple tumors in his neck and midsection. Doctors had warned him that his heart could not withstand the surgery, and hours after the tumors were removed, McQueen died of cardiac arrest.