Illegally cool and unfairly stylish, Steve McQueen had swagger belonging to a bygone era. Even though his canon of work isn’t filled with much variety — he received one Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his role in The Sand Pebbles (1966) — he’s rightly perceived to have been a formidable actor, expertly portraying the archetypal anti-hero with natural vulnerability. The screen wasn’t his first love, though, once stating: “I’m not sure whether I’m an actor who races or a racer who acts.” While his skills on a motorbike were on an equal plateau to professionals, he was something else on screen, and his style is, perhaps, one of the most referenced of all time.
Terence Steven McQueen was born on 24 March, 1930, in Indiana. From the get-go, his life was at full throttle, and it’s safe to say he had a fairly traumatic childhood that shaped his later life. Born into a working-class family, his biological father walked out on him at six months. He then moved around a lot with his mother and, when she later remarried, his stepfather would frequently beat him. He left home at 15 and became a delinquent, committing petty crimes before being sent to a borstal. This helped him dramatically, as it gave purpose and meaning to a teenager who was filled with anger and disenfranchisement towards the world. He eventually enrolled into the United States Marine Corps, becoming a tank driver and a mechanic and reaching the rank of Corporal. He had a knack for fixing things and loved being around machinery – so much so that he reportedly destroyed a tank by trying to soup it up.
From the marine corps to the Big Apple, McQueen pursued stardom and women via a career in film and television. His confidence, cheeky grin, chiseled bones and curly blonde hair helped get him on his way, and his first big break came with the hit TV series Wanted Dead or Alive (1958-1961). He played the protagonist Josh Randall, which was an easy role for McQueen as they were both outcasts. He often wore a heavy overshirt in addition to denim and sturdy boots.