In the 1960s and ’70s, Steve McQueen was an anti-hero that was widely regarded as the “King of Cool”.
His iconic looks and debonair attitude have charmed generations of film fans and films like “Bullitt” and “The Great Escape” have memorialized McQueen’s unique acting style in the annals of classic cinema.
While most film buffs know that Steve McQueen met an untimely death at the hands of cancer, few now remember the heartwarming details of his tragic passing.
Shortly before his death, McQueen requested a meeting with legendary evangelist Billy Graham. Graham gave the famous actor a token of faith and fellowship at their parting.
Now with Graham too now recently gone from the world, it’s worth revisiting the story of this historical meeting and how it changed Steve McQueen’s life when he was most in need of comfort.
Holding the Bible as He Entered Eternity
In 1979, Steve McQueen was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a type of cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos. McQueen was only 49 at the time and was looking forward to many years of acting ahead of him.
But it was soon readily apparent that this beloved Hollywood actor wasn’t long for this world. McQueen tried various forms of treatment, including the controversial B17 derivative laetrile, in his attempt to beat his disease.
Nonetheless, he died on November 7th, 1980 from cardiac arrest soon after receiving surgery to remove tumors in his neck and abdomen. Ironically Billy Graham was born on the same day that McQueen died.
Steve McQueen didn’t leave the world before striking up an unexpected friendship that would provide him with great solace in his final days.
Even before his illness, McQueen had already distanced himself from Hollywood culture and had begun going to church regularly again.
Soon after he was diagnosed with cancer, McQueen expressed his fervent interest in meeting with evangelical pastor Billy Graham.
As an evangelical Christian, McQueen looked up to Graham and saw a meeting with this popular evangelist as a way to connect himself with God and seek insight or wisdom.
A period of time elapsed as arrangements were made, and a meeting was finally scheduled between Graham and McQueen on November 3rd, 1980, just days before McQueen’s death.
While the exact details of what went on in this meeting have now been taken to the grave by both men, what is known is that, at the end of the meeting, Graham gifted Steve McQueen with his own personal bible and inscribed the following inspirational message on the inside front cover:
“To my friend Steve McQueen, May God bless you and keep you always. – Billy Graham.”
In his inscription, Graham also referenced a passage from scripture, Philippians 1:6, which references Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in the New Testament.
The passage reads as follows:
“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Though Steve McQueen succumbed to his illness shortly thereafter, when the manager of McQueen’s ranch in California, Grady Ragsdale, went to collect the famous actor’s body, she found that McQueen was holding Graham’s bible against his chest even in death.
Steve McQueen was holding Billy Graham’s bible as he left this world and entered into eternity.
God’s Representative on Earth
Steve McQueen’s interest in meeting Billy Graham before his untimely death is certainly understandable.
While Graham gradually moved into obscurity in the last few decades before his passing, the 1960s and 70s were the heyday of evangelical Christianity in the United States.
Many political and cultural leaders looked to prominent members of the evangelical movement as the torchbearers of the Christian message.
While McQueen had long lived within the morally loose and generally atheistic confines of Hollywood culture, his move back to faith later in life provided him with the perfect opportunity to seek new influences and even role models.
In seeking a meeting with Graham, McQueen was attempting to get closer to God. As the unofficial frontman of the evangelical movement, Billy Graham was seen by many as “America’s Pastor”.
Graham was certainly the most vocal and socially present member of the evangelical movement, making it only natural that Steve McQueen would select this man of God as the person to effectively perform his last rites.
By requesting a meeting with a well-known public figure like Billy Graham, McQueen was trying to make a difference before his death by broadcasting to the world the strength of his Christian faith and to serve as an inspiration to others that were also facing hard times or debilitating illness.
McQueen wanted people to know that even though his macho physique had faded, his spirit was still as strong as ever, if not even stronger.
We’ll Meet Again
Shortly after McQueen’s death in 1980, Billy Graham sat down with the Asheville Citizen to give an interview on his relationship with the deceased actor.
He described McQueen as shriveled and weak, a man who seemed to be 90 years old at the relatively young age of 50.
But Graham further reported that even though McQueen’s bodily vigor had faded, “his eyes sparkled above the oxygen mask he was using.”
According to the Asheville Citizen interview, Graham had one last thing to say to Steve McQueen at the end of the meeting as he got up to leave:
“I’ll see you in heaven.”
With that, Graham was gone, and McQueen would die only days after. But Billy Graham’s Bible remained behind, serving partially as a storehouse of ancient wisdom to soothe and enlighten the dying actor is his last days.
It was also partially as a totem provided by this representative of God on Earth to provide McQueen with spiritual sustenance to guide him onward to heaven.
Now that Graham, too, has left this world, one can only hope that he has been able to fulfill his promise to the dying actor and that the two have reunited in another world.
Dying of natural causes at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, Graham certainly outlived his Hollywood friend by many long years.
But both men shared a faith in God that sustained and protected them when they needed it most.
Graham was able to touch the hearts of many more people throughout the remainder of his time here on Earth.
Recently, pastor Greg Laurie released a film that details the events of the historic meeting between Steve McQueen and Billy Graham.
Titled “Steve McQueen: American Icon”, this film features testimonies from people close to McQueen at the time of his death and footage of the very bible that Steve McQueen held onto tightly as he left this world.