He may be a movie icon, revered for his roles in ‘Bullitt’ and ‘The Great Escape’, but screen legend Steve McQueen was short-tempered, paranoid and often violent, as revealed in a new documentary.
The real McQueen is laid bare in the doc called ‘I Am Steve McQueen’, which has been produced by his son, Chad, who unveils the actor’s troubled upbringing as the likely cause of his unpredictable behaviour.
“He was always worried about things being taken away from him,” says Chad in the film. “But if you look at where he came from, you can understand why.”
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McQueen grew up the son of an alcoholic prostitute, and was eventually abandoned by both his mother and father, after which he descended into petty crime and fighting which landed him in reform school.
“My dad had a horrible childhood,” adds Chad. “It made him the man he was. He fought like hell for what he believed in, but he had a very short temper; I saw that at home and in his work. He wasn’t opposed to knocking somebody out if they crossed him.
“If any good came out of him feeling so unwanted as a kid, it was that he always made sure me and my older sister, Terry, knew how much he loved us. He wanted to make up for what he never had.”
The film also features testimony from his first wife Neile Adams, who says that during their marriage he was prone to jealous rages.
“He terrified me,” she admits, going on to reveal how he beat her when it emerged she had had an affair with the actor Maximilian Schell.
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Ali MacGraw, who he later married, echoes her sentiments.
After the pair met on the movie ‘The Getaway’, he then expected her to give up her career after they married in 1973, and be at home, with his dinner on the table at 6pm every day.
He also banned McGraw from having long nails and wearing high heels.
“He was tremendously insecure and dangerous,” says MacGraw. “When it was good it was very, very good, but when it was bad it was horrendous.
“After five years Steve sort of checked out of the marriage. Chad would come downstairs and find plates sailing past his head. It was a rotten family scenario.”
McQueen retreated from Hollywood life in the late-70s, after turning down lead roles in films like ‘A Bridge Too Far’, ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and ‘Apocalypse Now’, mostly over his excessive demands for money.
He died in 1980, at the age of 50, after being diagnosed with cancer, thought to have been caused by time working with asbestos while in the Marines.
'I Am Steve McQueen' airs on Quest at 9pm, Friday 29 August.
Photo Credits: Rex Features