A few years before he was an actor, McQueen was a juvenile delinquent. A few years before he was a movie star, McQueen was a towel boy in a brothel. A few years before he commanded $3 million fees and gross points, McQueen raced motorcycles on weekends because he needed the prize money.
McQueen's life was full of emotional contradictions: he was fanatically loyal but unrelentingly paranoid; devoted but faithless; a bastard seeking legitimacy; an early environmentalist and perennial chauvinist; famous worldwide and desperate for anonymity and solitude. An actor schooled in method but grounded outside of any process, he pared away all pretension, imbuing his characters with a vitality that was never just about what he said or how he looked but the way he did it. His performances were effortless yet powerful, raw yet complex. At a level beyond easy analysis, McQueen connected with the people who saw him on television, in movie houses, anywhere on earth. Even at the peak of his celebrity, one might as easily get a glimpse of him on a stool in a neighborhood bar or in an unemployment line as on a magazine cover, which is why he was perceived not merely as cool but as entirely authentic.
On screen he was defiant without swagger, disdainful without hatred, smoothly sexual without the hearts and flowers. McQueen took being hip to a new place while he took earning money in Hollywood to new heights.