Steve McQueen Died After Surgery, Terence Stephen “Steve” McQueen (March 24, 1930 – November 7, 1980) was an American movie actor. He was nicknamed “The King of Cool.” His “anti-hero” persona, which he developed at the height of the Vietnam counterculture, made him one of the top box-office draws of the 1960s and 1970s. McQueen received an Academy Award nomination for his role in The Sand Pebbles. His other popular films include The Magnificent Seven, The Blob, The Great Escape, The Thomas Crown Affair, Bullitt, The Getaway, Papillon, and The Towering Inferno. In 1974, he became the highest-paid movie star in the world. Although McQueen was combative with directors and producers, his popularity put him in high demand and enabled him to command large salaries.
On November 7, 1980, McQueen died at the age of 50 in Ciudad Juلrez, Chihuahua, Mexico, following an operation to remove or reduce several metastatic tumors in his neck and abdomen.
McQueen developed a persistent cough in 1978; he gave up smoking and underwent antibiotic treatments without improvement. Shortness of breath became more pronounced and in December 1979, after the filming of The Hunter, a biopsy revealed pleural mesothelioma, a type of cancer associated with asbestos exposure for which there is no known cure. By February 1980, there was evidence of widespread metastasis. While he tried to keep the condition a secret, the National Enquirer disclosed that he had “terminal cancer” on March 11, 1980. In July, McQueen traveled to Rosarito Beach for unconventional treatment after U.S. doctors advised him that they could do nothing to prolong his life.
Controversy arose over McQueen’s Mexican trip, because McQueen sought a very non-traditional cancer treatment that used coffee enemas, frequent shampoos, injection of live cells from cows and sheep, massage and laetrile, a supposedly “natural” anti-cancer drug available in Mexico, but not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. McQueen himself paid for his unconventional medical treatments out of his own pocket with cash. McQueen was treated by William Donald Kelley, whose only medical license had been (until it was revoked in 1976) for orthodontics. Kelley’s methods created a sensation in both the traditional and tabloid press when it became known that McQueen was a patient. Despite metastasis of the cancer to much of McQueen’s body, Kelley publicly announced that McQueen would be completely cured and return to normal life. However, McQueen’s condition worsened and “huge” tumors developed in his abdomen. In late October 1980, McQueen flew to Ciudad Juلrez to have an abdominal tumor on his liver (which weighed around five pounds) removed, despite the warnings by his U.S. doctors that the tumor was inoperable and that his heart would not withstand the surgery. McQueen checked into a Juarez clinic under the assumed name of “Sam Shepard” where the doctors and staff at the small, low-income clinic were unaware of his real identity. McQueen died of cardiac arrest. A following article in the El Paso Times noted that right before his death he awoke and asked for some ice and then died.
A few months before his death, McQueen had given a medical interview in which he blamed his condition on asbestos exposure. While McQueen felt that asbestos used in movie soundstage insulation and race-drivers’ protective suits and helmets could have been involved, he believed his illness was a direct result of massive exposure while removing asbestos lagging from pipes aboard a troop ship during his time in the Marines.
A memorial service was presided over by Leonard DeWitt of the Ventura Missionary Church. McQueen was cremated, and his ashes spread in the Pacific Ocean.