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How a private meeting with Billy Graham changed actor Steve McQueen's life

Tim Funk, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Religious News

Actor Steve McQueen, who personified cool during his nearly two decades as a Hollywood superstar, retreated from the glamor and excesses of the movie scene late in his short life and embraced Christianity.

When he died at age 50, McQueen was clutching a Bible -- one given to him by Billy Graham.

In fact, it was Graham's personal Bible, the one he preached from at crusades. The Charlotte-born evangelist had handed it to the actor, then gravely ill with cancer, during a private meeting Nov. 3, 1980 -- just four days before McQueen died after surgery in Mexico.

Nearly 37 years later, the story of Steve McQueen's faith journey is finally about to be told on the big screen -- the medium that made him internationally famous as the action hero in hits such as "Bullitt" and "The Great Escape."

And though Billy Graham, now 98 and living in his mountain-top Montreat home, doesn't speak or appear in person in "Steve McQueen: American Icon," the preacher and his Bible play a major role in its final minutes.

The faith-based documentary feature film will be shown at 7 p.m. Sept. 28 at theaters in Charlotte and around the country. The host for this one-night event will be Greg Laurie, a lifelong McQueen fan and the pastor of one of America's biggest megachurches, Harvest Christian Fellowship in southern California.

Much of the drama in the new film comes late: Viewers are told that McQueen took along the Graham Bible -- with a prayerful note from the evangelist on an inside page -- when he traveled to Juarez, Mexico, for the operation to remove a tumor.

The actor died of a heart attack shortly afterward, on Nov. 7, 1980. And when Grady Ragsdale, the manager of McQueen's ranch in California, went to retrieve the body, he pulled the sheet back and found that McQueen had died clutching the Bible to his chest.

Laurie puts it this way in the film: "He was holding on to the Bible of Billy Graham as he entered eternity."

'CLOSEST THING TO GOD ON EARTH'

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