Almost certainly the best known victim of mesothelioma, Steve McQueen(24 March 1930 - 7 November 1980) was the ultra-cool actor of the 1960s and 1970s. He remains a cultural icon: the ultimate rebel. Steve McQueen perfected the “anti-hero” persona and became tremendously popular for his roles in such films as The Magnificent Seven, Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Great Escape, The Thomas Crown Affair, Bullit, and Papillon. He also starred in the archetypal disaster film and mega-hit of the 1970s, The Towering Inferno.
Some have speculated that Steve McQueen’s connection to his characters came from his own turbulent and unsettled childhood. He was involved with a street gang in his early teens, and his mother sent him to a “home for wayward boys” when he was 14.
Steve McQueen served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1947 until 1950. Afterward, using money from the G.I. Bill, he studied acting and was singled out to study with Lee Strasberg in New York.
Although he was the highest paid star of the 1960s, McQueen had a reputation for being tight-fisted. On some films he would demand ten electric razors and dozens of pairs of jeans. It was later found that he gave this stuff to Boys Republic, a private school and treatment community for troubled youngsters, where he spent a few years himself.
The development of mesothelioma is related to asbestos exposure. A patient's history of asbestos exposure can range from short-term to long-term prior to the development of mesothelioma. Malignant mesothelioma is a highly-aggressive cancer that can rapidly metastasize (grow/spread) in patients, limiting post-diagnosis survival time.
McQueen had been surrounded by asbestos all of his life. As a young adult, McQueen was employed in the construction industry, where asbestos was often present at job sites. While serving as a Marine, McQueen worked at shipyards where he was responsible for stripping asbestos off the pipes used in naval ships (asbestos was used in the insulation of modern ships built before 1976). It has also been suggested that McQueen, an avid car racer, may have been exposed to asbestos when repairing the brake linings of race cars and/or wearing the protective helmets and driving suits associated with the sport.
McQueen developed a chronic cough in 1978 and had difficulty breathing on a movie set the following year. McQueen barely ran 15 yards during the filming of an action sequence before requesting oxygen assistance. Later in 1979, doctors diagnosed him with mesothelioma, an incurable cancer of the lining of the lungs related to asbestos exposure.
At the time he was diagnosed in 1979, McQueen's doctors told him that there was no cure for malignant mesothelioma. They ruled against mesothelioma chemotherapy and surgery as treatment options, leaving McQueen with no choice but to seek out alternative treatments. In July of 1980, McQueen traveled to Rosarita Beach, Mexico, to be treated in clinic by doctors using Dr. Kelley's regimen. He underwent a torturous three-month regimen that involved fetal animal injections, laetrile treatments (controversial drug made from apricot pits), ingestion of over 100 vitamins per day, coffee enemas, massages, and spiritual sessions.
In October of 1980, McQueen was encouraged by the improvement of his condition. He publicly thanked Mexico for showing the world a new alternative to treat cancer and for saving his life.
McQueen's resurrection was short-lived. In November of 1980, doctors operated to remove cancerous masses from McQueen's abdomen and neck. McQueen survived the surgery, but he died the next day.