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The Comfort of the King of Cool Was the King of Kings

They called him the “King of Cool,” and it was a fitting title. He had the look. Bright blue eyes. Tough-guy persona. Style. His image communicated confidence. He had a troubled childhood and rose to the apex of fame in Hollywood staring in major motion pictures and becoming the highest paid actor of his time. It is said that he “exhibited a cool demeanor and style that made him a cultural icon, admired by men, loved by famous and beautiful women, and captured for eternity by the world’s top photographers.” [1] Even the fashion of today’s celebrities is inspired by his style. [2] He was Steve McQueen, and along with Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and others like Frank Sinatra, McQueen is on my cool list (“cool” in the sense of style and persona, not in the sense of integrity and godliness).

Despite his fame and fortune, Steve McQueen was a troubled soul. He could be quite obstinate. He was a womanizer. He partied hard. He used cocaine and marijuana. He lived a full-throttle life that left him conflicted and empty. He was conflicted and disturbed inside. On December 22, 1979, Steve McQueen was diagnosed with cancer. In less than a year, his cancer had ravaged his body, and on November 7, 1980, he died at age 50. His soul was troubled throughout his life as he pursued “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 Jn. 2:16), yet McQueen died with true comfort in his soul. See, McQueen had come to know the Lord Jesus Christ through his friendship with his flight instructor Sammy Mason and the gospel ministry of Ventura Missionary Church and pastor Leonard De Witt. Through the ministry of a local church, the “King of Cool” was being discipled under the preaching of God’s Word and Bible studies. 

McQueen wanted to meet Billy Graham, and four days before his death, he did. During their time together, McQueen mentioned not being able to find his Bible. So Billy gave him his Bible, one he used at his gospel crusades. Billy wrote in the Bible, “To my friend Steve McQueen, May God bless you and keep you always. Billy Graham.” And Billy included “Phil 1:6” a reference to Philippians 1:6 which says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” What an apt verse for a dying cultural icon. Christ had begun something marvelous in McQueen’s heart and life and would complete it.

When McQueen died, the Bible Billy Graham gave him was on his chest. Though the “King of Cool” didn’t walk the pilgrim journey for very long, he had embraced Christ by faith and drew comfort from his relationship with the King of kings. And before he died, in his last recorded interview, Steve McQueen, the “King of Cool,” expressed his hope and comfort in the King of kings in the way he knew how. He said:

I want to change some people’s lives somehow, to tell people that I know the Lord. I used to be more macho. And now my body is gone, is broken. But my spirit isn’t broken. [3]

Steve McQueen’s spirit was not broken because his soul found comfort in Jesus Christ. Knowing how he’d lived for so long, McQueen wanted his transformed life to testify to others the power and goodness of God’s grace.

Heidelberg 86 asks, “Since we have been delivered from our misery by grace alone through Christ, without any merit of our own, why must we yet do good works?” It answers:

Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit to be His image, so that with our whole life we may show ourselves thankful to God for His benefits, and He may be praised by us. Further, that we ourselves may be assured of our faith by its fruits, and that by our godly walk of life we may win our neighbors for Christ.

Though he was dying, the gospel was transforming the image of the “King of Cool” into the image of the King of kings. McQueen wanted people to know that Jesus Christ was his Lord. He wanted people to know that he had been transformed by God’s grace, and he wanted his testimony to win them to Christ. God put that desire into Steve McQueen’s heart by the Holy Spirit.  

Do you want people to know that Jesus Christ is your Lord? Do you want people to know, in your sickness or in your health, in your living or in your dying, that though your body is broken, your spirit is not broken because of your hope in Christ? Godliness is important for you. Christ redeemed you by his blood. He put his Spirit in you. He is renewing you into the image of the King of kings. Praise him. Glorify him with godliness. Draw assurance from the power of his grace at work in you. And testify to the power and grace of your Lord through your godliness and good works. You may not be the “King of Cool,” but you know the King of kings. How might God use your testimony and godliness to win your neighbor for Christ?


[2] Ibid.


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Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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