McQueen’s History of Asbestos Exposure

Steve McQueen was the top paid actor in 1974. He was also a father and a husband with great love for his family. Best known for his acting in movies such as The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and Sand Pebbles, he also identified as a race car driver. Almost 34 years after his death on Nov. 7, 1980, cases of mesothelioma still run rampant.

asbestos exposure

Steve was exposed to asbestos all throughout his life—construction sites, sound stages, the lining of race car breaks, and so on. His most potent exposure to asbestos, though, occurred in his time with the U.S. Marines when he was required to remove asbestos lagging from pipes. Steve himself is quoted saying that the asbestos was so thick in the air he could barely breathe. Some say that Steve McQueen lived the American dream, transcending underprivileged origins and rising to fame and success. But, it was during his time doing blue collar work and serving his country when he was most subjected to the asbestos that would kill him.

The Mesothelioma Diagnosis & Death

When Steve was diagnosed in 1979 he was given no hope. He was assured by doctors that his ailment was incurable and essentially untreatable. In fact, his then-girlfriend Barbara Minty was not even informed by doctors that pleural mesothelioma was caused by exposure to asbestos.

“The doctors in LA basically told us to enjoy the time we had left,” she said in an interview conducted 26 years after Steve passed. “I don’t remember exactly what they said about options. All I recall is that the doctors said surgery was out of the question and chemo didn’t really work. It was a rare cancer and all their patients had died.”

The couple refused to let the diagnosis rule their lives, though, and was married after his terminal diagnosis. In the months following, Steve went to Mexico. Motivated by his lack of options in the United States, he sought non-traditional treatment during his first visit and went into surgery for inoperable abdominal tumors during his second visit. It was in the hours after this surgery that he passed away from cardiac arrest.

The true tragedy of Steve’s story and every other story of mesothelioma deaths is that their deaths were preventable. The dangers of asbestos exposure were known as early as the 1930s, yet companies continued using asbestos-containing products without any warnings at the cost of thousands of lives.

Sadly, even today, approximately 3,000 people in the United States are annually diagnosed with mesothelioma. Many of whom were never warned about the dangers of asbestos exposure.

Barbara Minty McQueen, in memory of Steve, works with the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, a non-profit organization focused on preventing asbestos-caused diseases through national and international education, advocacy and community initiatives. In July 2014, Barbara traveled to Washington, D.C., and spoke to the U.S. House of Representatives on the importance of banning the use of asbestos in America.

Families who have been impacted by mesothelioma deaths can also hold the companies responsible for their loved one’s asbestos exposure accountable through the civil litigation system by filing a mesothelioma lawsuit. Simmons Hanly Conroy has over 40 mesothelioma lawyers who have helped thousands of people and their families from around the country secure justice against the companies who harmed them.

If you or a loved one suffers from mesothelioma, click here to learn more about how we can help mesothelioma patients and their families.