Steve McQueen death

What kind of cancer did Steve McQueen have?

Today on 7th Nov 2019 marks the 39th anniversary of the death of the famous american actor, Steve McQueen.

Steve Mcqueen was nicknamed in the media as ‘The King of Cool’ and was well known for his acting roles in films such as The Magnificent Seven, Sand Pebbles and Wanted: Dead or Alive.

He was one of America’s most popular and highest paid actors by the early 1970’s.

In 1978, McQueen developed a persistent dry cough, which led to him giving up cigarettes.

He then starting taking antibiotic treatments, but these failed to make any marked improvement to his condition.

As time progressed, he developed shortness of breath which grew worse over time.

A biopsy was taken on the 22nd December 1979 which revealed he was suffering from pleural mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a cancer directly caused by exposure to asbestos that develops years later after the exposure has occurred.

It can take anywhere from 10 to 40 years for any symptoms to manifest, and although these symptoms can be eased with medication and a healthy diet and lifestyle, there is no known cure as of yet.

Anyone diagnosed with mesothelioma will usually only live for up to 12 months following their diagnosis.

What caused the death of Steve McQueen?

Shortly before his death, Steve McQueen said in a medical interview that he believed he was exposed to asbestos when he worked as a U.S Marine years earlier.

McQueen joined the U.S Marine Corps in 1947 and was honorably discharged in 1950.

During his time in the Marines, McQueen said he remembered removing excessive amounts of asbestos pipe lagging from pipes aboard a troop ship’s engine room.

He also recalled that when he began work as an actor, he worked around sound stage insulation that most likely contained asbestos.

A passion for racing cars and motorcycles could have also exposed him to asbestos as the flame retardant driving suits and helmets he wore were made from asbestos containing materials.

By February 1980, the mesothelioma cancer had spread rapidly.

Steve Mcqueen in a tv series long before his death in 1980
Steve McQueen and Virginia Gregg in Wanted Dead or Alive TV series

The months before McQueen’s death

In the months before his death, Steve McQueen traveled to Mexico in July 1980 in desperate search of alternative therapies and treatments for his pleural mesothelioma.

Doctors in the U.S had already told him they could offer no treatments in order to prolong his life, so moving to Mexico was a last ditch attempt to fight for survival.

So it was here that he spent the final months of his life in a specialist clinic.

William Donald Kelley was the controversial Doctor who treated McQueen at the Mexico clinic.

Kelley promoted a variation of the Gerson therapy which used various methods such as coffee enemas, daily injections of fluid containing live cells from cattle and sheep, frequent washing with shampoos, laetrile (a reputed anti cancer drug available in Mexico) and massages.

McQueen reportedly paid Kelley around £40k per month in order to receive the treatments over a 3 month period at the clinic in Mexico.

The news soon leaked out to the press and caused a lot of controversay at the time because of the methods that Kelley used and the fact he had such a famous patient.

After spending 3 months receiving treatment in Mexico, in October 1980 McQueen returned to the U.S.

His condition got much worse with huge tumours developing in his abdomen, despite Kelley saying he would make a full recovery.

Despite warnings from U.S doctors, McQueen traveled back to Mexico later in October 1980 to have a large abdominal tumor on his liver removed.

Doctors had warned him that his heart would not withstand this surgery, but he ignored their advice and went to Mexico anyway.

Ignoring the advice of the U.S Doctors is what ultimately lead to the death of Steve McQueen.

Steve McQueen and wife months before his death
Steve McQueen and wife not long before his death in 1980

What did Steve McQueen die of?

The official cause of the death of Steve McQueen was a cardiac arrest.

His death occurred on the 7th November 1980, at 3.45am at the Juárez clinic in Mexico.

He had been admitted to surgery 12 hours beforehand in order to have surgery to remove/reduce a number of tumors that had developed in his neck and abdomen.

Steve McQueen was aged just 50 years old at the time of his death and he apparently died in his sleep.

The sudden death of Steve McQueen was a huge blow to the film industry, but his legacy lives on and he has become a huge icon.


Did you enjoy our article on mesothelioma survival rates?  Then check out our latest posts below.

Duty holders and employers have a legal responsibility to manage asbestos in their properties, carrying out an asbestos survey in their building so as not to put employees at risk.

So make sure you contact our Armco office to arrange asbestos testing or an asbestos survey, before it’s too late! 

Whether you need an asbestos management survey, or a refurbishment/ demolition survey, contact us on 0161 763 3727 or by visiting https://www.armco.org.uk/

Finally, for all your asbestos training needs call 0161 761 4424 or visit https://www.armcoasbestostraining.co.uk/to book an asbestos awareness training course.

Published Nov 07, 2019
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