The death of the former iconic movie star, Steve McQueen, from mesothelioma on 7th November 1980 continues to be a high profile example in the unceasing campaign to promote asbestos awareness of the deadly risks the mineral still poses today across the world.
Recently, his former wife, Barbara Minty McQueen was part of a delegation from the US-based Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), who spoke at Capitol Hill at a United States House of Representatives staff briefing which was lobbying for the Safer Chemicals Act 2012.
The ADAO recently supported the UK’s Action Mesothelioma Day 2012, and along with the National Asbestos Helpline and the British Lung Foundation, called for a worldwide asbestos ban.
The former star of films such as ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘The Magnificent Seven’ may have been exposed to asbestos because of his great passion for motor racing, in which he regularly took part, wearing racing suits and helmets known to have been lined with asbestos insulation.
However, McQueen thought that the asbestos used in movie soundstage insulation could have been more responsible and also believed it was more likely that his mesothelioma came as a direct result of the period of time he spent in the US Marines from 1947-1950 when he was removing asbestos lagging from pipes aboard a troop ship.
Due to the long gestation period of up 50 years from original exposure and the inhaling of asbestos fibre dust to the final appearance of mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms, McQueen only developed a severe cough and shortness of breath some thirty years later in 1978. A confirmed diagnosis in 1979 led to intensive asbestosis treatments of surgery and radiotherapy to remove the advanced spread of the tumours but McQueen suffered a fatal heart attack the day after surgery.
Barbara McQueen, who was only 27 when her husband died, and who previously had accepted a memorial tribute award in McQueen’s memory at the ADAO’s annual convention, said during an interview, “Putting Steve’s name and face to the cause (of banning asbestos) – that made my day here. I want people to know how awful this disease is. It took my man away, stripped him from me. If there is anything I can do to help, I’m here to do it now”. A page on asbestos awareness was also recently added to the latest edition of her book, “Steve McQueen: The Last Mile. . . Revisited.”
Another well known US film actor, Paul Gleason, was a victim of pleural mesothelioma in 2006. Gleason was a supporting actor in popular 1980s films, ‘Trading Places’, ‘The Breakfast Club’, and ‘Die Hard’.