By David Dykes
Photography By Amy Randall Photography
For many years, just the name Steve McQueen meant cool. Yet few people know that late in life, the star of now-legendary films such as Bullitt, The Magnificent Seven, and The Great Escape, began a spiritual journey that led to Christian faith.
A Greenville businessman is behind the effort to tell that story.
Erik Weir, 50, of Greenville, and his business partner, Bill Reeves, 48, of Nashville, Tenn., led the marketing campaign for the new documentary, “Steve McQueen: American Icon.”
The story, scheduled to be shown in local theaters in September and again on Oct. 10, chronicles McQueen’s exodus from the world of fame and fortune and his little-known search for meaning, truth, and significance. The documentary unfolds as a search for the untold story of McQueen’s final chapter, and the redemption he found in the skies above Santa Paula, Calif., as he learned to fly a single-engine yellow biplane.
It delves into McQueen’s life through in-depth interviews with his wife, model Barbara Minty McQueen, and debuts candid photographs she took of him in his last years. She affirms that McQueen’s faith was hardly a “deathbed conversion.”
At one point, evangelist Billy Graham befriended McQueen as the actor came to faith, and gave him a Bible as a personal gift.
McQueen died Nov. 7, 1980, in Mexico, after seeking alternative therapies for cancer. He was 50 years old.
For Weir, backing the documentary is another step in his own journey.
He left California for Greenville more than a decade ago, after visiting a friend who had retired in the Upstate and being captivated by Fall for Greenville and what the city had to offer. Weir now is manager of Greenville-based WCM Global Wealth. The firm, an investment adviser, conducts personalized wealth planning for executives, business owners, and entrepreneurs.
As a young boy, Weir overcame a stuttering handicap resulting from an automobile accident. As he grew older, he worked hard, which led to success. But the pressures and demands of the job threatened his marriage and family. He persevered, and diving deeper in his faith, realigned his priorities.
He is a licensed pilot and a black belt in martial arts.
Weir helped raised capital for redevelopment of the former Greenville News site in downtown Greenville.
He and Reeves met five years ago. The two men co-own Nashville-based WTA Group, which develops, brands, and markets films with a Christian view.
“Steve McQueen: American Icon,” a 110-minute documentary, is among their latest projects, although Weir and Reeves aren’t investors. However, they are investors and led the marketing in another recent film, “Extraordinary,” produced in partnership with Liberty University’s Cinematic Arts Department.
That film is based on real-life events of acclaimed ultra-marathoner David Horton. It follows Horton as his dream of tackling a nearly 3,000-mile run takes its toll on his body, and brings his marriage to a breaking point.
WTA Group also has agreed to produce “Unbroken: Path to Redemption,” which tells the second part of famed Olympic athlete and World War II prisoner of war Louie Zamperini’s life after he returns to the U.S. following captivity in Japan.
Weir became interested in McQueen when he worked out with a martial arts instructor in Georgia who had been a Hollywood stunt double and friends with the actor.
“For me, what was so interesting about his life is very few people were aware that he had become a Christian,” Weir says of McQueen. “Most people who are around people of power, of influence, or of notoriety are intimidated, or nervous, to talk about their faith with them or think that they somehow have a different level of joy in their life because of all that they have accomplished or all of their notoriety or fame.”
He and Reeves have found almost the opposite to be true, Weir says.
“It’s almost like the hope that notoriety, fame or wealth or fortune would give you happiness still gives you a glimmer of hope,” he says. “Once you get notoriety, fame, wealth, then all hope that that would make you happy fails.”
Weir and Reeves wouldn’t disclose the marketing budget for the McQueen documentary, although Reeves says it was substantial. Filmmakers Jon and Andy Erwin, along with Ben Smallbone, directed the movie, presented by American Icon Films LLC and Fathom Events.
“We primarily are trying to provide content that provides hope for a world that isn’t getting a lot of that through its entertainment,” Reeves says. “When we heard this story about Steve and that it was indeed true, that he had become a Christian later in his life, we were fascinated by that story.”
In the documentary, Barbara McQueen offers this perspective: “He finally found something he could trust, completely. He found peace.”