“Well, if I killed that kid, it’d been the best shot I ever made, and the dirtiest trick I ever done…”–Steve McQueen, “Tom Horn” (1980)

“The Cincinnati Kid” (1965) was the quintessential, high-stakes card game movie–marathon stud-poker in front of a crowd. After a day and a night, the end was in sight.

An elderly Edward G. Robinson, as “The Man,” stared at young Steve McQueen, who sought to succeed him. McQueen was showing a pair of aces and a pair of 10s and bet $3,500. Now Robinson was dealt a nine of diamonds, giving him a possible straight flush.

Robinson called McQueen’s bet and raised him $5,000, which McQueen didn’t have. He said, “I can get the money,” and Robinson agreed. “Let’s see it,” McQueen intoned.

Robinson dramatically turned over his hole card–a jack of diamonds–completing the flush. He actually had it. A gaggle of bleary-eyed male and female onlookers gasped.

“Gets down to what it’s all about, doesn’t it?” Robinson said to his shocked, sweating foe. “Making the wrong move at the right time.”

“Is that what it’s all about?” replied the crestfallen McQueen, turning over his hole card to reveal a third ace, giving him an aces-over-10s full house. Not enough.

“You’re good, kid, but as long as I’m around, you’re second best,” Robinson smirked. “You might as well learn to live with it.”

Ambling out into the night, McQueen encountered a young Black shoe shine boy who loved to challenge him pitching pennies. This time, the boy won. “You tried too hard, man,” he said. “You just ain’t ready for me yet.” Then the closing credits rolled as Ray Charles gave out his guttural rendition of the legendary title song.

“The Cincinnati Kid” was vintage McQueen–part of a memorable body of work by my all-time favorite star, renowned as “The King of Cool.” To this long-time cineaste, he was the last really convincing American film actor–the anti-hero to end all anti-heroes.

His magic ended 30 years ago–Nov. 7, 1980–when he died at 50 of lung cancer after 27 films. Millions mourned this powerhouse performer and his scalding realism.

One of my memories involving McQueen was an emotional phone call from his daughter, Terri, about my 1990 New York Daily News column on the 10th anniversary of his death.

Indiana-born and New York-trained, McQueen appealed to men and women. Men liked his straightforward manner, street-level humor and genuine toughness. Women liked his honesty and soft-spoken demeanor, as well as a smoldering volatility.

By no means a pretty boy, McQueen possessed rugged good looks that strongly appealed to females–among them three wives, including actress Ali MacGraw. While not that big, he didn’t carry himself like someone you’d want to mess with in a bar.

Audiences loved McQueen’s mesmerizing presence, which enabled him to dominate the screen based on sheer personality. In my book, there never has been anyone who could hold a candle to him on that score–and I think I’ve seen them all. He was simply electric.

One of my McQueen faves is his blowtorch performance as a doomed combat soldier in 1962’s “Hell is for Heroes,” which helped define the non-comformist ’60s, while his cold, calculating bank robber in “The Getaway” (1972) was Humphrey Bogart revisited.

I took note of McQueen in his first film in 1956, as Paul Newman’s pal in “Somebody Up There Likes Me.” Newman, of course, played boxer Rocky Graziano, but I recall thinking that this other young man “has something.” The feeling continued watching his intense work in a 1959 low-budget film called “The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery.”

Just about that time, America at large discovered McQueen in the TV series “Wanted: Dead or Alive” as bounty hunter Josh Randall. His trademark was an icy stare and lever-action rifle cut to handgun-size he lugged in an extra-big holster.

McQueen soared to popularity in the ’60s with “The Magnificent Seven” (1960); “The War Lover” (1962); “The Great Escape,” “Love with the Proper Stranger” and “Soldier in the Rain” (1963); “Baby, the Rain Must Fall” (1965); “Nevada Smith” (1966); and “The Thomas Crown Affair” and “Bullitt” (1968), for which he did his own dangerous stunt driving. In 1966, his shattering work in “The Sand Pebbles” earned an Academy Award nomination.

In the ’70s, McQueen scored as a rodeo rider in “Junior Bonner” (1972); a stunning, Oscar-worthy performance in “Papillion” (1973); and as a fire chief with Paul Newman in “The Towering Inferno” (1974). Ironically, he turned-down the Robert Redford role opposite Newman in the 1969 smash-hit “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”–reportedly because Newman would be billed above him.

McQueen also passed on “Dirty Harry” (1972)–which elevated Clint Eastwood–and 1961’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (George Peppard) due to TV’s “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” He also declined 1960’s original “Ocean’s Eleven” (Frank Sinatra); 1971’s “The French Connection” (Gene Hackman); 1974’s “California Split” (Elliott Gould); 1977’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (Richard Dreyfuss); and 1978’s “The Driver” (Ryan O’Neal). Illness cost him 1979’s “Apocalypse Now” (Martin Sheen).

McQueen’s final two films were in 1980 prior to his death–“Tom Horn” and “The Hunter.” His ill health, induced by heavy smoking, had been well-publicized. Yet his passing was a shock to those of us who grooved on his gritty, one-of-kind work. Indeed, he was all a movie actor should be–and there may never be another like him.