Scottish movie legend Sean Connery, who shot to international stardom as the suave, sexy and sophisticated British agent James Bond and went on to grace the silver screen for four decades, has died aged 90. The BBC and Sky News reported his death today.
“I was heartbroken to learn this morning of the passing of Sir Sean Connery. Our nation today mourns one of her best loved sons,” said Scottish First Minster Nicola Sturgeon. “Sean was a global legend but, first and foremost, he was a patriotic and proud Scot.”
Connery was raised in near poverty in the slums of Edinburgh and worked as a coffin polisher, milkman and lifeguard before his bodybuilding hobby helped launch an acting career that made him one of the world’s biggest stars.
Connery will be remembered first as British agent 007, the character created by novelist Ian Fleming and immortalized by Connery in films starting with Dr No in 1962.
As Bond, his debonair manner and wry humour in foiling flamboyant villains and cavorting with beautiful women belied a darker, violent edge, and he crafted a depth of character that set the standard for those who followed him in the role.
He would introduce himself in the movies with the signature line, “Bond – James Bond.” But Connery was unhappy being defined by the role and once said he “hated that damned James Bond”.
Tall and handsome, with a throaty voice to match a sometimes crusty personality, Connery played a series of noteworthy roles besides Bond. Though he made more than 60 films, winning an Academy Award for his supporting role as an incorruptible lawman on the trail of Al Capone in “The Untouchables” (1987), Connery was most closely affiliated with the debonair fictional British spy he portrayed seven times.
He introduced Bond and his trademark greeting in Dr No (1962), which turned Connery into an international star. He would go on to play the womanizing, dinner-suited, martini-quaffing spy, created by Ian Fleming, in From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967) and Diamonds Are Forever (1971). In 1983, Connery starred in one more Bond movie, Never Say Never Again.
Sean Connery, the ‘sexiest man’
People magazine named Connery its sexiest man alive for 1989. In 1997, the magazine hailed him for remaining “a man’s man of action who still leaves women as shaken as any of Bond’s martinis.”
Peter Rainer, a former Bloomberg News critic, in 2006 called Connery “the rare example of a performer who became a versatile actor after being identified with a famous role.”
In addition to Connery’s Oscar-winning performance, Rainer cited his roles as a sadistic London police detective in Sidney Lumet’s The Offence, a British soldier in The Man Who Would Be King and a dashing thief in Michael Crichton’s The Great Train Robbery, all released in the 1970s.
Brosnan, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig also played Bond on the big screen, none capturing the same following as Connery. In a 2012 poll by the NPR news organization, Connery was voted the best Bond actor, with 56% of the votes. Craig came in second, with 28%.
Connery was an ardent supporter of Scotland’s independence and had the words “Scotland Forever” tattooed on his arm while serving in the Royal Navy. When he was knighted at the age of 69 by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth in 2000 at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, he wore full Scottish dress including the green-and-black plaid kilt of his mother’s MacLeod clan.
Connery was fed up with ‘idiots’
Some noteworthy non-Bond films included director Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964), The Wind and the Lion (1975) with Candice Bergen, director John Huston’s The Man Who Would be King (1975) with Michael Caine, director Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) and the Cold War tale “The Hunt for Red October” (1990).
Fans of alternative cinema will always remember him starring as the “Brutal Exterminator” Zed in John Boorman’s mind-bending fantasy epic Zardoz (1974), where a heavily moustachioed Connery spent much of the movie running around in a skimpy red loin-cloth, thigh-high leather boots and a ponytail.
Connery had retired from movies after disputes with the director of his final outing, the forgettable The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 2003. “I get fed up dealing with idiots,” he said.
The Bond franchise was still going strong more than five decades after Connery started it. The lavishly produced movies, packed with high-tech gadgetry and spectacular effects, broke box office records and grossed hundreds of millions of dollars.
After the smashing success of Dr No, more Bond movies followed for Connery in quick succession: From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965) and You Only Live Twice (1967).
Connery then grew concerned about being typecast and decided to break away. Australian actor George Lazenby succeeded him as Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969.
But without Connery, it lacked what the public wanted and he was lured back in 1971 for Diamonds Are Forever with temptations that included a slice of the profits, which he said would go to a Scottish educational trust. He insisted it would be his last time as Bond.
Twelve years later, at age 53, Connery was back as 007 in Never Say Never Again (1983), an independent production that enraged his old mentor, producer Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli.
Preferred beer to Martini
In a 1983 interview, Connery summed up the ideal Bond film as having “marvellous locations, interesting ambiance, good stories, interesting characters — like a detective story with espionage and exotic settings and nice birds.”
Connery was a very different type from Fleming’s Bond character with his impeccable social background, preferring beer to Bond’s vodka martini cocktails that were ”shaken not stirred”.
But Connery’s influence helped shape the character in the books as well as the films. He never attempted to disguise his Scottish accent, leading Fleming to give Bond Scottish heritage in the books that were released after Connery’s debut.
Born Thomas Connery on 25 August 1930, he was the elder of two sons of a long-distance truck driver and a mother who worked as a cleaner. He dropped out of school at age 13 and worked in a variety of menial jobs. At 16, two years after World War Two ended, Connery was drafted into the Royal Navy and served three years.
“I grew up with no notion of a career, much less acting,” he once said. “I certainly never have plotted it out. It was all happenstance, really.”
Connery played small parts with theatre repertory companies before graduating to films and television.
It was his part in a 1959 Disney leprechaun movie, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, that helped land the role of Bond. Broccoli, a producer of the Bond films, asked his wife to watch Connery in the Disney movie while he was searching for the right leading actor.
Dana Broccoli said her husband told her he was not sure Connery had sex appeal.
“I saw that face and the way he moved and talked and I said: ‘Cubby, he’s fabulous!'” she said. “He was just perfect, he had star material right there.”
Connery married actress Diane Cilento in 1962. Before divorcing 11 years later, they had a son, Jason, who became an actor. He married French artist Micheline Roquebrune, whom he met playing golf, in 1975.
He played the estranged father of Harrison Ford’s swashbuckling archaeologist in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), the mutinous commanding officer of a Soviet submarine in The Hunt for Red October (1990), King Arthur in First Knight (1995) and a reclusive white writer who mentors a talented Black teenager in Finding Forrester (2000). His last featured role in a film was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003).
Connery told the UK Daily Record in August 2010, as he turned 80, that From Russia With Love was his favourite Bond movie. “The story was intriguing, and the locations were intriguing,” he said. “It was an international movie in every sense of the word.”
The UK Guardian reported in 2004 that, when asked if he would ever escape his identification with Bond, Connery replied, “Not yet. It’s with me ‘til I go in the box.”