Sean Connery, the Scottish actor who originated the James Bond character, died peacefully in the Bahamas on November 1 after a long illness. He was 90. His son Jason Connery confirmed the news to the BBC.
Famous for his dashing good looks, strapping physique and abundance of charisma, Connery was the first actor to portray Agent 007 in film, starring in seven entries in the franchise from Dr. No to Never Say Never Again. He was also an Oscar winner for his supporting turn in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, his sole nomination from the Academy, and he received two BAFTAs including an honorary Fellowship Award. He was awarded a knighthood in 2000.
Born in Edinburgh in 1930, Connery joined the Royal Navy at the age of 16 before being discharged three years later on medical grounds. He took numerous other jobs including being a lifeguard, lorry driver and an artist’s model before his bodybuilding led him to place third in a Mr Universe contest in the early 1950s. He was also a keen soccer player and was said to have once been offered a trial at Manchester United by famed manager Matt Busby.
His pathway into acting came via Edinburgh’s King’s Theater, where he helped out backstage before landing a small role in a production of South Pacific, during which time he first encountered Michael Caine; the pair would go on to become close friends. Taking on other small theater roles and extra work, Connery hired agent Richard Hatton in 1957, who helped to steer him into the film and TV world, landing him his first lead role in the BBC’s Requiem For A Heavyweight.
He began to win more film roles, appearing in MGM’s Action Of The Tiger and then the melodrama Another Time, Another Place opposite Lana Turner. The latter role saw him lock horns with Turner’s boyfriend at the time, who reportedly stormed onto the set of the film in a jealous rage and pointed a gun at Connery, who promptly disarmed him and diffused the situation.
A further lead role came in the 1959 Disney fantasy film Darby O’Gill And The Little People, which received good reviews though Connery’s write-ups largely focused on his physical stature.
Connery’s career defining moment came in the early 1960s when he landed the role of James Bond. Author Ian Fleming was said to have doubted the casting of Connery, supposedly calling him an “overgrown stuntman”, but was eventually turned around by his impressive undertaking of the part in Dr No, which the actor was said to have landed after persuasion from producer Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli’s wife Dana Broccoli. After the Dr No premiere at the London Pavilion in 1962, Fleming was reported to be so enamoured he wrote Connery’s Scottish heritage into future Bond novels.
The film received a mixed critical response but strong box office performance set the stage for a franchise. Connery would appear in four more Bond entries: initially From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), and You Only Live Twice (1967), before he handed the part over to George Lazenby for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), only to return for two further appearances in Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and Never Say Never Again (1983).
No actors have ever easily shaken off the Bond branding after retiring from the role, but Connery had always looked to diversify his acting even during his time with the franchise, taking parts in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie and Sidney Lumet’s The Hill. Post-Diamonds he appeared in John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King with his friend Caine, before playing Robin Hood in Robin And Marian, starring opposite Audrey Hepburn.
His brief return to the Bond franchise with controversial pic Never Say Never Again, produced outside of the Eon canon (the film’s name is supposedly a play on the fact Connery had said he would never return to the role), was an unhappy one, leading him to quit acting for a couple of years.
He came back with a bang, however, starring as Franciscan friar William of Baskerville in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s The Name Of The Rose, a film that flopped in the States but was well received in Europe, landing Connery a BAFTA for his performance. Next up was Russell Mulcahy’s Highlander, in which he played the flamboyantly-dressed swordsman Ramirez – a film that was initially poorly received but has since achieved cult status. He followed that with his memorable role as Jimmy Malone in Brian De Palma’s Al Capone pic The Untouchables, a straight-laced Irish-American cop who meets a tough fate; the role won him his sole Oscar.
The late 1980s saw a continued resurgence for Connery, with his turn as a submarine commander in The Hunt For Red October being fondly remembered for that accent (and landing him another BAFTA nomination). He entered the realm of another franchise by playing Indiana Jones’s dad, Henry Jones Sr., in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, before returning to Robin Hood by playing King Richard The Lionheart in Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves.
Connery continued to act consistently in the 90s in films such as The Rock and First Knight. His last major film role came in 2003 Alan Moore adaptation The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
He was married to Moroccan-French painter Micheline Roquebrune from 1975 until his death. He leaves behind one son, Jason Connery, from his first marriage to Diane Cilento, the Australian actress and author. In her 2006 autobiography, Cliento claimed she had suffered abuse at the hands of Connery, who had on occasion been quoted as saying he thought hitting a woman was “no big deal”; he maintained that his quotes were taken out of context.