Sean Connery: First and Best James Bond, Dies at 90

Connery played Ian Fleming’s super spy 7 times, starting with ‘Dr. No,’ in 1962, and earned Best Supporting Oscar for ‘The Untouchables’ in 1987.



Dr No Sean Connery - Photofest - H 2017
Courtesy of Photofest

Sean Connery, the naturally masculine, effortlessly charismatic Scottish-born actor, who won the 1986 Best Supporting Actor Oscar for “The Untouchables,” and is best known for originating the James Bond role, which he played for 7 times, has died. He was 90.

Connery’s death was reported by the BBC on Saturday.

James Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli said in a statement “We are devastated by the news of the passing of Sir Sean Connery. He was and shall always be remembered as the original James Bond whose indelible entrance into cinema history began when he announced those unforgettable words, ‘The name’s Bond… James Bond’ He revolutionized the world with his gritty and witty portrayal of the sexy and charismatic secret agent. He is undoubtedly largely responsible for the success of the film series and we shall be forever grateful to him.”

A man with the Midas touch when it came to Agent 007, Connery laid down the Bond blueprint by starring in the first five United Artists movies to feature Ian Fleming’s British superspy: Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963) — said to be the actor’s personal favorite — Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965) and You Only Live Twice (1967). That fulfilled his original contract.

After Connery rebuffed an offer of $1 million and said he was finished with Bond, George Lazenby stepped in to star in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service(1969), but the Australian actor was one and done. Connery then accepted a then-record $1.25 million salary — plus a promise that UA would fund two non-Bond films for him — to return as 007 in Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

“Fed up to here with the whole Bond bit,” Connery spurned a $5 million payday to star in Live and Let Die (1973), handing over the reins to Englishman Roger Moore. But Connery would portray 007 one last time, at age 52, in the aptly titled (and unofficial Bond film) Never Say Never Again (1983) at Warner Bros.

Asked to account for the phenomenal success of the Bond films, Connery told Playboy in a November 1965 interview that “timing had a lot to do with it.”

“Bond came on the scene after the war, at a time when people were fed up with rationing and drab times and utility clothes and a predominately gray color in life,” he said. “Along comes this character who cuts right through all that like a very hot knife through butter, with his clothing and his cars and his wine and his women.

“Bond, you see, is a kind of present-day survival kit. Men would like to imitate him — or at least his success — and women are excited by him.”

The early movies spawned a whole industry of copycat spy films (like The Ipcress File and Our Man Flint) and television shows (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the spoof Get Smart) with intriguing international storylines.

Connery always resisted becoming a one-note actor and starred in a wide array of films, often playing a no-nonsense, man of action — like the tough, Irish cop who mentors Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness in The Untouchables (1987), directed by Brian De Palma. That role earned him his Oscar.

The handsome star also starred for Alfred Hitchcock in Marnie (1964) and for Sidney Lumet in the physically demanding The Hill (1965), The Anderson Tapes (1971), The Offence (1973), Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Family Business (1989).

He was memorable in sweeping adventure tales like John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King (1975), The Wind and the Lion (1975) and, as a famous archeologist’s father, in Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). And he portrayed the legend of Sherwood Forest opposite Audrey Hepburn in Richard Lester’s medieval romance Robin and Marian (1976).

Connery’s body of work also includes the bizarre Zardoz (1974), A Bridge Too Far (1977), Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (1981), Outland (1981) and The Hunt for Red October (1990).

More recently, he starred in Rising Sun (1993), Dragonheart (1996), The Rock (1996), The Avengers (1998), Entrapment (1999), Finding Forrester (2000) and, his final feature, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003).

Connery’s towering presence, and sometimes gruff manner, caused even the high-powered to tremble in his presence. He had a reputation as a man to be reckoned with, a quality readily apparent onscreen.

His offscreen passions were soccer, golf and, he joshed, “lawsuits.” His most famous dispute was a protracted contract-and-compensation battle with Bond producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli. He would hire his own team of accountants to review the books of most of his later movies.

Thomas Sean Connery was born on Aug. 25, 1930, the oldest of two boys of working-class parents in Edinburgh (his father drove a truck and worked in a rubber factory). He dropped out of school just shy of his 14th birthday and worked at a variety of odd jobs, including milkman, bricklayer and lifeguard.

Connery was drafted into the Royal Navy and assigned to an anti-aircraft squadron. Discharged after three years because of ulcers, he took a government grant to apprentice as a coffin polisher.

That didn’t last, and he was working as a “printers’ devil” at an Edinburgh newspaper when a friend tipped him that there was a chorus-line spot open in a touring company of South Pacific. The strapping 6-foot-2 Connery had no onstage experience but took two days’ worth of acting and singing lessons, learning a few tunes. He landed the job and performed in the musical for 18 months, at $35 a week.

Connery’s main interest up until then was bodybuilding and weightlifting, and he once modeled nude for an Edinburgh art gallery. In 1950, he competed in the Mr. Universe contest, finishing third.

To make up for his lack of schooling and professional training, Connery read voraciously and won small parts in provincial Shakespeare productions as well as in Restoration comedies. A big break came when he replaced Jack Palance in a live BBC version of Rod Serling’s Requiem for a Heavyweight in 1957.

The acclaim for Connery’s performance brought with it the opportunity to appear in a prestigious telefilm production of Anna Christie, and his first credited job as a film actor came when he played a gangster with a speech impediment in No Road Back, released in 1957.

Connery signed a contract with 20th Century Fox, but he often was loaned to other studios, performing in such fare as Another Time, Another Place (1958) opposite Lana Turner, Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959) and The Frightened City (1961).

In 1962, after playing a soldier in The Longest Day, Darryl F. Zanuck’s epic of the Normandy invasion, Connery asked for and was released from his contract.

Connery was interviewed by the American producers Broccoli and Saltzman after they noticed him “striding like a panther” past their office window. During the chat, they were impressed with his cocksure animal magnetism.

The actor was offered a $1 million, five-picture contract to play Bond.  Connery accepted, and the results were sensational: Soon after the low-budget, Jamaica-set Dr. No opened, Connery reportedly was receiving several thousand fan letters a week.

In the 1965 Playboy interview, Connery caused controversy by saying: “I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman — although I don’t recommend doing it in the same way that you hit a man. An open-handed slap is justified — if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning.”

Feminists were outraged, and he always claimed the quote was taken out of context. However, his Bond films were not damaged; in fact, they became more and more poipular..

In the early 1970s, Connery launched his own production company, Tantallon Films, and made The Offence, starring as a world-weary British detective.

At age 60, Connery was voted People’s Sexiest Man Alive in 1989.

A decade later, the magazine named him Sexiest Man of the Century.

More recently, he had radiation therapy for throat polyps, and news of his death was once greatly exaggerated. To discredit such rumors, Connery jet-packed onto David Letterman’s Late Show in 1993 to demonstrate that he was vigorous and healthy.

With the money he earned from Diamonds Are Forever, Connery founded an educational trust to aid underprivileged children in Scotland.

Survivors include his second wife, the French-born artist Micheline Roquebrune, whom he wed in 1975, and his son Jason, an actor and the director of the 2017 Scottish golf film Tommy’s Honour.