Sean Connery, the Scottish-born actor who rocketed to fame as James Bond and became one of the movies’ most popular and enduring international stars, has died. He was 90.
Connery, long regarded as one of the best actors to have portrayed the iconic spy, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000 and marked his 90th birthday only in August. His death was confirmed by his family, according to the BBC, which notes that the actor died in his sleep while in the Bahamas. He had been unwell for some time.
Connery was an audience favourite for more than 40 years and one of the screen’s most reliable and distinctive leading men. Once pigeonholed as Ian Fleming’s sexy Agent 007, he went on to distinguish himself with a long and mature career in such films as “The Wind and the Lion,” “The Man Who Would Be King” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”
His turn as a tough Irish cop in Depression-era Chicago in Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables” (1987) brought him a supporting actor Oscar.
Even as he entered his seventh decade, Connery’s star power remained so strong that he was constantly in demand and handsomely remunerated. In 1999 he was selected People magazine’s Sexiest Man of the Century, and from his 007 days to “Entrapment” (1999), opposite the much-younger Catherine Zeta-Jones, his screen roles more than justified the choice. Age seemed only to intensify his sex appeal and virility.
In his early career, his physique was his main asset as he modelled and picked up acting jobs where he could. In 1956, he landed the role of a battered prizefighter in the BBC production of “Requiem for a Heavyweight.” Good notices brought him to the attention of the entertainment community, and his first film was “No Road Back,” a B crime movie in 1956. He seemed doomed to play the hunk to ageing leading ladies, as he did opposite Lana Turner in “Another Time, Another Place,” or roles that stressed his looks such as “Tarzan’s Great Adventure” in 1959.
It was easy to dismiss him in films like “Darby O’Gill and the Little People,” but his Count Vronsky to Claire Bloom’s Anna Karenina on the BBC brought him some respect and the kind of attention needed to raise him to the top of the Daily Express’ poll of readers asked to suggest the ideal James Bond.
After an interview with producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, he landed the role without a screen test, according to Saltzman. It was a controversial choice at the time, as Connery was an unknown outside Britain. But 1962’s “Dr. No,” the first of the Bond films, made him an international star.
His stature grew with the ever more popular sequels “From Russia With Love,” “Goldfinger” and “Thunderball,” which arrived over the next four years. Bond gave Connery a license to earn; he was paid only $30,000 for “Dr. No” but $400,000 for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Marnie” and was soon getting $750,000 a film.
His initial efforts to break out of the Bond mould, however, proved fruitless. Films like “A Fine Madness,” “Shalako” and “The Molly Maguires” were well-intentioned attempts that did nothing to shake Connery as Bond from the public consciousness. After 1967’s “You Only Live Twice,” he left the Bond franchise, but he was coaxed back for 1971’s “Diamonds Are Forever.” He looked old for the role, and the series seemed tired, so with that, he left Bond behind — though money would tempt him back once last time in 1983 for “Never Say Never Again.”
Thomas Sean Connery was born of Irish ancestry in the slums of Edinburgh. Poverty robbed him of an education, and by his teens he’d left school and was working as an unskilled labourer.
At 17, he was drafted into the Royal Navy, but he was discharged three years later due to a serious case of ulcers.
He returned to Edinburgh and worked a variety of jobs, including as a lifeguard. He took up bodybuilding and placed third in the 1950 Mr. Universe competition.
After moving to London, he learned of an opening in the chorus of “South Pacific.” He took a crash dancing and singing course and, surprisingly, landed the role, in which he stayed for 18 months. He was “hooked,” he said, but spent several years paying his dues in small repertory companies in and around London before anyone else became hooked on him.
Connery was devoted to his native Scotland and used his stature to press for the re-establishment of a Scottish parliament. When the body reconvened in 1999, 296 years after its last meeting, Connery was invited to address the first session, where he was greeted with a thunderous ovation. The next year, when he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II — an honor he called “one of the proudest days of my life” — he asked that the investiture be performed in Edinburgh.
Connery published his autobiography, “Being a Scot,” co-written with Murray Grigor, in 2008. Besides his knighthood and his Academy Award, he received many kudos over his long career, including the Kennedy Center Honors in 1999 and the American Film Institute’s lifetime achievement award in 2006.
Connery was married to actress Diane Cilento from 1962-73. The couple divorced in 1973 and Cilento died in 2011. Connery is survived by his second wife, painter Micheline Roquebrune, whom he married in 1975; his son by Cilento, actor Jason Connery; and a grandson from Jason’s marriage to actress Mia Sara.