Sean Connery as James Bond
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Sean Connery, legendary James Bond actor, dies at 90

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Nov 1, 2020, 10:26 PM EST (Updated)

Sean Connery, the Oscar-winning Scottish actor most famously known for his steely iconic portrayal of British superspy James Bond over two decades, has died. He was 90 years old.

According to his son, Jason, and confirmed by the BBC, Connery died peacefully in his sleep in the Bahamas, surrounded by family.

"A sad day for all who knew and loved my dad and a sad loss for all people around the world who enjoyed the wonderful gift he had as an actor," his son, Jason, said per the BBC.

Born Thomas Sean Connery in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Aug. 25, 1930, Connery scored widespread fame at the age of 32 when he was cast as British Secret Service Agent 007: James Bond, based on the character from Ian Fleming’s pulpy spy novels. He played Bond in the franchise's big-screen debut, Dr. No (1962), as well as five more times — From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), and Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

Connery’s portrayal of Bond would forever define and idealize the image of the British spy. On the screen, he was intelligent yet brawny, suave and sophisticated and the living embodiment of cool. Equally proficient with both his fists and a Walther PPK or Beretta 418, Connery, the Aston Martin, and the tuxedo became the iconic image of MI6 and the British spy, as was the introductory line, “Bond. James Bond.”

There would be others to play Bond, but Connery is arguably the best, and will always be the first. He would be lured to play Bond one last time in 2005, voicing 007 for the console video game From Russia With Love, based on the film of the same name. The Bond franchise has made over $7 billion to date, and its popularity was inarguably cemented by Connery’s performances.

The actor would go on to strike out a lucrative career beyond his superspy alter ego, eventually winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his doomed turn as Jim Malone in the 1987 gangster epic The Untouchables

A modest start

Bond would not be Connery’s first role. In 1951, he began work as a stagehand in the historic King’s Theatre in Edinburgh, and his interest grew from there. In 1954, Connery landed his first role: as an extra in the musical Lilacs in the Spring. He played bit roles for years until he took his first lead part in Another Time, Another Place (1958) and another featured role in the 1959 Disney fantasy Darby O’Gill and the Little People. Connery began to build a reputation for being a tough guy after reported run-ins with gangsters — for a variety of reasons — who would confront him on set, only to disarm them with his fists.

Genre fans will long remember him for playing King Agamemnon in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (1981), the futuristic Io moon police marshal in Outland (1981), Highlander (1986), and Highlander II: Renegade Version (1991), the villainous Sir August de Wynter in The Avengers (1998), the voice of Draco in Dragonheart (1996), and as Indiana Jones’ father in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), in which he reinvented himself as the cantankerous senior.

Genre gems

Some of Connery’s lesser-known but equally memorable roles are ones that science fiction die-hards have adored. Take the 1974 film Zardoz, which is set in Ireland in 2293, where society has been separated into immortals and barbarians. Connery played a barbarian who teaches himself to read and eventually evolves intellectually. Zardoz is so strange and surreal, deep-thinking, ludicrous, bizarre, yet campy, and Connery was at his best despite the absurdity. He reportedly made $200,000 for the role, a fifth of the entire film’s $1 million budget. Plus, it gave us this incredible look for Connery:

Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

If you’re old enough, you may recall a disaster film called Meteor (1979), about the Earth becoming a bowling pin during the Cold War. Connery led an all-star cast as a retired specialist to help solve the crisis. The movie was not without its flaws, but today can be appreciated for its influence on Armageddon and Deep Impact, and Connery’s memorable line “Why don’t you stick a broomstick up my ass? I could sweep the carpet on my way out” — uttered in response to the pressure his character was under.

And if you can make it through Zardoz and Meteor, track down Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

The actor was often connected to Robin Hood, starring in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) as King Richard and in Robin and Marian (1976) as an aging Robin Hood who comes home from the Crusades and tries to woo Maid Marian (played by Audrey Hepburn) one last time. He almost reprised his role as King Richard in Mel Brooks’ comedy Robin Hood: Men in Tights, but passed on the role because the salary was reportedly too low.

Photo by Pictoral Press Ltd. / Alamy Stock Photo

 

Fertile collaborations

Connery was always lured by the chance to work with a rich range of writers and directors. He formed a strong working relationship with writer-director-producer Michael Crichton, which began with a film Crichton directed based on his crime novel The Great Train Robbery (1978) and stretched all the way to 1993's Rising Sun, based on Crichton's eponymous bestseller.

Working with Alfred Hitchcock on the 1967 film Marnie will always be among Connery's career highlights. Hitchcock adored him so much that he considered working with the Scot again for The Birds, Topaz, and other film projects, but passed away before he was able to make them.

Other career highlights included starring in Sidney Lumet’s The Offence (1973), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), A Bridge Too Far (1977), Der Name der Rose (1986) The Hunt For Red October (1990), and The Rock (1996).

A curiosity behind the camera took Connery to the director’s chair, on a documentary called The Bowler and the Bunnet (1967), which looked at how one Scottish shipyard’s unique methods in strengthening the relationship between management and their workers. It would be the only film that he would direct, but he did serve as a producer on many of his films through the 1990s-2000s.

Connery’s long and storied career was not without its regrets. Any star of his magnitude could not avoid missed opportunities, but Connery’s list features films that went to become significant touchstones. We could have seen Connery as Thomas Crown in The Thomas Crown Affair, Simon Gruber in Die Hard with a Vengeance, Deckard in Blade Runner, John Hammond in Jurassic Park, Inspector Fred Abberline in From Hell, Frank Horrigan in In the Line of Fire, Ed Lewis in Pretty Woman, and Sybok in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

He candidly admitted to passing on an incredible payday with two roles — Gandalf the Grey in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Ring trilogy, and Morpheus (or the Architect) in The Matrix trilogy — because he didn’t understand the scripts. Fearing he’d pass up another gold mine, the next script that he didn’t understand and took was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, based on Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's graphic novel in 2003; it failed to light up the box office.

Paramount Pictures

The rough and gruff actor made controversial statements about the treatment of women, first in Playboy Magazine in 1965, when asked what he thought about James Bond roughing up women in the films. “I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman,” he said. “Although I don't recommend doing it in the same way that you'd hit a man. An openhanded slap is justified — if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning. If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I’d do it.” In 1987, in an on-camera interview with Barbara Walters, Connery once again explained his stance on open-handed slapping a woman

He first married with Australian actress Diane Cilento in 1962 and they had their son, Jason, the following year. The marriage ended
acrimoniously in 1973 after allegations of domestic abuse became public in Cilento's autobiography in 2006. 

Oscar gold

Although his most iconic role was that of James Bond, it never actually nabbed him a single Oscar nomination. That distinction would go to his performance as Jim Malone in The Untouchables, which won him both an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. Connery was eventually given the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 1996 Golden Globes.

In July 2000, at the age of 69, Connery was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, two years after he was denied knighthood because of his passionate devotion to the Scottish National Party. Connery retired from acting in 2012 — in his last role, he lent his voice to the animated film Sir Billi, in which he played a retired Scottish veterinarian.

Connery is survived by his second wife Micheline Roquebrune, son Jason and stepchildren Oliver, Micha and Stephane. We raise a martini glass in Connery’s honor — shaken of course, not stirred.

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