He was a Hollywood and pop culture icon for much of our lives. Whether he was portraying the cool, suave sophisticate James Bond, the swashbuckling Egyptian/Spaniard Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramírez, or the regality of a king (Arthur, Richard, or Agamemnon, take your pick), he brought a level of dignity to any film he appeared in-even the ones considered duds. Sir Sean Connery has died at age 90.
Born Thomas Sean Connery in 1930 into a working-class Scottish family in Edinburgh, he took to using his middle name after rapidly outgrowing his childhood nickname of ‘Tommy.’ Connery started living life early, working as a milkman in his mid-teens and losing his virginity well before joining the Royal Navy at age 16 where he trained as an anti-aircraft gunner and served on the HMS Formidable. By 18 he was 6’2″, muscular and athletic, even competing in an early 1950s Mr. Universe contest. His physicality served him well in a variety of jobs such as lifeguard, footballer, dancehall bouncer, or artist’s model. But it was his stint as a theater stagehand that ended up launching a lifelong career in acting when he joined the cast as a background muscleman sailor in a production of South Pacific, where he met a 21-year-old Michael Caine.
Various stage productions led to early roles on British television on ‘playhouse’ style series such as the BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, ITV Television Playhouse, and Armchair Theatre. He was introduced to US audiences in the summer of 1960 in Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People. But it was his casting as Ian Fleming’s James Bond that brought him to worldwide attention in 1962’s Dr. No. Initially, Fleming was reportedly unsure of casting the Scottish actor as his superspy but came around following the release of the film, even modifying the backstory of the secret agent to fit Connery’s background. Co-star Lois Maxwell states it was director Terence Young that tutored the working-class actor on the polish and poise that Bond would present; thus the line “Bond…James Bond” will forever be associated with Connery.
The actor appeared as Bond seven times over the years and famously quit the role twice, struggling with the concept of being typecast. In the 1970s, he indeed distinguished himself in films such as Murder on the Orient Express, The Wind and the Lion, The Man Who Would Be King, and A Bridge Too Far. The 70s were also famous for sci-fi misfires Meteor and Zardoz, which many people know only for the infamous imagery where his character Zed wore the red loincloth, thigh boots, and crisscrossed ammunition belts.
Connery enjoyed a mid-80s post-Bond resurgence as he aged into roles of mentors and father figures. He schooled Christopher Lambert as the Egyptian/Spaniard Ramirez, teaching him to conduct his swordsmanship with heart, faith, and steel in 1986’s Highlander. In The Name of the Rose, his portrayal of intellectual friar William von Baskerville taught young novice Christian Slater and challenged the religious status quo of the dark ages in that well-done adaptation of Umberto Eco’s novel. 1987’s The Untouchables had him educating Kevin Costner’s Elliot Ness in the Chicago way, a role for which he took home his only Oscar. The 1980s closed out with Connery becoming the literal father to another screen icon, in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The 1990s saw Connery continue to act in a mix of political thrillers, drama, and action films well into his 60s most of which were well received by audiences and critics; from the defecting Russian sub captain in The Hunt For Red October to the Michael Bay actioner The Rock, and even as the potential romantic counterpart to Catherine Zeta-Jones in 1999’s Entrapment. 1999 also was the year New Woman magazine dubbed him ‘Sexiest Man of the Century.’ His last major role was legendary adventurer Allan Quatermain in 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which largely disappointed audiences and critics alike and had a problematic production with Connery involved in a well-known behind the scenes feud with director Stephen Norrington. Following the film, Connery formally retired from acting at age 73.
Connery was knighted by The Queen in 2000, wearing a green-and-black tartan kilt of his mother’s MacLeod clan, the same clan from which his apprentice Connor MacLeod originated in the Highlander films. Since his retirement, he had been quietly enjoying life at his home in Nassau with his second wife Micheline Roquebrune, to whom he had been married since 1975. His autobiography, “Being a Scot,” co-written with Murray Grigor, was published in 2008. On October 31, 2020, son Jason Connery announced the death of his father, saying he died in his sleep overnight and that he had been “unwell for some time.”
Condolences and tributes have been pouring out online. Dame Shirley Bassey, who sang themes to three of his Bond films stated: “I’m incredibly saddened to hear of Sean’s passing. My thoughts are with his family. He was a wonderful person, a true gentleman and we will be forever connected by Bond.” Highlander co-star Clancy Brown tweeted: “Sir Sean was immortal before he played one. There WAS only one. Rest in peace. Acting with Sir Sean was a ball. Sincere condolences to Jason, the family, & Scotland.”
Christopher Lambert stated: “A legend has gone. Thank God he is immortal…from the bottom of my heart, I love your humanity, your simplicity, your talent; basically, what you are.”
In a released statement, Bond movie producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli said: “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.”
If you imbibe, a Vesper Martini seems fitting. As described by Bond himself in the original book: “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?” Yes, sir. And although there will undoubtedly be more James Bonds to come along, there will only be one Sean Connery.