Sir Sean Connery
The man with the Midas touch
Mention the name James Bond to anyone. What do they think of? The humour of Sir Roger Moore? The danger of Timothy Dalton? Shaken Vodka Martinis? Quite possibly, but mostly they will think about a classic twangy guitar theme that one actor entered to with a voice as smooth as silk with a dark-eyed, dangerous charisma going unmatched nearly 60 years on.
This one actor launched a franchise that relied on him alone to transition a 1950s literature character onto the big screen for a whole new audience. With the immortal words “Bond, James Bond,” this man became the original face of Britain’s number one spy. That man was Sir Sean Connery
Sir Sean, the beloved actor who most famously played James Bond in six official films, has sadly passed away peacefully today, October 31st, 2020, at his home in the beautiful Bahamas after battling ill health shortly after turning 90 in August. It is my honour to write a short piece on the man we knew little of away from the silver screen but equally loved as much as he was on it.
Born in 1930 in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh to a cleaning lady and lorry driver with a peaceful, happy, and somewhat religious childhood, Thomas Sean Connery was known as “Sean” many years before the world knew him as that, thanks to an Irish friend of his called Séamus who chose to call the strapping Scot by his middle name. And in 1938, he became a big brother to Neil, who also became an actor (now retired).
Aged 14, he took his first job as a milkman for the St. Cuthbert’s Co-operative Society. During those grafting days, Sean also began bodybuilding but gave it up competitively when he knew his lack of sheer muscle would hinder him. Following that, he joined the Royal Navy. It was there he obtained two tattoos on either forearm (hidden rather badly in his early 007 movies), one for his parents and one for his love of Scotland. Sadly, this was a short-lived career move when he was discharged on medical grounds.
Now 23, Sean returned to Edinburgh and took on a number of other jobs here and there to earn money such a lifeguard, a male model and coffin polisher. He also took up playing football for Bonnyrigg Rose, a small club in Midlothian, where he attracted the attention of one Matt Busby, the then manager of Manchester United. It all came down to a contract Busby offered Sean for £25 a week. Thinking with his head, not his heart, the young Scot didn’t sign on the basis he didn’t want to retire young. He carried on earning money with a job backstage at the local King’s Theatre which introduced him to the stage.
Whilst bodybuilding in London, he bagged a role as a chorus boy in ‘South Pacific’, and toured with the cast, working his way to the role of Marine Corporal Hamilton Steeves. As the production ran through the early 50s, it was there Sean met and became friends with Michael Caine, and continued to develop his love of theatre and acting, as well as exploring his sexual prowess with numerous flings here and there! The natural progression from theatre was small television roles, such as ‘Dixon Of Dock Green’ and ‘Sailor Of Fortune’. It wasn’t until 1957 that Sean signed himself an agent to expand into the world of film. His first major international role was as singing Irishman Michael McBride in 1959s ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’, a Walt Disney production. He gained attention over his veteran co-stars thanks to being a young, tall, and handsome fresh-faced 29-year-old rising star.
In 1961, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were working to bring Ian Fleming’s 50s literature character to life, the fictional secret agent James Bond who was an MI6 00-agent, meaning he had a licence to kill. After numerous screen tests, the role went to Sean who, while not immediately impressing Albert or Harry, won over Albert’s wife Dana who knew this tall, handsome, charming man would be one women wanted to bed and men wanted to be. Dr.No was released worldwide in October 1962, and Sean Connery became an instant household – and global – name. He also married his first wife, Diane Cilento, and would have a son with her, Jason.
Over the course of nearly 9 years, Sean would play 007 in five more films for Broccoli and Saltzman and cement his status as the original, and many say best, James Bond with iconic co-stars, characters, and adventures to his name. The combination of Sean’s undeniable masculinity, his cool attitude under pressure, and his sexual charisma created a hero like no other. From Russia With Love through to You Only Live Twice took 007 on dangerous, exotic adventures with Sean creating an unmistakable and unmatched cinematic icon.
During his tenure as 007, Sean continued to act in various other films such as the acclaimed wartime drama The Hill and Alfred Hitchcock thriller Marnie, proving his talent as an actor was not to be defined by a dinner jacket and licence to kill. It was only when the pressures of being such an internationally famous star took its toll during the filming of 1967s You Only Live Twice with great invasion of his own privacy, that Sean decided to call it quits on 007.
When he hung up his Walther PPK for good in 1971 following Diamonds Are Forever, Sean continued to act through the 1970s in films far removed from his James Bond days, such as Murder On The Orient Express, The Man Who Would Be King and The Offence. During this time, his marriage to Diane sadly dissolved in 1973, but he found love again with second, and current, wife Micheline Roquebrune.
Through the 1980s, Sean continued to act in both large and small scale films to flex his talents across genres as the satire Wrong Is Right, the fantasy Highlander and the medieval thriller The Name Of The Rose. While not all major hits, nothing could be said about Sean’s passion for his varied roles and his dominating screen presence. He also returned to the role of James Bond (unofficially) in Never Say Never Again, a non-EON produced adaptation of Ian Fleming’s ‘Thunderball’ story, with a fresh twist and modern take. Sean ended up against good friend Sir Roger Moore’s 007 in 1983’s Octopussy at the box-office.
The 1990s introduced Sean to a new generation of fans thanks to his Oscar-winning turn as Malone in 1987s The Untouchables and playing the father of Indiana Jones opposite Harrison Ford in the beloved Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. This, along with his unique and unwavering Scottish growl, gave rise to a new mature actor, playing charming, tough-talking men ready for action and adventure in acclaimed films like The Hunt For Red October, Medicine Man, and The Rock. Working alongside new faces in Hollywood proved his continued power in the industry, and he even began executive producing films.
His no-nonsense way of talking, his evident passion for his homeland (and politics), and his devilishly handsome appearance as an action star now in his sixties was nothing but cinema magic for fans old and new. Sean continued acting into the early 2000s in films such as Entrapment, the acclaimed Finding Forrester, and the comic-book adaptation The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which would be his final ever on-screen acting credit. He was so adamant not to continue with the mainstream Hollywood machine that he famously declined major roles such as Gandalf in ‘The Lord Of The Rings’. Off-screen at that time he was even under investigation by the Spanish authorities after they suspected him of tax-evasion after selling his home in 1999 – but rest assured he was cleared of all charges!
After receiving a knighthood from the Queen in 2000, lending his voice to the 2005 video game ‘James Bond 007: From Russia With Love’ and receiving the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006, Sir Sean decided it was time to retire in 2006. It was time to finally step back from the industry and spend time with his family. However, he still lent his voice and production knowledge to the small Scottish independent animation comedy Sir Billi in 2012.
Spending retirement away from the public eye, but never away from supporting the likes of Scottish tennis, Sir Sean deserved his privacy away from the media glare he had attracted for over 40 years. With blockbusters and iconic characters in every decade, every genre, and for every generation, there are few on the planet who won’t have a role that Sir Sean played that doesn’t mean the world to them, and will continue to do so for whatever reason. It was also testament to his talent and respect as an actor that he never once sacrificed his unmistakable accent for a role. Not even if playing a Moroccan Sharif, an Irish-American cop, an English King or outlaw, an Egyptian immortal, a Russian nuclear submarine captain, or an American cowboy.
If you have yet to see some of the lesser hits that Sir Sean has starred in, I personally recommend a look at the following:
- ‘The Hill’ (1965) Dir. Sidney Lumet
- ‘Shalako’ (1968) Dir. Edward Dmytryk
- ‘Robin & Marian’ (1976) Dir. Richard Lester
- ‘Cuba’ (1979) Dir. Richard Lester
- ‘The Name Of The Rose’ (1986) Dir. Jean-Jacques Annaud
- ‘Rising Sun’ (1993) Dir. Philip Kaufman
Thank you, Sir Sean. Thank you for not signing that football contract.
Sir Thomas Sean Connery
1930 – 2020