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Obituary: Sir Sean Connery

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Sir Sean Connery, the first and in the eyes of many, the best James Bond. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1930, Thomas Sean Connery came from humble beginnings. His father Joseph was a factory worker and his mother, Euphemia, was a cleaner.

Leaving school at age 13 with no qualifications, Connery worked as a coffin polisher, milkman and bricklayer before joining the Royal Navy aged 16, and later left the service three years later after being discharged with stomach ulcers. 

In an attempt to earn a living in any way he could, he worked as a truck driver, lifeguard and posed as a model at the Edinburgh College of Art. He was also a keen footballer and was offered a £25-a-week contract to play at Manchester United after catching the eye of Matt Busby. 

However, after working occasional shifts at the local theatre, Connery decided that a career as a footballer was too short so decided to pursue a career in acting instead. He later described this decision as “one of my more intelligent moves”.

After many appearances as a film extra along with some minor television roles, Connery received his first leading role in 1957 where he played the part of a boxer in the BBC drama Blood Money.

Sean Connery as James Bond and Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterson in Goldfinger (1964). Image: Raoul Luoar via Flickr. Licence here.

Then, along came James Bond.

The rights to take Ian Fleming’s novels to the silver screen had been acquired by producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and they were looking for an actor to play the role of the suave and attractive MI6 agent, 007. 

Dana, Broccoli’s wife, was the one to persuade her husband that it was Connery who was the man for the part. Initially, Ian Fleming wasn’t convinced and stated that he was “looking for Commander Bond and not an overgrown stuntman”. However, Fleming, of course, changed his mind after seeing Connery on screen.

Making the character his own, Connery portrayed a ruthless MI6 agent with sardonic wit and charisma. Critics originally were not keen, but the public most certainly was as the exotic locations, action scenes, and sex proved to be a successful formula.

The first Bond film, Dr. No (1962), was a great success at the box office and more outings for 007 rapidly followed – From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), and You Only Live Twice (1967).

The work was exhausting and occasionally dangerous, and by the time You Only Live Twice reached completion, Connery began to grow tired of Bond. George Lazenby then took over the role of the famous agent for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) after Connery turned it down.

However, Connery was later convinced to come back for another outing in Diamonds Are Forever (1971), after Broccoli and Saltzman met his demand for a $1.25 million fee. He then used this money to set up the Scottish International Education Trust, which works to support up-and-coming Scottish talent.

Sean Connery in Amsterdam for the filming of Diamonds Are Forever (1971). Image: Rob Mieremet via Wikimedia Commons. Licence here.

Other roles outside of Bond followed over the next decade, which mainly saw Connery in supporting roles, such as in Time Bandits (1981) and A Bridge Too Far (1977), where he was part of the ensemble cast.

Then along came Never Say Never Again (1983). Not counted in the official line-up of Bond films, due to not being created by Eon Productions, Connery accepted the role after losing a significant amount of money in a Spanish land deal. This time, Bond was an older and wiser hero but was still as tough and ruthless as ever.

He continued to play other roles and won a best actor Bafta in 1988 for his performance as William of Baskerville in The Name of the Rose (1986). That same year, his performance in The Untouchables (1987) won him an Oscar for best-supporting actor.

Some of Connery’s other roles included the part of Indiana Jones’ father in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, along with roles in the films The Russia House (1990), First Knight (1995), Entrapment (1999), and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003).

Connery was known for disliking the ‘Hollywood lifestyle’ and instead enjoyed playing golf at his homes in Portugal, Spain and the Caribbean. Current Bond, Daniel Craig, spoke on his death by recognising the ‘wit and charm he portrayed on screen’ and noted that he ‘defined an era and a style’ while mentioning Connery’s love for golf by saying ‘wherever he is, I hope there is a golf course’.

Sean Connery with wife Micheline Roquebrune in 1980. Image: Alan Light via Flickr. Licence here.

He married wife Micheline Roquebrune in 1975 after his previous marriage to actress Diane Cilento had ended in amongst allegations that he had been abusive towards her and had a series of affairs. Connery’s outdated and concerning views on women arguably made him a good fit for the old James Bond. Thankfully, the secret-agent has moved with the times, and newer outings don’t showcase the sexism prevalent in Connery’s era.

Although he lived abroad, Connery remained true to his Scottish roots and retained his whole-hearted passion for Scotland. His knighthood, awarded in 2000, was reportedly held up due to his support for Scottish independence by the then Labour government.

Loved by women and men alike, Connery was voted by People Magazine as the “Sexiest Man Alive” in 1989 and the “Sexiest Man of the Century” in 1999. He was later voted in a poll by The Sunday Herald as “The Greatest Living Scot” and in a Euromillions survey in 2011 as “Scotland’s Greatest Living National Treasure”.

So while Connery’s Bond is understandably dated, primarily due to its sexist portrayal of women, his performance as James Bond was of its time and is still enjoyed by millions today. Only recently, was he voted the “best ever James Bond” in a poll by the Radio Times in August. 

Connery, who leaves behind wife Micheline, son Jason, and stepchildren Oliver, Micha, and Stephane, will forever go down in history as the original, and to many, the best James Bond. Sir Connery will, therefore, live on in the hearts of fans for undoubtedly, many more years to come.

Cover image: Ross Care via Flickr. Licence here.

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