Sean Connery, 1930-2020

The iconic actor best known as the original movie James Bond is dead at 90.

BBC (“Sean Connery: James Bond actor dies aged 90“):

Sir Sean Connery has died at the age of 90, his family has said.

The Scottish actor was best known for his portrayal of James Bond, being the first to bring the role to the big screen and appearing in seven of the spy thrillers.

Sir Sean died peacefully in his sleep, while in the Bahamas, having been “unwell for some time”, his son said.

His acting career spanned decades and won an Oscar in 1988 for his role as an Irish cop in The Untouchables.

Sir Sean’s other films included The Hunt for Red October, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Rock.

Jason Connery said his father “had many of his family who could be in the Bahamas around him” when he died overnight.

He said: “We are all working at understanding this huge event as it only happened so recently, even though my dad has been unwell for some time.

“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.”

Sir Sean was largely regarded as being the best actor to have played 007 in the long-running franchise, often being named as such in polls.

He was knighted by the Queen at Holyrood Palace in 2000. In August, he celebrated his 90th birthday.

BBC runs a separate obituary with this iconic photo:

For many, Sean Connery was the definitive James Bond. Suave and cold-hearted, his 007 was every inch the Cold War dinosaur of the books.

He strode across screen, licensed to kill. He moved like a panther, hungry and in search of prey. There was no contest. His great rival, Roger Moore, by contrast, simply cocked an eyebrow, smiled and did a quip.

But whereas Ian Fleming’s hero went to Eton, Connery’s own background was noticeably short of fast cars, beautiful women and vodka Martinis – either shaken or stirred.

Thomas Sean Connery was born in the Fountainbridge area of Edinburgh on 25 August 1930, the son of a Catholic factory worker and a Protestant domestic cleaner.

His father’s family had emigrated from Ireland in the 19th Century; his mother traced her line back to Gaelic speakers from the Isle of Skye.

The area had been in decline for years. Young Tommy Connery was brought up in one room of a tenement with a shared toilet and no hot water.

He left school at 13 with no qualifications and delivered milk, polished coffins and laid bricks, before joining the Royal Navy. Three years later, he was invalided out of the service with stomach ulcers. His arms by now had tattoos which proclaimed his passions: “Scotland forever” and “Mum & Dad”.

In Edinburgh, he gained a reputation as “hard man” when six gang members tried to steal from his coat. When he stopped them, he was followed. Connery launched a one-man assault which the future Bond won hands down.

He scraped a living any way he could. He drove trucks, worked as a lifeguard and posed as a model at the Edinburgh College of Art. He spent his spare time bodybuilding.

[…]

In 1953, he was in London competing in the Mr Universe competition. He heard that there were parts going in the chorus of a production of the musical South Pacific. By the following year, he was playing the role of Lieutenant Buzz Adams, made famous on Broadway by Larry Hagman.

American actor Robert Henderson encouraged Connery to educate himself. Henderson lent him works by Ibsen, Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw, and persuaded Connery to take elocution lessons.

Connery made the first of many appearances as a film extra in the 1954 movie Lilacs in the Spring. There were minor roles on television too, including a gangster in an episode of the BBC police drama Dixon of Dock Green.

There’s a whole lot more there, but most of you are familiar with the later part of the story.

The New York Times begins its obit (“Sean Connery, Who Embodied James Bond and More, Dies at 90“) thusly:

Sean Connery, the irascible Scot from the slums of Edinburgh who found international fame as Hollywood’s original James Bond, dismayed his fans by walking away from the Bond franchise and went on to have a long and fruitful career as a respected actor and an always bankable star, died on Saturday. He was 90.

His death was confirmed by Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, on Twitter. “Our nation today mourns one of her best loved sons,” she wrote.

“Bond, James Bond” was the character’s familiar self-introduction, and to legions of fans who have watched a parade of actors play the role — otherwise known as Agent 007 on Her Majesty’s Secret Service — none uttered the words or played the part as magnetically or as indelibly as Mr. Connery.

Tall, dark and dashing, he embodied the novelist Ian Fleming’s suave and resourceful secret agent in the first five Bond films and seven over all, vanquishing diabolical villains and voluptuous women alike beginning with “Dr. No” in 1962.

As a more violent, moody and dangerous man than the James Bond in Fleming’ books, Mr. Connery was the top box-office star in both Britain and the United States in 1965 after the success of “From Russia With Love” (1964), “Goldfinger” (1964) and “Thunderball” (1965). But he grew tired of playing Bond after the fifth film in the series, “You Only Live Twice” (1967), and was replaced by George Lazenby, a little-known Australian actor and model, in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969).

Variety (“Sean Connery, Oscar Winner and James Bond Star, Dies at 90“) weighs in with:

Sean Connery, the Scottish-born actor who rocketed to fame as James Bond and became one of the franchise’s 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 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. It’s believed he had been unwell for some time. His last acting role had been in Stephen Norrington’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentleman” (2003).

Connery was an audience favorite for more than 40 years and one of the screen’s most reliable and distinctive leading men. The actor was recently voted the best James Bond actor in an August Radio Times poll in the U.K. More than 14,000 voted and Connery claimed 56% of the vote.

As I’ve noted before, I think Daniel Craig, who has actually played Bond longer than Connery, has long since surpassed him in the role. But it’s really an unfair comparison.

The early Bond films, save “Thunderball,” are virtually unwatchable today. The plotlines and sequencing are positively plodding. And the hero’s casual misogyny, including slapping women around, is just painful.

Still, Connery’s version was perfect for the time and quite faithful to the Fleming novels. Craig’s Bond is simply more modern and the film-making is just so much better than it was more than half a century ago.

In hindsight, there’s something charming about the Bahamas as a swanky destination only the rich and powerful could afford or brands like Stoli and Gordon’s being ultra-premium signs of upper crust sophistication.

Connery the man is almost certainly more of a sheer badass. While he could be full of himself, sometimes thinking that he was James Bond, not simply an actor who played him. Still, his addition to the Indiana Jones films was sheer genius—the audience roared when he was first revealed as the protagonist’s father. And he was quite good in films like “The Rock.”

FILED UNDER: Obituaries, Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. SC_Birdflyte says:

    The line for which I will always remember him: “Isn’t that just like a wop, bringing a knife to a gunfight.” With apologies to all those of Italian ancestry . . .

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  2. grumpy realist says:

    R.I.P. I remember watching him in The Hunt For Red October. If you know Russian, your ears will cringe at his pronunciation.

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  3. I think his line I quote the most is “I wrote it down so I wouldn’t have to remember”.

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  4. CSK says:

    If I could slightly alter a line from a song from one of the Roger Moore films and apply it to Connery:
    “Nobody did it better…”

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  5. Bill says:

    James, James, James,

    The early JB films are unwatchable and filmmaking is better today. Have you tried sitting through Moonraker, Die Another Day, or Spectre lately? All three prime exhibits of really bad filmmaking. The Man with the Golden Gun, Live and Let Die, and Diamonds are Forever aren’t alot better.

    The production values of early James Bond films were generally excellent because Academy Award winners like set designer Sir Ken Adam and Cinematographer Ted Moore who worked on most of Connery’s JB entries. When Moore didn’t, who did? Cinematography Legend (Lawrence of Arabia, Dr Zhivago) Freddie Young did You Only Live Twice. Stunt work was excellent. Today’s CGI where people walk up walls or jump from speeding moving vehicle to other speeding vehicle (See Angelina Jolie’s Salt) make me want to laugh or throw up or both.

    Oops how can I forget the music of Sir John Barry too.

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  6. Bill says:

    The first movie I took my future wife to, was Sean Connery in The Presidio. One of Connery’s lesser efforts. RIP Sir Sean.

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  7. James Joyner says:

    @Bill:

    Have you tried sitting through Moonraker, Die Another Day, or Spectre lately? All three prime exhibits of really bad filmmaking. The Man with the Golden Gun, Live and Let Die, and Diamonds are Forever aren’t alot better.

    Moonraker was terrible. Most of the others were forgettable. Moore was the Bond of my youth and he was a good actor but the films were generally campy.

    Casino Royale and Skyfall, in particular, were really good films under Craig. But really all of those films are solid.

    The production values of early James Bond films were generally excellent because Academy Award winners like set designer Sir Ken Adam and Cinematographer Ted Moore who worked on most of Connery’s JB entries.

    I’m sure they were very talented at their craft by the standards of the day. The problem is that there were long scenes where nothing happened. We’d literally watch Connery drive a car just to get to the next scene for what seemed like minutes at a stretch.

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  8. grumpy realist says:

    Here’s a link to a collection of photos all across Connery’s career.

    Damn. That man was smokin’ HOT. Take a look at the shot from Goldfinger. How does he DO that?

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  9. Bill says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m sure they were very talented at their craft by the standards of the day. The problem is that there were long scenes where nothing happened. We’d literally watch Connery drive a car just to get to the next scene for what seemed like minutes at a stretch.

    James, that’s an exaggeration. I could give a thorough run down to prove it too (or that you are misinterpreting), because I own all the films through Amazon Prime. We’ll take one example. A one minute and about two to five second scene in Dr. No of JB leaving the airport for govt house in Jamaica by car. Bond is being followed, so he tells his driver to speed up. They successfully get away from their followers and at the end of the scene JB is pointing his gun at his driver.

    In SPECTRE we get a scene of JB in a boat pursuing Blofeld in a helicopter at high speed and shooting him down just with his handgun. This comes after an earlier scene where JB sets off a cataclysmic explosion aka shooting out some pump with his weapon.

    CGI and stupid action scenes are what we get today. FAR too often.

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  10. Teve says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m sure they were very talented at their craft by the standards of the day. The problem is that there were long scenes where nothing happened.

    okay, so—I actually like this. It grounds the film in reality. On the other hand, a Michael Bay movie, where Nick Cage jumps a Ferrari over a helicopter that’s dodging SAM missiles and a pleather-clad woman is doing kung fu at the top of the Space Needle and then she does a backflip onto the SR-71…15 minutes of that and my brain’s just numb.

    One of the best chase scenes ever is in The Third Man. Joseph Cotten and somebody, one’s chasing the other through a tunnel in Paris and after about a minute of running, they both have to stop and lean against something and pant for a few seconds, they’re so winded. When it happens you can feel it because you’ve been out of breath like that. You can’t feel doing a backflip over a helicopter.

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  11. Teve says:

    @grumpy realist: he was born to be a big good-looking man. But uncouth. Terence Young taught him how to walk, talk, wear suits, and order wine.

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  12. Mu Yixiao says:

    If you haven’t seen Finding Forrester, I highly recommend it–if for no other reason than to hear Sean Connery say “Who da man now, dawg?”

    But it really is an excellent movie with some high-powered acting all around.

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  13. Roger says:

    I grew up watching Sean Connery movies and loving them (he will always be the only true 007 to me, and he didn’t get near enough love for The Man Who Would Be King), but the first picture that popped into my head when I heard he died was of Darrell Hammond playing him on SNL’s Celebrity Jeopardy. Fame is fleeting.

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  14. Gustopher says:

    American actor Robert Henderson encouraged Connery to educate himself.

    Oof. Props to the BBC obituary writer who was looking for a way to say “Sean Connery was a stupid git”.

    He was my second favorite James Bond, and appeared in many many movies where he did a reasonably adequate job. His performances will continue to bring joy and befuddlement to people for years to come.

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  15. Gustopher says:

    @Bill:

    The early JB films are unwatchable and filmmaking is better today. Have you tried sitting through Moonraker, Die Another Day, or Spectre lately? All three prime exhibits of really bad filmmaking.

    Moonraker remains my favorite Bond movie. All of the movies are dumb and campy, and Moonraker leans into it.

    My friends and I, back in the Before Times, were watching a Bond movie a week, and it was only when we got to the Daniel Craig movies that it felt like a chore. They may be more competently executed, but only Skyfall has any sense of fun.

    I do wish they had cast Roger Moore or Sean Connery as the villain in Skyfall. Or really any of the previous actors.

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  16. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher:

    Props to the BBC obituary writer who was looking for a way to say “Sean Connery was a stupid git”.

    I don’t think that’s fair, really. A working-class Scottsman of his generation simply wasn’t going to be educated or be able to navigate the appropriate social circles for the things he aspired to. Clearly, Henderson saw Connery as a man with talents who could rise above his class through self-education.

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  17. Bill says:

    @Gustopher:

    My friends and I, back in the Before Times, were watching a Bond movie a week, and it was only when we got to the Daniel Craig movies that it felt like a chore. They may be more competently executed, but only Skyfall has any sense of fun.

    One of Spectre’s many problems, is it lack of witty or memorable lines the Bond films are known for. Other than Q telling JB he has a mortgage and two cats to feed, I can’t remember anything of note.

    Skyfall on the other hand had

    “Take the bloody shot”
    “Mommy has been very bad”
    “Welcome to Scotland”

    Moonraker did better for memorable lines than Spectre.

    Gustopher, one last thing before I sign off

    “May I interest you in a cucumber sandwich?”

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  18. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner: I’m sure Henderson was a lovely man helping a friend.

    I strongly suspect that the BBC Obituary writer looks down on the working class and maybe the Scots. But he got a pretty good line in there. (And a pretty vile line, when you consider that “educate himself” means learn proper English literature and try to cut that damnable Scottish accent)

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  19. JohnSF says:

    @Gustopher:
    Ah, on class and accent, you’re mistaken.
    A thick Glaswegian accent would be looked down on; but Edinburgh accents are a different matter.
    The English upper class tend to disdain English urban working class accents (Brummy, Scouse, Cockney, Geordie, etc) but Celtic accents rather less; and the Edinburgh accent is a special case, as the second Capital of the Kingdom.

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  20. grumpy realist says:

    @Gustopher: You have to remember how class-ridden England was (and still is to some extent.) Connery was given the local “education” normally provided to a working-class lout. He was supposed to be a punk/work in the coal mines/whatever.

    (I remember a brilliant post-doc from Edinburgh working in my father’s lab who never even bothered to look for a faculty position in England. He knew he wouldn’t get it. Purely because of his accent and background.)

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