Sean Connery, Actor And The Original James Bond, Dies At 90

Oct 31, 2020
Originally published on November 2, 2020 7:32 am

Sean Connery, the first actor to portray James Bond and later one of the biggest and wealthiest stars in the history of film, has died at age 90.

Eon Productions, the film studio behind the James Bond films, confirmed the death in a statement on its website.

"We are devastated by the news of the passing of Sean Connery," read the statement from producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. "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 revolutionised 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."

On screen, Connery brimmed with innate sexuality, topped off by a cool, insolent sense of menace. A Scotsman who could rock a kilt, he possessed cliffhanger eyebrows over piercing eyes.

As a struggling actor in 1962, he managed to change pop culture forever in the first scene of his first lead role, when he introduced himself in Dr. No: "Bond. James Bond."

Connery's trajectory, as Bond and otherwise, took off like a bullet from a Walther PPK. For many, his performance in the Bond role has never been bettered.

It was far from his origins. Born in 1930 to a cleaning woman and truck driver in depressed Edinburgh, he dropped out of school at age 13. He joined the Royal Navy. After he got out, he competed in the Mr. Universe bodybuilding competition.

In the 1980s, he told ABC's Barbara Walters that his life changed with a trip to London.

"What happened was: When I went to London for the Mr. Universe, one of the guys, he was in South Pacific and he said, 'Do you want to do a show?'" Connery said. "I said, 'Well, I'll have a go at that,' so I went along and auditioned."

He got the part and toured England with the show. By day, he went to local libraries. He studied Shakespeare, Ibsen, Brecht.

In spite of these efforts at refinement, Connery was not the first choice of Bond's creator. Author Ian Fleming wanted the suave British actor James Mason. But after the premiere for Dr. No, Fleming was so impressed he wrote Bond as half-Scottish in future books.

Connery made six Bond films in 10 years. But he felt constrained by Bond as time went on, and he pushed back by taking other roles.

The characters got older as he did. He won an Oscar for playing an Irish cop, Malone, in 1987's The Untouchables. In 1989, he played Indiana Jones' father, professor Henry Jones.

Sean Connery waves to the audience in receiving a lifetime achievement award from AFI in 2006.
Kevin Winter / Getty Images for AFI

He made his final Bond film in 1983, Never Say Never Again (though he did reprise the part to record a voiceover for the From Russia With Love video game in 2005).

On several occasions, Connery mirrored some of the misogyny exhibited by his character in the early Bond films — namely roughing up women. His first wife, Diane Cilento, said he hit her for being drunk. In a 1965 interview with Playboy magazine, he said, "I don't think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman — 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."

He repeated that thought to Barbara Walters in an interview on ABC in 1987. Then, in 2006, he canceled an interview in Scotland over worries he would be asked about his attitudes. Shortly after, the Scottish newspaper The Herald reported that Connery walked back his earlier remarks, saying he had told friends, "I don't believe that any level of abuse of women is ever justified under any circumstances."

Connery was Scottish to the core — he had the word Scotland tattooed on his arm. A member of the Scottish National Party, he ardently supported secession from Great Britain.

In 1999, he addressed hundreds of party activists before a vote. Despite that, the queen of England knighted him the next year.

Sir Sean Connery will be remembered many ways — as an old-fashioned male sex symbol, a financial patron of the arts and a beloved son of Edinburgh — and, of course, for his many roles.

A cult favorite comes in the film version of Rudyard Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King in which Connery stars alongside his real-life friend Michael Caine. When it all goes wrong, they're marched to the edge of a cliff.

As Connery's character prepares to meet his death, he remains defiant to the last moment. Still wearing his crown, he sings.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Connery has died - Sean Connery. The enduring 007 was 90 years old. With apologies to all others - Daniel Craig, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan - who followed, Sir Sean Connery was the actor who first embodied James Bond. He also memorably played an Irish poet, a Chicago cop, Robin Hood, Richard the Lionhearted, a Russian sub captain, many other roles.

Jacki Lyden has this remembrance of one of the biggest stars in the history of film.

JACKI LYDEN, BYLINE: He brimmed with innate sexuality, topped off by a cool, insolent sense of menace. A Scotsman who could rock a kilt, he possessed cliffhanger eyebrows over piercing eyes. As a struggling actor in 1962, it couldn't have been easy to change pop culture forever with his first lead role, but that's just what he did with this introduction in "Dr. No."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DR. NO")

EUNICE GAYSON: (As Sylvia Trench) Mr...

SEAN CONNERY: (As James Bond) Bond - James Bond.

LYDEN: Connery's Bond trajectory took off like a bullet from a Walther PPK. It was far from his origins. Born in 1930 to a cleaning woman and truck driver in depressed Edinburgh, he dropped out of school at age 13. He joined the Royal Navy. After he got out, he competed in the Mr. Universe competition. He told ABC's Barbara Walters that his life changed with a trip to London.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CONNERY: What happened was when I went to London for the Mr. Universe, one of the guys, he was in South Pacific and he said, do you want to do a show? I said, well, I'll have a go at that. So I went along and auditioned.

LYDEN: He got the part and toured England with the show and went to local libraries by day. He studied Shakespeare, Ibsen, Brecht. But despite these efforts at refinement, Connery wasn't the choice of Bond's creator, author Ian Fleming. Fleming wanted the suave British actor James Mason. But after the premiere for "Dr. No," Fleming was so impressed, he wrote Bond as half-Scottish in his future books. Connery made six Bond films in 10 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THUNDERBALL")

CONNERY: (As James Bond) Madame, I've come to offer my sincere condolences.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GOLDFINGER")

CONNERY: (As James Bond) Who are you?

HOBOR BLACKMAN: (As Pussy Galore) My name is Pussy Galore.

CONNERY: (As James Bond) I must be dreaming.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER")

LANA WOOD: (As Plenty O'Toole) Hi, I'm Plenty.

CONNERY: (As James Bond) But of course you are.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER")

DENISE PERRIER: (As Marie) Is there something I can do for you?

CONNERY: (As James Bond) Yes, as a matter of fact, there is. There's something I'd like you to get off your chest.

PERRIER: (As Marie) Oh.

LYDEN: But he felt constrained by Bond as time went on, and he pushed back with other roles. A cult favorite is the film version of Rudyard Kipling's, "The Man Who Would Be King." Connery plays Daniel Dravot. His co-star was his real-life friend, Michael Caine, who played Peachy Carnehan. When it all goes wrong, they're marched to the edge of a cliff.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING")

CONNERY: (As Daniel Dravot) Peachy, I'm heartily ashamed for getting you killed instead of going home rich like you deserve to, on account of me being so bleeding high and bloody mighty. Can you forgive me?

MICHAEL CAINE: (As Peachy Carnehan) That I can, and that I do, Danny, free and full and without let or hindrance.

CONNERY: (As Daniel Dravot) Everything's all right then.

LYDEN: As he grew older, so did his roles. He won an Oscar for playing an Irish cop, Malone, in 1987's "The Untouchables," who advises Kevin Costner's Eliot Ness on how to get Al Capone.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE UNTOUCHABLES")

CONNERY: (As Jim Malone) You want to get Capone? Here's how you get him. He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way. And that's how you get Capone.

LYDEN: In 1989, he played Indiana Jones' father, Professor Henry Jones.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE")

CONNERY: (As Henry Jones) That's his name, Henry Jones, Jr.

HARRISON FORD: (As Indiana Jones) I like Indiana.

CONNERY: (As Henry Jones) We named the dog Indiana.

LYDEN: He'd made his final Bond film in 1983, "Never Say Never Again" and a video game version of "From Russia With Love" in 2005. He was Scottish to the core. He had the word Scotland tattooed on his arm. A member of the Scottish National Party, he ardently supported Scottish secession from Britain. In 1999, he addressed hundreds of party activists before a vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CONNERY: We have waited nearly 300 years. My hope is that it will evolve with dignity and integrity and that it will truly reflect the new voice of Scotland.

LYDEN: Despite that, the Queen of England knighted him the next year. Sir Sean Connery will be remembered many ways - as an old-fashioned male sex symbol, a financial patron of the arts and a beloved son of Edinburgh. In "The Man Who Would Be King," as Connery's Daniel Dravot defiantly meets his death, still wearing his crown, he sings.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING")

CONNERY: (As Daniel Dravot) Twelve valiant saints, their hope they knew, and mocked the cross and flame.

LYDEN: For NPR News, I'm Jacki Lyden.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING")

CONNERY: (As Daniel Dravot) They met the tyrant's brandished steel, the lion's gory mane. He bowed his, his death to feel... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.