Carl unpacks the career of the late great Sean Connery
The terms ‘Legend’ and ‘legendary’ are banded around these days so loosely and without abandon that when someone who truly deserves such a moniker passes away, it is sometimes not appreciated what they have contributed to the legacy of cinema. But when it comes to Sir Sean Connery, the moniker is extremely fitting without ever coming close to being a tribute to the man. We have sadly come to hear that the great Scottish actor, the man who first brought the character of James Bond to our screens and is considered to be the best incarnation of Ian Fleming’s super-spy, due to being the first actor to play him on the big screen and a true original, has died at the age of 90 after a long illness. He died in his sleep, surrounded by his family in the Bahamas, a peaceful end to such an icon of the silver screen. It is being reported that the actor was living with Dementia and it has been quoted that the dreadful condition took its toll on him. His wife, Michelline confirmed that the actor ‘got his final wish and slipped away without any fuss’.
Thomas Sean Connery was born on August 25th, 1930, the son of a factory worker/lorry driver and a cleaning woman. His first job was as a milkman after leaving school at the age of 13 before he decided to join the Royal Navy at age 16. It was here he gained his two tattoos, one that read ‘Mum and Dad’ and the other one that would show throughout his life, his affinity with his home country ‘Scotland Forever’. Other jobs that he held once he left the navy included a lorry driver, a lifeguard, a laborer, an artist’s model, and strangely, a coffin polisher. He decided to become a bodybuilder at the age of 18 and placed third in the 1950 Mr. Universe contest but decided to give up on the sport after he discovered that he was frequently being beaten and overlooked in favor of the American competitors.
He became disillusioned due to the Americans sheer size and their refusal to participate in activities that would reduce muscle mass. Connery was also into playing football, being a supporter of the top Scottish side Rangers F.C and once when touring, played in a match where acclaimed football manager Sir Matt Busby was actively scouting for talent. Connery was offered a contract which he admitted, he was tempted to accept but as he was 23 at the time and it was widely regarded that professional footballers were over the hill by the age of 30, he decided to concentrate solely on becoming an actor.
During those early years in his chosen profession, Connery helped out behind the scenes at the King’s Theatre before taking on a small role in the musical touring production of ‘South Pacific’. However, once the production reached Edinburgh, Connery’s role was upgraded and he was made an understudy to two of the juvenile leads. Such was the demand for the production to return, that a year later, Connery returned, this time in the role of Lieutenant Buzz Adams, the main role in fact and one that the American actor Larry Hagman had portrayed on the West End stage. It was during this time that Connery was targetted by the notoriously violent gang known as The Valdors. They attempted to steal Connery’s jacket from the local billiard hall which Connery prevented them from doing which led to six of the gang following Connery to a balcony. It was here that Connery cemented his reputation as a hard man and one not to be trifled with when he singlehandedly took on the gang members, grabbing one by the throat and another by the arm and banging their heads together in a sickening fashion. This gained him the gang’s respect and they left him in peace after the incident.
Connery met Michael Caine in 1954 and the two became the best of friends, neither of them realizing that their friendship would see them star together many years later on the big screen in the film ‘The Man Who Would Be King‘. He continued to act on the stage as well as taking on roles as an extra in several films but he was struggling to make ends meet, leading him to take on a job as a babysitter for a journalist and his actress wife. It was around this time that Connery and his younger brother, Neil, met American actress Shelley Winters who years later would remember many nights of joining the brothers in drinking copious amounts of beer. After gaining a minor role in the British TV show ‘Dixon Of Dock Green‘ where he played a hoodlum, he appeared in several other small roles on British television before he was hired to appear in small roles in several movies including appearing alongside actor Stanley Baker in ‘Hell Drivers‘. But when he appeared in a major role in the film ‘Another Time, Another Place‘ opposite Lana Turner, playing the role of a British reporter caught up in a torrid affair, things took a turn for the worse. Turner’s boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato, who had seen the media coverage of Connery and Turner attending West End shows and restaurants in London, mistakenly believed that the two were having an affair for real. Stompanato stormed onto the set and pulled a gun on Connery, to which Connery easily disarmed him and knocked him onto his back, leading to Stompanato not only being banned from the set but being advised by the British Police to leave the country, who escorted him to a plane which took him back to the United States. This led to Connery having to lay low for a while due to threats not only from Stompanato but by his friends and Stompanato’s boss, the gangster Mickey Cohen.
1959 saw Connery land the leading role in the Walt Disney film ‘Darby O’Gill And The Little People‘ which saw the large Scottish actor play an Irishman and his battle of wits against Leprechauns. The role led to Connery’s star starting to rise somewhat and to appearances on TV for the BBC. But it was in 1962 that saw him play the role that would define his career. He originally was extremely reluctant to take on the role of James Bond due to having to commit to a film series but also knew that his career would benefit considerably if the films proved to be successful. And so, signing on the dotted line, Sean Connery stepped out from being a leading man in small films and TV shows to become a global superstar. His performance as Ian Fleming’s character was pitch-perfect. Ian Fleming originally opposed Connery’s casting but changed his tune after seeing ‘Dr. No‘ at the film’s premiere. Fleming even paid compliment to Connery and his portrayal as 007 in his books by writing Connery’s heritage into the character in the 1964 novel ‘You Only Live Twice‘. Connery fitted the role to a Tee. And with the delivery of the now-classic line ‘Bond…James Bond‘, a movie series and a huge career was born.
Connery went on to play the role a total of seven times, six official Bond films, and the 1983 unofficial Bond film, a remake of ‘Thunderball‘ named ‘Never Say Never Again‘. He did leave the role after the film version of ‘You Only Live Twice‘ but came back to the role for one final official appearance in 1971s ‘Diamonds Are Forever‘ after the filmmakers, critics, and fans were left unimpressed with his replacement in George Lazenby in ‘On Her Majestys Secret Service‘. But Connery came to hate the role, later admitting that he had grown tired of playing Bond and ‘I have always hated that damned James Bond. I’d like to kill him‘.
You can understand Connery’s disillusionment at playing the role. For Connery was so much more than 007. Appearances in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Marnie‘ for example showed that he was more versatile than many people were giving him credit for. He appeared in other fantastic films such as the 1974 version of ‘Murder On The Orient Express‘, ‘A Bridge Too Far‘, ‘The Man Who Would Be King‘, ‘The Wind And The Lion‘, an aging Robin Hood in ‘Robin And Marion‘, ‘The Molly McGuires‘ and his surprise decision to appear in Terry Gilliam’s ‘Time Bandits‘, an appearance that was both believable and quite comedic. Connery even took the lead role in Peter Hyams criminally underrated ‘Outland‘, a science fiction remake of ‘High Noon‘. All these roles showed that Connery had more range than even he thought. He did return one final time as Bond in the already mentioned ‘Never Say Never Again‘, an amusing title thought up by Connery’s wife due to Connery constantly saying her would never play Bond again. But it was during the production of the film that Connery had possibly one of his worst experiences of moviemaking. Production problems, script issues, financial disputes, legal troubles between the Fleming Estate and their attempts to halt filming of the project, and Connery’s own injury he suffered on the set when his wrist was broken by the film’s fight choreographer, Steven Seagal. After his experience on the set of the film, Connery walked away from the industry for two years.
It wasn’t until he received the script for the 1986 film ‘The Name Of The Rose‘ that he decided to step back into the fray. And he chose the right film to make his comeback in. The film, a medieval murder mystery, was critically acclaimed and was successful on many levels. His passion reignited, Connery went on to play a supporting role in ‘Highlander‘ which turned out to be a box office hit. The two films showed Connery in a different light, as more of a mentor figure to the younger leads. This, in turn, led to him being cast as Irish cop James ‘Jimmy’ Malone in Brian De Palma’s big-screen adaptation of the TV show, ‘The Untouchables‘. Connery was again cast in a supporting role, allowing star Kevin Costner to lead the ensemble cast in what turned out to be an intelligent, violent, and completely enjoyable gangster film that stood on its own two feet. Connery’s turn as the good cop in a bad town earned him rave reviews and led to him winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. It was an honor that was totally deserved even though his Irish brogue changed to Scottish before his time in the film was done.
Steven Spielberg decided to cast Connery as Indiana Jones’ father in what was thought to be the concluding part of the series in 1989s ‘Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade‘. Even though there wasn’t that much of a gap between the ages of Connery and star Harrison Ford, Connery pulled it off to great acclaim, earning him BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for best supporting actor. His performance as Henry Jones Sr was one of the highlights of the film. Connery showed a more comedic, sensitive side to his acting but in several scenes, showed the world that underneath what could be construed as a bumbling performance, there lay a sense of menace. Whether it was intentional or not, the power of Connery was once again shown in a glaring light. Connery was asked to return as the character once again in 2008s ‘Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull‘ to which Connery said if anyone could tempt him to return to the big screen, it would be George Lucas and Steven Spielberg but that retirement ‘was just too much damn fun‘, politely declining the offer. The character was written out as having passed on, denying the fans the chance to see the actor play the character one final time.
Connery hit box office gold again with films such as ‘The Hunt For Red October‘ where he played a Soviet submarine commander. The film was based on the novel by Tom Clancy and Connery gave a sterling performance as Captain Marko Ramius. ‘The Russia House‘, ‘Entrapment‘ and vocal performance as Draco, the Dragon in the fantasy adventure ‘Dragonheart‘ followed through the 1990s as well as disappointments such as ‘First Knight‘ alongside Richard Gere, ‘Just Cause‘ with Steven Spielberg’s wife Kate Capshaw and a young Scarlett Johansson and a supporting role in the big-screen adaptation of British TV show ‘The Avengers‘ which was a critical and box office failure on almost every level, despite having Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman leading the film. But it was two of his appearances during this period that stand out, one as a leading man, the other as an uncredited cameo. 1991s ‘Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves‘ starred Kevin Costner as the titular hero and was an enjoyable action romp. But as the film reached its climax, Connery made a surprise and uncredited appearance as King Richard, bringing the end of the film a touch of true class that it just about deserved. But 1996 all-action blockbuster ‘The Rock‘ showed Connery at his most enjoyable. His Character of John Mason, a former SAS commando who had been held without trial for thirty years in a government prison was one of his best roles in years. Connery didn’t only give the film a top-quality performance, every time he was on screen, the audience couldn’t take their eyes off him. He oozed machismo, charm, and a hell of a lot of menace and violence from the get-go. Shades of Bond lay beneath the surface and the film showcased Connery’s talent to the full, blowing co-stars Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris off the screen with ease. Connery didn’t play John Mason, Connery WAS John Mason. All those troubles from years ago seemed to pour into Connery’s acting. And he delivered in spades.
Connery declined roles he was offered in two franchises that were to become global smashes. He was approached to play The Architect in ‘The Matrix‘ trilogy, a role he turned down and would later site in his retirement statement. He was also offered $30million and 15 percent of the global box office to take on the role of Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s ‘Lord Of The Rings‘ trilogy which, had he accepted, would have netted him $450million. But it was his last film appearance that sadly brought down the curtain on a glittering career. It remains sad to this day that 2003s ‘The League Of Extraordinary Gentleman‘ would be Connery’s swansong. The actor deserved more and a better sendoff into retirement than the film gave him. During production on the film, Connery foresaw that the film was veering off the rails in a big way, attacked director Stephen Norrington, claiming that he should ‘be locked up for insanity‘ and after the shooting had ended, spent hours inside the editing suite trying to salvage what he could of the film. It was due to the experience he suffered during making the film that led to Connery deciding enough was enough and retired from acting, claiming that ‘the idiots now making films in Hollywood‘ was the reason for his decision. He confirmed his retirement from acting when he was presented with the American Film Institute’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.
Connery was approached by EA Games to ask if he would lend his voice one final time as James Bond for their 2005 Videogame ‘From Russia With Love‘ alongside his likeness, which Connery agreed to. He stated that the makes of the game had approached him with respect and was happy that they had come to him to lend his voice to the character and his likeness for Bond. His vocal performance and likeness were recorded in the Bahamas, much to Connery’s pleasure. Connery did venture out of retirement one last time by lending his voice to the main character in the animated movie ‘Sir Billi The Vet‘ and was credited as an executive producer for the film’s expanded 80 running time. Connery was awarded the BAFTA fellowship in 1998, a lifetime achievement award for his service to the film industry. But it was in 2000 that Connery finally gained the honor that had been denied to him for several years when he was Knighted by the Queen and to the actor’s immense pleasure, he was invested at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh on July 5th, 2000. It was a fitting place for Connery to be knighted, his beloved and native Scotland, a place he loved and never forgot. He was nominated for a knighthood in 1997 and 1998 but his appointment was vetoed on both occasions due to Connery’s political views. Connery was a staunch supporter of Scottish independence from the United Kingdom, was a member of the SNP (Scottish National Party), and supported the party both financially and by making public appearances. His funding of the SNP came to an end in 2001 when the UK parliament passed the legislation that prohibited funding from overseas of political activities in the UK. Connery had been a tax exile for years and as his main residence was not inside Scotland or any other part of the United Kingdom, he was viewed as being an overseas investor, even though he showed he had paid millions of pounds in tax to the UK treasury.
Connery’s other great love was golfing. He was never more happy than when he was on the courses around the world. He participated in charity events where he could indulge his passion and wherever he resided, he could be seen playing the game on many occasions.
The world has never and will never see the likes of Sir Thomas Sean Connery again. His acting prowess, his dedication to his profession, and his unwavering passion for his native country will forever stand the test of time. The world will inevitably remember him as the world’s least secret, secret agent, as they should but the world should also remember the other performances he gave us and has left us with. Whether it be an Irish flatfoot, an ex-British SAS soldier, a train robber, an outer space Marshal, Robin Hood, or any of the other roles he played over the years, his place in the annals of film history is assured. The term ‘Legendary‘ has never been more fitting to one of Scotland’s greatest sons. So tonight, take a glass of the finest single malt Scotch Whisky and raise your glass to toast and honor the life of the gone but never forgotten Sir Sean Connery.
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Entertainment/Books and Literature Correspondent for The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter @CarlRoberts2 where he uses the force frequently!