While the James Bond franchise has long been a staple of cinema, one man is responsible for turning the spy into a household name. Sir Thomas Sean Connery was more than just James Bond though. An Academy Award and Golden Globe winner, a male sex symbol and one of the most cherished actors of his time, Connery established himself as a superstar and an undeniable talent in the industry as well as possibly one of the most famous Scotsman in entertainment with a career spanning five decades and over 70 films. While his later career choices made him the butt of many jokes, few could deny that Connery was an icon whose contributions to cinema brought both iconic characters and memorable films to life.
Born in August of 1930 in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh, Thomas Sean Connery’s family was of Scottish decent resulting in his iconic accent. While he was called “Tommy” in his youth, Connery was often referred to by his middle name which eventually became his stage name. By the age of 16 Connery had joined the Royal Navy and in the years that followed he held numerous jobs ranging from serving as a lifeguard and an artist’s model. By the age of 18 Connery had taken up bodybuilding and even competed in the Mr. Universe contest in the 50s. It was during this decade that he also began his path towards the big screen. He worked backstage at the King’s Theatre but made the jump to acting after learning of auditions for a production of “South Pacific” during a bodybuilding contest. Connery landed a small part in the production eventually earning a more prominent role. While working on the production Connery met a man who would become a lifelong friend, Michael Caine, and developed a stronger interest in theater thanks to input from American actor Robert Henderson.
Connery’s first recorded role was as an uncredited extra in 1954’s “Lilacs in the Spring” which led to numerous other gigs as an extra. He continued to act in theatrical productions including I stint with the Oxford Playhouse while working his way up the ladder through television gigs including episodes of “Dixon of Dock Green”, “The Square Ring” and “Sailor Fortune” before being discovered by Canadian director Alvin Rakoff who hired him for “The Condemned”. By 1957 Connery hired an agent and earned his first credited film role that year as gangster Spike in “No Road Back”. It would be one of four films he appeared in in 1957, a year which also included his first leading role on television on the BBC’s production of “Requiem for a Heavyweight”. The next year Connery had a major role in the film “Another Time, Another Place” and 1959 brought two of his more well known early career contributions to cinema with Disney’s “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” and “Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure”.
The 60s would be a breakout decade for the actor who in 1962 took on his most iconic role as the legendary spy James Bond. “Dr. No” would spark not only Connery’s international superstardom and establish him as a sex symbol, but would launch an entire franchise where Connery was essential to its growing popularity. Throughout the decade Connery contributed to several Bond films including “Goldfinger”, “Thunderball”, “From Russia With Love” and “You Only Live Twice” in addition to “Dr. No”. Connery’s version of Bond is often considered the best incarnation of the spy and has often been named among the greatest heroes in cinema. Connery also debuted numerous catch phrases often associated with the franchise and imitated in the actor’s trademark accent. Connery went on to play Bond several times in the decades that followed including “Diamonds Are Forever” in 1971 and “Never Say Never Again” in 1983.
Life after James Bond saw Connery embrace a diverse range of films from historical epics to fantasy, adventure and even a comic book movie but it would also see the actor endure one of the most infamous track records of poor career choices in modern pop culture. The late 80s saw the actor star in the cult classic “Highlander” as well as join the “Indiana Jones” franchise as Indy’s father Henry Jones, Sr. in the third movie in the series, “The Last Crusade”. The decade also brought the actor his only Golden Globe win for film and his sole Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor in 1987’s “The Untouchables”. Connery started off the next ten years strong with the 1990 submarine film “The Hunt for Red October” where Connery brought to life one of his most famous characters, Captain Marko Ramius. He followed that up with a “Highlander” sequel as well as roles in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”, “Rising Sun”, “Medicine Man”, “Just Cause” and “First Knight” where he played the legendary King Arthur. The year 1996 saw Connery portray one of his most well known characters in modern with as John Patrick Mason in the Michael Bay classic “The Rock”.
The second half of the 90s unfortunately sparked the beginning of a series of bad film decisions by Connery, something the actor became well known for near the end of his career. While 1996 brought his turn in “The Rock”, it also saw one of Connery’s most infamous roles as Draco in “Dragonheart”. Two years later he portrayed Sir August de Wynter in “The Avengers”, another critical and commercial flop. Connery famously turned down opportunities to portray Gandolf in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy as well as the Architect in “The Matrix” Trilogy making his line of box office and critical failures in the late 90s all the more glaring. He had one more critical success in “Finding Forrester” but in 2003 he finally called it a career after portraying Alan Quartermain in the big screen adaptation of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”. Connery would leave acting for nearly ten years making his final appearance in film with a voice role in the critically panned animated movie “Sir Billi” and as the narrator in the documentary “Ever to Excel”, his final movie role of any kind. His retirement was confirmed in 2006, the same year he received and American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in the industry.
During his life Connery dated several beautiful women eventually marrying his first wife Diane Cilento in 1962. The two had one son together, Jason Connery who himself is an actor. They divorced in 1973. He would marry his second wife Micheline Roquebrune in 1975 who he remained with until his passing despite an affair in the 80s. Connery was knighted by the Queen in 2000 and was an active member of the Scottish National Party where he campaigned for Scottish Independence. Connery spent his final years in a small community in the Bahamas where he suffered from dementia and other health issues late in life. Connery passed away in his sleep peacefully although his official cause of death was not disclosed.
Sean Connery will always be an icon. From his sex symbol status to his trademark accent and his legacy bringing to life the most famous super spy in cinema, Connery left an undeniable and important mark on the industry and pop culture during his decades of acting. Whether you remember him for his turn as James Bond, his infamous late-career film choices, or any of his other iconic roles one thing is positive, you will indeed remember one of the most legendary Scotsman in cinema history. For me he will always be remembered first and foremost and the OG James Bond and a man who defined the cool, suave symbol of masculinity that most men aspire to imitate and emulate in their lives. Rest in peace Mr. Bond and thank you for a job well done!