Sir Sean Connery, the Scottish actor who became an international sex symbol and enjoyed a lengthy film career after he became the first person to portray the iconic role of secret agent James Bond, has died. He was 90 years old.
Connery's family told the BBC that he died in his sleep while in the Bahamas and that he "had been unwell for some time."
The Bond franchise's official Twitter account confirmed the news Saturday morning.
"We are devastated by the news of the passing of Sir Sean Connery," longtime producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli said in a statement. "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 revolutionized 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.”
Connery appeared in some of the most popular films of the late 20th century, including as a British army officer (and suspect) in Murder on the Orient Express (1974); a scholar, father, and Nazi kidnapping victim in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989); a Soviet naval captain gone rogue in The Hunt for Red October (1990); an Alcatraz escapee turned hero in The Rock (1996); and a Chicago cop chasing mobster Al Capone in The Untouchables (1987), for which he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
But it was for his role as Ian Fleming’s 007, the suave British spy who sipped martinis while thwarting supervillains, for which Connery was best known.
First cast in 1962’s Dr. No, Connery donned Bond’s stylish tuxedo six more times: in From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), and Never Say Never Again (1983).
As Hollywood gradually shifted to darker, grittier portrayals of spy work, Bond still remained Bond: effortlessly cool, calm, and collected. “There’s room for both kinds of hero,” Connery told the Guardian in 1971 while promoting Diamonds Are Forever. “Bond is an escape-character and people will always demand escape.”
Born in Edinburgh in 1930, Connery went on to become one of Scotland’s most beloved citizens, voted the country’s favorite living Scot in 2004 and its "greatest living national treasure" in 2011. He was a proud supporter of the Scottish National Party and unsuccessfully urged his fellow Scots to break away from the UK in the 2014 referendum.
After a brief stint in the Navy in his youth, Connery tried his hand at modeling and even pageants, finishing third in the “tall man’s division” at the 1953 Mr. Universe contest, where he represented Scotland. He worked his way up from an extra onstage to speaking roles to TV work to films.
His career reached unimaginable new heights when producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli selected him to play Bond in Dr. No, battling the evil titular character who is seeking to disrupt the space race through radio beams fired off Jamaica. “Of course, it's nonsense — pure, escapist bunk,” declared the New York Times film reviewer, “with Bond, an elegant fellow, played by Sean Connery, doing everything (and everybody) that an idle day-dreamer might like to do.” Still, the reviewer had to concede the film was “lively” and “amusing.”
Director Terence Young didn’t introduce Bond to audiences until several minutes into the film. He’s sitting at a baccarat table across from a sultry woman in a red dress who asks his name as he lights a cigarette. “Bond,” he replies, in one of cinema’s most famous lines. “James Bond.”
The film also established other elements that would become hallmarks of the franchise, most notably M, the head of the British secret service; Miss Moneypenny, M’s secretary; the villainous SPECTRE organization; the blaring theme music; and the iconic title sequence in which Bond shoots the screen through the view of a gun barrel. Of course, viewers also met the first-ever Bond girl, Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress), who emerged from the sea in a white bikini with a knife attached to a belt. The male gaze was inverted decades later when Daniel Craig, then starring as Bond, himself emerged from the water, abs glistening, in Casino Royale (2006).
As the first actor to portray Bond, Connery had to set the standard for the spy and explore the character’s complexities, or perhaps lack thereof. “The only real difficulty I found in playing Bond was that I had to start from scratch," he told the Sydney Morning Herald soon after Dr. No was released. "Nobody knew anything about him, after all. Not even Fleming. Does he have parents? Where does he come from? Nobody knows. But we played it for laughs, and people seem to feel it comes off quite well."
Connery was also immediately wary of being typecast (something perhaps on his mind when he agreed to appear in 1974’s sci-fi cult favorite Zardoz, in which he donned a red loincloth, harness, and knee-high boots). “I'm grateful to [Dr. No] for giving my career a lift like this, but I must be careful not to get too typed,” he told the Herald. He said he wanted to make “a completely different type of film,” but he ended up playing Bond four more times in the ’60s alone.
The Bond films made Connery’s name and face known around the world, something he soon found exhausting. “The only comparison was like with the Beatles,” he told Barbara Walters in 1987. “But there were four of them to kick around.”
“The demand was enormous for publicity and exposure,” he recounted. “People coming on the sets and everything. And the films were difficult and got more and more difficult to make because they were never well planned, and they were always being rewritten.”
Connery’s terrible and stubbornly outdated views on women also made him perhaps an ideal fit for Bond, a character who would come to be criticized in later years for his chauvinism. The actor told Playboy in 1965 he thought men were justified in slapping a woman with an open hand “if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning.” More than 20 years later, when Walters offered him the chance to walk back his comments — perhaps as being a product of 1960s masculinity — he instead reaffirmed them. “I haven’t changed my opinion. I don’t think it’s good. I don’t think it’s that bad. I think it depends entirely on the circumstances and if it merits it,” he said. “If you have tried everything else … then I think it’s absolutely right.”
Walters sat listening with her mouth agape. “Wait till people see this interview. You’re going to get mail,” she said.
Two years later, at the age of 59, he was selected as People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive. (“Well, there aren't many sexy dead men, are there?” he scoffed.)
Connery’s Scottish accent became his trademark, and he told GQ in 2008 he wasn’t often compelled to hide it for a role: “Drama is conveyed with emotion, and it's best to spend time looking for that emotion — which is international — instead. Besides, I think there is a certain musicality each person has in their own tongue.”
The accent also became prime fodder for Darrell Hammond’s foulmouthed impersonation of Connery in a regular Saturday Night Live sketch in which he appeared on Celebrity Jeopardy and routinely spoke of having sex with the mother of long-suffering Alex Trebek (Will Ferrell).
His last onscreen role was in the 2003 superhero film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, although he did lend his voice to Bond again in a 2005 video game, returning one final time to the character he could never escape.
“I'll be honest with you,” he once said. “There's not much of James Bond in me.”
“I don't suppose I'd really like Bond if I met him,” he added. “He's a man who makes his own rules. That's fine so long as you're not plagued with doubts. But if you are — and most of us are — you're sunk."