ABOVE PHOTO: Actor Sean Connery holds a rose in his hand as he talks about his new movie “The Name of the Rose” at a news conference in London, England, Jan. 23, 1987. (AP Photo/Gerald Penny)
By Jill Lawless
LONDON — Sean Connery, the charismatic Scottish actor who rose to international superstardom as the suave secret agent James Bond and then abandoned the role to carve out an Oscar-winning career in other rugged roles, has died. He was 90.
Connery’s wife and two sons said he “died peacefully in his sleep surrounded by family” in the Bahamas, where he lived. Son Jason Connery said his father had been “unwell for some time.”
Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli said they were “devastated” by the news. They said Connery’s “gritty and witty portrayal of the sexy and charismatic secret agent” was largely responsible for the success of the film series.
“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,’” they said in a statement.
Daniel Craig, the current Bond, said Connery “defined an era and a style” and that the “wit and charm he portrayed on screen could be measured in mega watts.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the country was mourning “one of her best loved sons.”
Connery, was a commanding screen presence for some 40 years. He was in his early 30s — and little known — when he starred in the first Bond thriller, 1962’s “Dr. No,” based on the Ian Fleming novel.
Condemned as immoral by the Vatican and the Kremlin, but screened at the White House for Bond fan John F. Kennedy, “Dr. No” was a box office hit and launched a franchise that long outlasted its Cold War origins.
United Artists couldn’t wait to make more films about the British secret agent, with ever more elaborate stunts and gadgets, along with more exotic locales and more prominent co-stars, among them Lotte Lenya and Jill St. John.
For decades, with actors from Connery to Craig in the leading role, filmgoers have loved the outrageous stunts, vicious villains and likable, roguish hero who enjoyed a life of carousing, fast cars, gadgety weapons, elegant clothes and vodka martinis (always shaken, not stirred).
Connery continued as Bond in “From Russia With Love,” “Goldfinger,” “Thunderball,” “You Only Live Twice” and “Diamonds Are Forever,” often performing his own stunts.
“Diamonds Are Forever” came out in 1971 and by then Connery had grown weary of playing 007 and feared he wasn’t being taken seriously despite his dramatic performances in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Marnie” and Sidney Lumet’s “The Hill.”
“I’d been an actor since I was 25, but the image the press put out was that I just fell into this tuxedo and started mixing vodka martinis,” he once complained.
When he walked away at age 41, Hollywood insiders predicted Connery would soon be washed up. Who would hire a balding, middle-aged actor with a funny accent?
Connery fooled them all, playing a wide range of characters and proving equally adept at comedy, adventure or drama. And age only heightened the appeal of his dark stare and rugged brogue; he set a celebrity record of sorts when at age 59 he was named People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive.”
He won the affection of fans of the “Indiana Jones” franchise when he played Indy’s father opposite Harrison Ford in the third picture, 1989’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” He turned in a poignant portrayal of an aging Robin Hood opposite Audrey Hepburn in “Robin and Marian” in 1976 and, 15 years later, was King Richard to Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.”
He was the lovable English con man who joined Michael Caine in swindling people in a distant land in “The Man Who Would Be King” and the bold Russian submarine commander in “The Hunt for Red October.”
Connery delivered a charming performance as a reclusive writer who mentors a teenage prodigy in 2000’s “Finding Forrester.”
He won his Oscar for supporting actor in 1987 for his portrayal of a tough Chicago cop who joins Elliot Ness’ crime-fighters in “The Untouchables.”
By then he was at peace with James Bond, and when he arrived onstage at the Oscars ceremony he declared, “The name’s Connery. Sean Connery.”
He kept his promise not to play Bond again until 1983, when he was lured back by an offbeat script about a middle-aged 007. Based on the only Fleming story that hadn’t been nailed down by the film empire Broccoli and Saltzman created, Connery took the role and helped produce the film. The result was “Never Say Never Again,” a title suggested by his wife, Micheline Roquebrune.
The “real” Sean Connery had a troubled first marriage and a history of comments justifying domestic violence. In 1962, he married Diane Cilento, an actress best known for her role as Molly in “Tom Jones.” They had a son, Jason, who also became an actor, but the union proved tempestuous and ended in 1974.
Its impact lasted long after. Cilento would allege that he had physically abused her and Connery defended his behavior in interviews. In 1965, he told Playboy magazine that he did not find “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.”
When Barbara Walters brought up those remarks in a 1987 interview, he said his opinion hadn’t changed because “sometimes women just won’t leave things alone.”
Connery was widely criticized, but still received numerous honors, including being chosen as commander (the same rank as Bond) of France’s Order of Arts and Literature and a Kennedy Center honoree in 1999. The following year Queen Elizabeth II proclaimed him a British knight, for services to film drama.
In 2005 he was chosen for a lifetime achievement award by the American Film Institute.
“I thought long and hard about it, and if anything could have pulled me out of retirement it would have been an ‘Indiana Jones’ film,” he said.
“But in the end, retirement is just too damned much fun.”
Connery is survived by his wife, brother Neil and sons Jason and Stefan. His publicist, Nancy Seltzer, said there would be a private ceremony followed by a memorial service once the coronavirus pandemic has ended.