For a certain subset of males around the globe, James Bond is the pinnacle of masculinity. His style and swagger have long served as an exceedingly aspirational template since his creation in 1953 by novelist Ian Fleming. Fleming may have made Bond a household name, but Sir Thomas Sean Connery made Bond a legend.
Connery, who passed today at the age of 90, was everything you could want and imagine from a movie star. It’s overwhelmingly cliche to say that they don’t make movie stars like Connery anymore, but there’s often truth in well-worn phrases: Connery created the mold of a modern action star. His inherent magnetism, rugged bravado, effortless wit, endless sex appeal, and an overwhelming sense of style form a totality that’s hard to top—certainly by Bond standards, let alone by modern performers. Connery’s impact lingers in the edges of every action performance, whether intentional or otherwise, to this day.
That’s the impact of being 007. It took a while for the Bond-producing duo of Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli to find their man for the character’s initial film, 1962’s Dr. No. The two considered Cary Grant, David Niven, and even a young Roger Moore before finding Connery. Legend has it that once Connery’s bodybuilder frame strutted across the camera lens, Broccoli’s wife Dana is to have said that Connery “moves like a panther.” It’s a note-perfect distillation of the alluring dualities of Bond: sleek and sturdy, playful but deadly, casual yet determined. I keep thinking about the poster for Dr. No and Connery’s visage upon it; there’s a sly grin as he grips his pistol, acknowledging the thrill of being both dangerous and in danger. However, the power of Connery was in how he rarely looked scared even when faced with insurmountable odds.
Some actors might have been content with playing Bond and then moving on, but Connery was determined to subvert expectations. While playing the spy, Connery worked with legendary directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Sidney Lumet to flesh out his portfolio outside of Bond. After 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, the actor joined with his close friend Michael Caine for a John Huston-directed adaptation of The Man Who Would Be King. Much like Connery himself, the sprawling epic is the kind of Old Hollywood production that doesn’t seem to exist anymore, full of magical moviemaking that’s since been lost to capes and cowls.
Connery’s superstar persona serves movies like Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables exceedingly well. In a quick two-minute clip, Connery leverages his megawatt charisma to sell the serious moral escalation of what it will take to hunt Al Capone effectively. Even among stars like Kevin Costner, Andy Garcia, Patricia Clarkson, and Robert De Niro, it’s no surprise the former Bond stole the show—and walked away with an Academy Award win in the process.
Even after an Oscar win, Connery wasn’t content to fade away. Of course, he’d be the father of Indiana Jones, as The Last Crusade seemed to mark the passing of the torch from one action icon to another. Yet even then, Connery continued, with stellar turns in The Hunt for Red October and Michael Bay’s The Rock, wherein he famously told the director to “go blow up a bridge” after offering the actor a note. Connery’s last role, in 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, was ill-received but still managed to show the actor’s insightful ability to stay relevant. Released a few years ahead of the comic book and IP-driven future of Hollywood, the movie served as the beginning of the end of traditional Hollywood stardom—the very same X factor that made Connery a household name decades earlier. It’s incredibly tragic he decided to retire after, as his presence would have significantly elevated dozens of movies in the intervening years.
It’s been an exceedingly challenging year. Connery’s passing only adds to the pain we all feel. But, man—what a life, what a talent, and what a star. We should consider ourselves lucky to have been privy to its brightness for so long. Sure, Connery’s death hurts—but the great thing about legends is that they never really die.