Sean Connery, Hollywood's original James Bond, dies at 90

Joal Ryan
·Contributor
·7 min read

Sean Connery, who rose from poverty to knighthood as the original and arguably ultimate big-screen James Bond, died on Saturday at age 90.

The actor’s son told the BBC that he died in his sleep in Nassau and that he was "unwell for some time.” According to his son, the actor "had many of his family who could be in the Bahamas around him.”

"We are all working at understanding this huge event as it only happened so recently, even though my dad has been unwell for some time,” he told the publication. "A sad day for all who knew and loved my dad and a sad loss for all people around the world who enjoyed the wonderful gift he had as an actor."

Daniel Craig, who played Bond multiple times, including in Casino Royale in 2006, told Variety in a statement, “It is with such sadness that I heard of the passing of one of the true greats of cinema. Sir Sean Connery will be remembered as Bond and so much more. He defined an era and a style. The wit and charm he portrayed on screen could be measured in mega watts; he helped create the modern blockbuster. He will continue to influence actors and film-makers alike for years to come. My thoughts are with his family and loved ones. Wherever he is, I hope there is a golf course.”

Sean Connery, pictured as secret agent James Bond in the film Goldfinger, has died. (Photo: Getty Images)
Sean Connery, pictured as secret agent James Bond in the film Goldfinger, has died. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Scottish-born actor starred in seven films as author Ian Fleming's lethal secret-service agent, codename 007, beginning with 1962's Dr. No.

Connery won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar as Kevin Costner's crime-fighting mentor in Brian De Palma's 1987 Chicago gangland drama, The Untouchables — a critical embrace that had long eluded the actor.

Post-Bond, Connery built his iconic status with such action-packed box-office hits as Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Hunt for Red October and The Rock. But Connery also dabbled with smaller dramas and character studies, while working with legendary filmmakers Alfred Hitchcock (Marnie), John Huston (The Man Who Would Be King) and Sidney Lumet (Murder on the Orient Express).

In all, Connery's Hollywood screen career spanned more than 40 years. The run began with the 1959 Disney family film, Darby O'Gill and the Little People, and ended with the critically dismissed 2003 release, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. His final credit was 2012's direct-to-video animated film Sir Billi, for which he voiced the main character.

"The movie business retired him because he didn't want to play small parts about old men, and they weren’t offering him any young parts in romantic leads.” actor Michael Caine, Connery's friend and co-star, said in 2010.

Connery with wife Micheline at the 2004 Oscars; he won his own statuette for the 1987 film The Untouchables. (Photo: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)
Connery with wife Micheline at the 2004 Oscars; he won his own statuette for the 1987 film The Untouchables. (Photo: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

As Bond, the tall, dark and darkly handsome Connery was the picture of virility. Indeed, per a 1965 Playboy profile of the actor, it was Connery's "cocksure animal magnetism" that clinched him the role.

Born Thomas Sean Connery on Aug. 25, 1930, the Scotsman did time in the Britain's Royal Navy and found success as a bodybuilder prior to breaking into acting on the stage and live TV. He was 32 when Dr. No brought him instant international fame. Though he and the character obviously clicked, Connery would say his hardscrabble upbringing made him an unconventional pick for the suave agent.

"I don’t think Ian Fleming had me ... in mind for Agent 007," Connery said in 1983.

But Fleming came around, and soon couldn't picture anyone else but Connery as Bond. Moviegoers could relate.

After Dr. No, Connery made four Bond movies in four years: 1963's From Russia With Love, 1964's Goldfinger, 1965's Thunderball and 1967's You Only Live Twice.

"Mr. Connery is at his peak of coolness and nonchalance with the girls," the New York Times judged of the star's performance in Thunderball.

But Connery, who preferred Scotch to martinis, chafed at the constraints of the role, and especially at the size of the paycheck. "It's not that I needed the money," Connery said in 1971. "It was the fact that I put in an awful lot of work and energy into the Bond pictures and was not sufficiently rewarded."

Connery's relationship with Bond's producers soured (more than usual) during filming of You Only Live Twice, and while the actor usually said each 007 film would be his last, this time he meant it. But after 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service, starring then-newcomer George Lazenby, failed to play as big at the box office as the franchise's earlier sequels, Connery was brought back into the fold, now with a cut of merchandising, for 1971's Diamonds Are Forever.

After Diamonds, Connery bailed again, swearing it was for good. However, he was enticed back for one film made outside the MGM "canon," the 1983 Thunderball remake cheekily titled Never Say Never Again. Following that reprise, Connery never got back in the Bond way. While Roger Moore and a succession of others took control of 007's gadgets, Connery embarked on epics and period pieces, including 1976's Robin and Marian, starring the actor and Audrey Hepburn as the middle-aged Robin Hood and Maid Marian, respectively.

A retired Connery attended the U.S. Open in 2017. (Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
A retired Connery attended the U.S. Open in 2017. (Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

As he continued to gray and more often than not appear sans the hairpiece he'd donned for Bond, Connery evinced elder statesman as commandingly as he'd embodied secret-agent cool. His Untouchables Oscar capped this period, and led him to some of his most memorable non-Bond roles: Indiana Jones's father in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; a cameo as King Richard in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, a movie which again paired him with Costner; a Soviet sub commander who battled Alec Baldwin's Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October.

Other notable non-Bond credits included The Great Train Robbery (1978) and the cult fantasy/sci-fi films Zardoz (1974) and Highlander (1986).

In 1989, the 59-year-old Connery was named People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive. "I told them there are very few who are dead," he remarked upon being informed of the honor. (A decade later, the still-thriving Connery was named the Sexiest Man of the Century in a magazine poll.)

At nearly 70, Connery had another box-office hit with the thriller Entrapment, co-starring Catherine Zeta-Jones. But a few years later, Connery was feuding with his director on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen a film which he made after reportedly turning down the role of Gandalf in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy.

After Connery retreated from public life, preferring to golf, reports of ill health trailed him. Most were denied. In August 2020, the actor celebrated his 90th birthday, receiving well wishes from fellow former Bonds Pierce Brosnan and George Lazenby.

Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000, Connery earned lifetime achievement honors from the American Film Institute (2005), the Hollywood Foreign Press (1996) and BAFTA (1998), among others.

Connery was married twice; his second marriage lasted more than 40 years until his death. Survivors include wife Micheline and Connery's son from his first marriage, the actor Jason Connery.

By the end, Connery had mellowed his stance on his once-all-consuming alter ego. "Well, once you're much more resigned to it," he said once of Bond, "it's much easier to deal with."

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