Sean Connery, the Scottish actor who earned his license to thrill as the original on-screen James Bond and then spent the rest of his career trying to make audiences forget that role, died Saturday, the official “James Bond” account on Twitter confirmed.
He was 90.
Born on Aug. 25, 1930, in Edinburgh to a mother, Euphemia McBain, who toiled as a cleaning lady, and a father, Joseph, who plugged away in a factory, Connery seemed destined for a far less glamorous life than the one he would later enjoy as one of the most popular leading men of his generation. Indeed, after leaving school at 14, he drudged through a number of blue-collar jobs, from truck driver to milkman — the worst of which, he would later say, was polishing coffins — before discovering acting.
“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,'” wrote producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli of EON Productions, which primarily produces the “James Bond” series, in a statement.
Both producers credited his “gritty and witty portrayal of the sexy and charismatic secret agent,” saying he was “undoubtedly largely responsible for the success of the film series.”
Connery muscled into the craft quite literally, being discovered while competing as a body builder in a Mr. Universe competition held in London in 1950. There, he booked a part in the chorus of a traveling production of “South Pacific.” His physique landed him his first major television role, playing a boxer in the BBC drama “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” which in turn led to a Hollywood contract with Paramount.
His big break, of course, came when producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were looking to adapt the popular “James Bond” spy novels for the big screen. Cary Grant turned the role down, which left them looking for a cheaper and less known plan B. They settled on the 6-foot-2-inch Connery. Bond author Ian Fleming famously detested the casting at first, saying the bulky Scot had none of the refinement of his fictional British creation.
“I never got introduced to Fleming until I was well into the movie, but I know he was not happy with me as the choice,” Connery recounted to Britain’s “The South Bank Show” in 2008. “What was it he called me, or told somebody? That I was an overdeveloped stuntman.”
Audiences clearly disagreed: “Dr. No” opened as a huge hit in 1962, catapulting Connery into superstardom and the fledgling franchise into a pop culture phenomenon that is still going 25 films, $7 billion and more than a half century later. As Bond, Connery would cement his long-running image as a Hollywood heartthrob — an image that would net him People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” honor in 1989, when he was 59 years old.
Tributes poured in following news of his death, including from actors Hugh Jackman, Robert Carlyle and George Takei.
“I grew up idolizing Sean Connery. A legend on screen, and off,” Jackman tweeted.
Carlyle remembered Connery as “a trailblazer, a true legend and a gentleman” in his social media post.
“Sean Connery was a movie legend, even far into his golden years. Our strongest Bonds were formed by him, and he was Untouchable. He passed today at age 90, a suave hero to the end,” Takei tweeted.
Connery continued in her Majesty’s cinematic service for the five of the next six installments — “From Russia With Love” (1963), “Goldfinger” (1964), “Thunderball” (1965), “You Only Live Twice” (1967) and “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971). He would reprise the role for one last time 12 years later with “Never Say Never Again,” though that film is not considered part of the official “Bond” canon.
He parlayed that fame into a lead role opposite Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1964 thriller “Marnie” — a film and a part as a rapist that has become even more uncomfortable to watch in the #MeToo era.
Even as the public’s fascination with the fictional British super-spy grew, however, Connery’s tolerance for the character ebbed. Frustrated by fights with producers over his salary and the increasing sense that “Bond” would overshadow everything else he did, the actor ejected himself from the series.
“A lot of people still say, ‘Hello, Mr. Bond,’ like someone has never heard it before,” Connery told “60 Minutes” in 1999. “And because they’re still making [more ‘Bond’ movies], it’ll always be there.”
And even as George Lazenby and Roger Moore continued that franchise, it took…