LONDON—Sean Connery’s inimitable voice and unparalleled suavity transformed a minor British literary character into a global sex symbol whose appeal has transcended the generations.
Long before Connery’s death at the age of 90, confirmed on Saturday by his family, James Bond had become a multi-billion dollar global empire with the power to reshape the entire movie industry. When the latest film in the franchise was delayed earlier this month, Cineworld announced the temporary closure of all 543 of its Regal cinema venues in the U.S. in response.
James Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli issued a statement on Saturday saying Connery “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 hadn’t played the role in an official movie since 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, but his version of the character was never surpassed.
Roger Moore, who succeeded Connery as the star of the franchise, was one of those who continued to insist throughout his life that Connery was indisputably the best Bond.
Connery went on to play a number of iconic roles, including Indy’s father in the Indiana Jones films.
After breaking through as Bond, Connery succeeded in building a career that showcased his talent in an array of more serious roles, like The Man Who Would Be King, The Rock and The Hunt for Red October. He picked up an Oscar and three Golden Globes in his 50-year career.
It was Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables in 1987 which won him a best supporting actor Oscar for his role as an Irish cop tracking Al Capone through Depression-era Chicago.
Unlike many of his contemporaries who continued to make lucrative film cameos in their twilight years, Connery hadn’t been seen on screen since 2003. He was approached by Steven Spielberg to reprise his role in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull but sensibly refused to take part in the colossal turkey.
He said at the time: “If anything could have pulled me out of retirement, it would have been an Indiana Jones film. But in the end, retirement is just too much fun.”
He spent much of those retirement years at his home in the Caribbean where he lived with his wife Lady Micheline Roquebrune, a French-Moroccan artist, whom he married in 1973.
Connery was born in 1930 to a working class family in Edinburgh where, according to Scottish legend, he left school at 13 to work as a milkman and coffin polisher.
Before he got his big break as an actor, which took him away from Scotland, he had graduated to working as a lifeguard, an artist’s model and a bouncer.
Early in his career, he had been told to tame the Scottish accent and join the ranks of British actors with a cut-glass English accent but he refused, saying: “I am not an Englishman, I was never an Englishman, and I don’t ever want to be one. I am a Scotsman. I was a Scotsman and I will always be one.”
Despite working in the U.S. for decades and living in a home in the sun-bleached tax haven of the Bahamas, Connery remained an outspoken backer of Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom. He helped to bankroll the Scottish National Party, now Scotland’s ruling party, until overseas donations were banned in 2001.
Jason Connery released a statement saying his father died overnight in the Bahamas with his family 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 said. “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.”