Remembering Sir Sean Connery, Working-Class Boy Who Became James Bond

LONDON – Sir Sean Connery, who defied old-school British snobbery to become the first, and arguably the most popular, James Bond before moving on to myriad acting roles in later life, has died at the age of 90.

Connery’s family confirmed Saturday that the actor died in his sleep while at home in Nassau, Bahamas, following a long illness.

Born into a working-class family in Edinburgh, Scotland, Connery enlisted in the Royal Navy, and held various jobs as a youth, working as a milkman, a bricklayer, and a lifeguard. He was also a talented athlete and keen bodybuilder, and at one point turned down an offer to play with Manchester United soccer team. He later entered the 1950 Mr. Universe contest and came in third place in one of the categories before becoming a jobbing actor.

Ian Fleming, author of the Bond books, was initially horrified by the prospect of his posh character, a graduate of Eton College (alma mater of princes, kings and aristocrats), being played by someone as lowly as Connery. Fleming quickly changed his mind when he saw what the actor could do, and later invented a distinguished Scottish ancestry for the Bond character.

Connery’s first Bond film was 1962’s “Dr. No” and he was a model of chic from the start. In “Dr. No,” moviegoers got their first glimpse of Mr. Bond wearing a tuxedo jacket with turned-back silk cuffs as he smokes and deals cards at the casino table.

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In the run-up to “Dr. No,” Fleming and the film’s producer Albert Broccoli groomed Connery for the role of 007. Fleming sent the actor to his Savile Row tailor, Anthony Sinclair, who had already cut suits for Terence Young, the series’ director, while Broccoli encouraged Connery to sleep in his tailored clothing, which he, of course, did.

Connery appeared in seven Bond films between 1962 and 1983, including “From Russia With Love,” “Goldfinger,” “You Only Live Twice,” and “Never Say Never Again,” imbuing Bond with a smoldering sexuality and a great physical presence and charisma. Unlike many actors today, Connery was a giant at 6 feet, 2 inches, and certainly did wonders for those Savile Row suits.

And unlike so many of his fellow actors, he aged well on-screen and off, turning from the tall and dashing spy into a distinguished older man, with thick brooding eyebrows, and a salt-and-pepper beard.

Not wanting to be stereotyped forever as Bond, he took on such diverse roles as the Franciscan friar William of Baskerville in “The Name of the Rose,” and as Henry Jones, Sr., father of Indiana Jones, in “The Last Crusade” in 1989. That same year, People Magazine voted Connery the Sexiest Man Alive.

Later in his career, Connery had no problem swapping those Savile Row suits for Giorgio Armani-designed period ensembles in Brian De Palma’s 1987 film “The Untouchables.” Connery, who played an Irish policeman in an Armani newsboy cap, would pick up the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Off-screen, Connery loved to wear a kilt on formal occasions (he remained a patriotic Scotsman, and was a vocal supporter of Scottish independence to the end).

In the Aughts, he also worked with Louis Vuitton, appearing in the brand’s popular “core values” campaign alongside personalities such as Angelina Jolie, Mikhail Gorbachev, Keith Richards and Catherine Deneuve. The arty and dreamy cinema and television ads, with photos shot by Annie Leibovitz, ran in 2008 with the strapline “Where will life take you?”

Connery is survived by his second wife Micheline Roquebrune, his son Jason Connery and grandson Dashiell Connery.

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