In a career spanning more than five decades, Mr. Connery developed a screen magnetism that combined the seductive charm of his honey-thick Scottish brogue with an alluring physical presence. He was strikingly cocksure — brimming with authority and impudence — and appealed to audiences in even the most ludicrous of star vehicles.
“Connery looks absolutely confident in himself as a man,” the film critic Pauline Kael once wrote. “Women want to meet him, and men want to be him. I don’t know any man since Cary Grant that men have wanted to be so much.”
He made more than 60 films — most of them in the leading role. The Bond series aside, only a handful drew critical acclaim: “The Untouchables,” “The Man Who Would Be King,” “The Hill,” “The Offence” and “The Russia House.” Many were flubs such as “Zardoz” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” A great many were audience-pleasers such as “The Hunt for Red October” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”
As a young man, Mr. Connery was roguishly handsome, with dark features and a 6-foot-2 bodybuilder’s physique. A onetime contender for Mr. Universe, he had a sex appeal tinged with the rough edge of his working-class upbringing in Edinburgh. He had been a coffin polisher and swimsuit model before a quick rise to movie stardom in the most popular spy franchise of all time.
In photos: Sean Connery through the years
In his novels, Ian Fleming created Bond as an impossibly suave British secret agent. The sybaritic Bond was an ace with women, a master of intricate weaponry and the double entendre, a cultured vinophile (who preferred martinis — shaken, not stirred) and a violent thug who wore bespoke tuxedos.
Starting with “Dr. No” in 1962 and continuing in six more Bond films that spanned more than two decades, Mr. Connery had an ability to convey an unvarnished toughness and self-assurance that captivated moviegoers. “All I did,” Mr. Connery once said, “was add a sense of humor that was lacking in Fleming’s novels and a quality of effortlessness.”
As played by Mr. Connery, Bond dispatched the enemy without sentiment and displayed a calm wit when sparring with evildoers bent on world destruction.
“Do you lose as gracefully as you win?” a villain once asked Bond.
“I don’t know, I’ve never lost,” Mr. Connery said.
Mr. Connery, who harbored an admittedly brutish side to his personality, brought verve to the role.
“Bond was meant to be a classy character and Connery was not — he was working class and that kind of gave him an abrasive edge,” British-born film critic and historian David Thomson said in an interview. “Bond was English and Connery was Scottish, and the Scots hold the English in contempt and that brought a very important energy to his approach.”
This barely concealed menace brought a compelling depth to many of his best-remembered films, notably his Oscar-winning supporting role as gritty Irish street cop Jim Malone in Brian De Palma’s Prohibition-era drama “The Untouchables” (1987). Kevin Costner played lawman Eliot Ness, and Robert De Niro was gangster Al Capone.
Mr. Connery said he was drawn to the part for its “contrast.”
“I like it when an actor looks one thing and conveys something else, perhaps something diametrically opposite,” he told the New York Times in 1987. “With Malone, I tried to show at the beginning he could be a real pain . . . so that you wouldn’t think he could be concerned with such things as Ness’s feelings or Ness’s family, and then show he was someone else underneath, capable of real relationships.”
Mr. Connery had first shown promise in a 1957 BBC television role, playing a punch-drunk prizefighter in “Requiem for a Heavyweight.”
Under Sidney Lumet’s direction, he drew critical praise as an unjustly persecuted British soldier in a North African military prison in “The Hill” (1965), appearing opposite Michael Redgrave, Harry Andrews and Ian Bannen. Mr. Connery dived wholly into the role of a brutal British police detective in Lumet’s “The Offence” (1973), opposite Trevor Howard and Bannen.
He also was a rabble-rousing coal miner in Martin Ritt’s “The Molly Maguires” (1970), a role that a Time magazine movie critic lauded by calling him “one of the screen’s most underrated stars, an actor of tightly controlled power and technical accomplishment.”
Mr. Connery said he was drawn to parts that displayed humor. One of the best examples was John Huston’s film adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King” (1975). Mr. Connery and Michael Caine played British soldiers who stumble onto the riches of a tribal kingdom and try to execute a massive con by pretending that Mr. Connery is a demigod.
These films tended to be the exception in Mr. Connery’s prolific résumé, which was littered with dozens of lesser assignments.
He played the frustrated husband of Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock’s bland psychodrama “Marnie” (1964); a bare-chested, ponytailed gunslinger of the future in “Zardoz” (1974); and a trenchcoat-wearing adventurer in the graphic novel adaptation “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (2003).
He gave over-the-top performances in over-the-top films such as “Highlander” (1986), in which he plays an immortal swordsman; “The Hunt for Red October” (1990), as a Soviet nuclear submarine commander; and “The Rock” (1996), as an ex-con who helps disrupt a terrorist plot.
Mr. Connery also enlivened the most commercial of films, such as “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989), starring Harrison Ford as a whip-cracking archaeologist and Mr. Connery as the adventurer’s comically disapproving father.
Mr. Connery’s high profile allowed him to command huge salaries. He was a multimillionaire and often donated his movie payments to the Scottish International Education Trust, an organization he helped start that offers grants primarily to young artists.
As “Dr. No” director Terence Young once said, “There are only two great stars in my recollection who have not been changed by great massive success: Sean Connery and Lassie, and both of them Scottish.”
Thomas Sean Connery was born Aug. 25, 1930, in Edinburgh, where his father was a truck driver and his mother was a maid. He grew up in an industrial neighborhood where he recalled that the dueling aromas of a rubber factory and brewery hung over the streets.
He dropped out of school at 12 and joined the British navy four years later. He said he was discharged before completing his enlistment because of stomach ulcers. As a veteran, he gained entry to a vocational program in Edinburgh and trained to be a furniture polisher. In between jobs buffing tables and pianos, he worked as an undertaker’s assistant nailing coffins at a funeral parlor. In his off time, he participated in a weightlifting club and with his sculpted physique posed as a life model at an art school.
A friend persuaded Mr. Connery to compete in the 1953 Mr. Universe bodybuilding contest in London. Having won a bronze medal in the tall men’s division, he saw an audition call for actors with a touring company of “South Pacific.” Motivated to impress the show’s producers, he landed a part in the musical’s he-man chorus by performing handsprings. “No one else could do them,” he said.
On the advice of a castmate, Mr. Connery began an autodidactic education to improve his acting. He read plays by William Shakespeare and studied acting technique by reviewing texts by Konstanin Stanislavsky.
Mr. Connery also set about taming his Scottish burr. It was said to be so thick that other cast members in “South Pacific” thought he was speaking Polish. He bought a tape recorder and devoted hours to practicing his diction, but the remnants of his accent eventually became his trademark.
His good looks helped propel his career from supporting screen roles to a leading part opposite Lana Turner in the World War II melodrama “Another Time, Another Place” (1958).
It was Mr. Connery’s portrayal of Count Alexis Vronsky in a 1961 BBC adaptation of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” (opposite Claire Bloom in the title role) that piqued the interest of Harry Saltzman and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli. The producers had secured the film rights to Fleming’s Bond books and were searching for an actor to star in their low-budget production of “Dr. No.”
At first, casting Mr. Connery in the Bond role seemed a risky choice. They considered many established names for the part, including Richard Burton and Redgrave, before inviting Mr. Connery to read scripts. The producers had no choice — the movie’s $1 million budget called for someone cheap but promising. The role of Bond came with a $16,500 salary.
“It was the sheer self-confidence he exuded,” Broccoli told the New York Times in 1964. “I’ve never seen a surer guy. Every time he made a point he hit the desk with that great fist of his, or slapped his thigh. It wasn’t just an act, either. When he left we watched him through the window as he walked down the street. He walked like the most arrogant son-of-a-gun you’ve ever seen. . . . ‘That’s our Bond,’ I said.”
The world was overcome with “Bondmania” in the 1960s. Johnny Rivers’s pop tune “Secret Agent Man” played incessantly on the radio. A Bond-inspired cologne promised a secret aromatic weapon of desire.
Mr. Connery said he tired of the fuss. “The first two or three were fun,” he once said. “Jumping out of planes was entertaining, although it was tough on my hairpiece.”
After “Diamonds,” he swore he’d never return to the screen as Bond. Other actors came in his place, including George Lazenby, Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton. Later revivals of the franchise have starred Pierce Brosnan and, most recently, Daniel Craig.
Despite his vow, Mr. Connery reprised the role a final time in 1983. A remake of “Thunderball,” the movie was called — in a nod to the actor’s broken promise — “Never Say Never Again.”
He also gave finely tuned performances as a murder suspect in the 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s ensemble mystery “Murder on the Orient Express”; as an aging bow-wielding hooded hero in “Robin and Marian” (1976) opposite Audrey Hepburn; as a criminal mastermind in “The Great Train Robbery” (1978); as a monk who investigates a murder in “The Name of the Rose” (1986); and as a publisher recruited by British intelligence to spy on Russia in “The Russia House” (1990), based on the John le Carre novel.
Off screen, Mr. Connery could be combative and litigious with producers over fees, but he also used his reputation as a bankable star to help struggling projects directed by friends. He accepted the role of King Agamemnon in “Time Bandits” (1981) when he learned that the director, Monty Python veteran Terry Gilliam, was having trouble securing financing.
At times, Mr. Connery’s private life erupted into public view. Actress Diane Cilento, whom he wed in 1962, described him in her memoir as a misogynist who was psychologically and physically threatening. She accused Mr. Connery of beating her, but he denied it. He was trailed by comments he made to Playboy magazine in 1965 saying that it was acceptable to hit a woman to keep her in line. He later apologized for the remark.
After his divorce from Cilento, Mr. Connery married French-Moroccan artist Micheline Roquebrune in 1975.
In addition to his wife, survivors include a son from his first marriage, actor Jason Connery; a stepson he adopted, Stephane Connery; a brother; and several grandchildren.
Mr. Connery’s British knighthood was granted in 2000 by Queen Elizabeth, reportedly after a two-year delay because of his support of Scottish independence.
To his fans, Mr. Connery was the only actor worthy of donning the Bond tuxedo. As his career progressed, however, he fiercely defended his independence from the role that launched him to superstardom.
“I would never deny that Bond made me, and I’ll be everlastingly grateful to him,” Mr. Connery told the Times in 1964. “But that doesn’t make me a Bond-slave. I can cut the shackles free any time I want to. And they aren’t made of steel chains any longer, either, but smoothest silk.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Sean Connery played a Russian submarine commander in “The Hunt for Red October.” His character served in the Soviet navy but was Lithuanian, not Russian.
Freelance writers Franz Lidz and Phil Davison contributed to this report.
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