Sean Connery's Life As a Movie Hero
Actor Sean Connery peacefully passed away at his home in the Bahamas on Oct. 31, 2020, at the age of 90. The charming, rough-and-tumble Scotsman had 94 credited roles and an acting career that spanned seven decades. He was the first — and arguably the best — James Bond.
"He defined an era and a style," Daniel Craig, the current Bond, said in a statement on the 007 website. "The wit and charm he portrayed on screen could be measured in megawatts. He helped create the modern blockbuster."
Indeed, Connery was one of the world's most iconic actors. This is his life through his many roles and accomplishments throughout the years.
He Went From a Mr. Universe Contestant to Leading Actor in Five Years
Sean Connery was born to a working-class household in Fountainbridge in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Aug. 25 1930. His mother was a cleaning lady, and his father was a truck driver.
Not one for scholarship, Connery dropped out of school at the age of 13 and entered the Royal Navy in 1946 at the age of 16. After being discharged at the age of 19 for a duodenal ulcer, he worked odd jobs as a truck driver and a lifeguard, then got into bodybuilding. He even placed third in the 1953 Mr. Universe contest.
In 1953, he worked backstage at the King's Theatre in Edinburgh. There, he met Michael Caine and developed a love for theater. After working in several made-for-television films, Connery landed a leading role starring alongside Lana Turner in the British melodrama "Another Time, Another Place" within five years.
He Disarmed a Gangster on Set
Connery played Lana Turner's love interest in "Another Time, Another Place."
During filming, her boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato, a mob enforcer for the Cohen crime family, pointed a gun at Connery and warned him to stay away from her.
Connery was then said to have grabbed the gun from Stompanato and twisted his wrist. The gangster was kicked off set and apparently never bothered Connery again.
He Was a Tough Guy
If that gangster knew who he was dealing with, maybe he wouldn't have threatened Connery.
The actor had a reputation for being a tough guy. He was said to have defended himself against six members of the Valdor gang in Edenborough when he was a youth, earning himself the reputation as a "hard man."
Michael Caine recalled one incident where he beat up four men in a nightclub.
"I was 23, and Sean was 26 and he had just got into the chorus of South Pacific. He was Mr. Edinburgh at that time and built like Arnie Schwarzenegger," Caine said. "Once, we were in a club and some girls were on stage trying to sing. Some guys behind us were giving them a hard time, so Sean just got up and beat all four of them up. I just held his coat!"
He Starred in an Early Disney Film
In 1959, Connery landed a starring role in a mostly forgotten Disney film called "Darby O'Gill and the Little People."
Unlike another Disney-era film from yesteryear that's uncomfortable to watch today, this one is benign. The "little people" in this movie are leprechauns. The film is on Disney Plus.
It was very well-reviewed at the time, although Connery's performance wasn't.
Ian Fleming Didn't Want Him as James Bond
When Connery was signed, James Bond novelist Ian Fleming (pictured, left) responded by saying, "Oh, disaster, disaster, disaster!"
Connery was mainly known for playing the pretty boy, so no one knew how his role would turn out.
He Almost Didn't Get the Role
Originally considered for the Bond role were Cary Grant, Richard Johnson, Patrick McGoohan David Niven and Roger Moore.
Roger Moore played Bond for seven films during the 1970s Bond movies.
David Niven, an Academy Award-winning actor, went on to play James Bond in the comedy "Casino Royale," arguably the worst Bond film ever made.
He Was Paid $16,000 for 'Dr. No'
With the James Bond films yet to be a proven franchise — and with studios skeptical about the financial success of the film — "Dr. No" had a budget of just $1.1 million.
Sean Connery made $16,000 for his leading role in the 1962 film, roughly equivalent to $138,000 in 2020.
He Was Terrified of Spiders
Connery was reportedly deathly afraid of spiders.
During a scene in "Dr. No" where a tarantula is placed in Bond's bed in an assassination attempt, the tarantula is actually walking on a pane of glass when we see it walking over Connery. For the close-up scenes, a body double was used.
To film the spider walking up the glass, the bed was angled and Connery was strapped in.
He Was an Overnight Movie Star
"Dr. No" was a massive box-office success, earning $59.5 million on its $1.1 million budget.
Connery was no longer an actor cast only for his good looks in made-for-TV movies and forgettable romance movies. He was Bond. James Bond.
But for a while, that was only what he was. It would take Connery a bit longer to find success outside of the Bond franchise.
'From Russia With Love' Was His Favorite Bond Film
Connery's favorite Bond film was his second one, 1963's "From Russia with Love."
President John F. Kennedy also loved the Bond films, and he named "From Russia With Love" as one of his top 10 favorite books. So did Lee Harvey Oswald. Both Kennedy and his killer were believed to have read Bond novels the night before Oswald shot the president.
"From Russia with Love" is believed to be the last movie President Kennedy ever saw. It was screened at the White House.
It was also the last Bond movie seen by Ian Fleming, who died in 1964.
One 007 Scene Almost Ended His Career — and Life — Too Soon
During the helicopter scene in "From Russia With Love," the chopper swooped down way too close, almost killing the star.
While the Bond actor walked away unscathed, not everyone got away so easy. The helicopter blades struck a camera operator's leg and his foot had to be amputated.
He Wore a Hairpiece Starting with 'Goldfinger'
Connery was starting to go bald when he was cast as Bond in his early 30s. Some sources say he wore a hairpiece during all of his Bond flicks, while others say he started doing so only with "Goldfinger."
We're not sure when it started, but Connery wore a hairpiece starting in at least "Goldfinger."
Women Stormed Odeon Theatre to See HIm
When "Goldfinger" premiered in September 1964, thousands of women showed up to see the film — and hopefully Connery — at the Odeon Theatre in London.
It wasn't a regular parade of eager fans. It was a group of star-crazed Englanders, mostly women, who literally broke through the theater's glass doors and stole life-sized cutouts of Connery and "Goldfinger" movie posters.
According to the Kinematograph Weekly newspaper, "5,000 fans fought the police outside the Odeon Theatre. In the near riots, the massive glass door of the theatre was shattered and police reinforcements had to be sent for."
Connery, thankfully, was not in attendance.
He Didn't Live Like James Bond
Despite being a well-paid movie star, Connery did not buy expensive tailor-made suits and Rolex watches like his on-screen character. Having grown up quite poor, Connery saved his money and skimped on the expensive stuff.
According to the Mi6 fansite, Connery's biggest expenses during the time he made "Goldfinger" were a Volkwagen camper van with a portable toilet and a run-down house in West London which he renovated in order to save money.
He Was Almost Eaten by Sharks on 'Thunderball'
In the shark scenes in "Thunderball," Connery was protected from the sharks by large Plexiglass panels. However, the panels weren't large enough, and the sharks could swim over them.
Connery's terrified expression during the scene when a shark approaches was apparently real. It was not, however, the shark that chased Connery out of the pool. That shark was dead and being pulled by a wire.
Later, the other sharks ate it.
He Was Tired of Playing Bond by 'Thunderball'
In 1967, Connery was done with playing Bond. He wanted to take on more serious roles. Additionally, he felt like he was getting ripped off, moneywise.
Connery used his Bond fame to leverage a $750,000 salary plus 25 percent of merchandise profits.
And, on top of all this, he was feuding with the franchise's film producer, Albert R. Broccoli. Connery hated him so much that he would lock himself in his trailer whenever Broccoli appeared on set.
His Career Outside of Bond Wasn't So Good
Connery famously left the Bond franchise for four years, refusing to sign on to "On Her Majesty's Secret Service."
While he would come back for two more Bond films, his career outside of the Bond franchise was lackluster.
For example, there was 1968's "Shalako," which bombed with $1.3 million in ticket sales on a $5 million budget. 1970's "The Molly Maquires" also tanked, earning only $2.2 million on an $11 million budget. 1971's "The Anderson Tapes" made only $3 million on a $5 million budget.
He Made Bank Off of 'Diamonds Are Forever'
After a string of misses, it's no wonder why Connery returned to the role of Bond in 1971's "Diamonds are Forever."
However, he wasn't a man to be taken advantage of. He demanded a then-record-setting $1.25 million paycheck plus a back-end deal worth 12.5 percent of the film's gross.
The film made $116 million worldwide on a $7.2 million budget. He made an estimated $6 million.
He donated his entire fee to his charity, the Scottish International Education Trust.
He Had a Hell of a Good Time Filming 'Diamonds Are Forever'
Now with a much larger paycheck, Connery was eager to enjoy himself during the filming of "Diamonds are Forever," which was filmed in Las Vegas.
"The first week I didn't get any sleep at all. We shot every night, I caught all the shows and played golf all day. On the weekend, I collapsed. Boy, did I collapse. Like a skull with legs," Connery said.
His Career Survived Zardoz
The "Diamonds Are Forever" deal not only gave Connery a huge paycheck, but it also ensured Universal Artists would finance two films of his choosing. One of those was "The Offence," a 1973 neo-noir crime drama that bombed.
After that, he made "Zardoz" with "Deliverance" director John Boorman (this one wasn't financed by Universal Artists). This is one of the strangest films of all time, with Connery sporting a mankini in a post-apocalyptic future world with floating heads. It's basically an acid trip.
That movie completely bombed, but it didn't ruin Connery's career. He was paid $200,000 for the role. The movie was made for $1.6 million.
He Lost the Bond Vs. Bond Showdown
In 1983, Connery agreed to return to the Bond franchise after 12 years for "Never Say Never Again." He was 52.
Roger Moore was the new "official" Bond at the time, and his sixth Bond movie, "Octopussy," released that summer.
Press buildup called it Bond versus Bond, with some outlets speculating that "Never Say Never Again" would trounce "Octopussy" because of Connery's return to the role.
Ultimately, "Never Say Never Again" made $160 million versus the $187.5 million gross of "Octopussy."
Steven Seagal Broke His Wrist ... On Purpose?
Before Steven Segal was a notoriously self-absorbed egomaniac movie star, he was a self-absorbed egomaniac fight choreographer. One of Segal's jobs was coordinating fight scenes with Connery on "Never Say Never Again."
Segal said in a 1996 interview with Jay Leno that while the two were training, Connery got cocky and a bit flashy so Segal broke his wrist. Connery claimed that he had found out about the break 15 years after the self-defense "lesson."
He Was Taken to the Hospital for One Scene in 'The Untouchables'
During filming of "The Untouchables," which netted Connery an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, one scene was so bloody it sent Connery to the hospital.
It wasn't Connery's blood, though. In his death scene, the squibs wired to him exploded in messy, corn-syrup-drenched mini blasts.
There was so much blood that he was taken to the hospital because of all the dust and fake blood that got in his eyes.
He Turned Down the Role of Gandalf and Lost Out on Millions
Connery was one of several actors who were being scouted for Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" franchise. He was even offered the part of Gandalf, but Connery declined the role because he didn't get the movie.
"I read the book. I read the script. I saw the movie. I still don't understand it," he said.
The deal offered to him would have included a $30 million payday plus 15 percent of box-office takings for the entire franchise, which would have netted him $450 million.
He Demanded 'More F---ing Money' for 'The Rock'
Director Michael Bay wrote a heartfelt tribute to Sean Connery after the actor passed away. "The Rock" director recalled how Connery stood up to Disney, which was financing the 1996 action film.
Bay told Connery that Disney suits were going to chew him out for being two days over schedule, so Connery offered to help out and visited Bay and the executives while they were having lunch.
"In classic Sean Connery style, he belts out in his Scottish brogue: 'This boy is doing a good job, and you’re living in your Disney f---ing ivory tower and we need more f---ing money!!' Without missing a beat, they responded. 'OK. How much?'"
He Trained for 'The Hunt for Red October' on a Real Navy Submarine
To prepare for his performance in "The Hunt for Red October," Connery was given clearance to board the USS Puffer, a U.S. Navy attack submarine.
Some sources say he was allowed to give mock orders to the crew, so long as the ship's captain remained with him.
Connery was nominated for a Best Actor BAFTA, a British Academy Award, for his role.
He Tried to Wear a Ponytail for 'The Hunt for Red October'
According to IMDb, Connery tried to incorporate a ponytail into his hairpiece and arrived on set with it. In an alleged interview with Sight and Sound Magazine (we can't find the actual article), director John McTiernan was enraged that the actor would try to strong-arm his idea for the character by going over his head.
Connery's Marko Ramius would have sported the cool new look throughout the film, but the director of photography laughed and said it looked like a "limp, swinging d---," which became a joke among the crew.
This upset Connery enough that he removed the ponytail after the second day of shooting and had to reshoot a scene.
Even weirder, he would go on to sport a ponytail in "Medicine Man," also directed by McTiernan.
We have no idea if this one is true, but it's funny.
He Didn't Like Signing Autographs
According to the Daily Mail — in what may have been just a 2008 hit piece — Connery allegedly hated signing autographs.
The Daily Mail, citing a friend, said that Connery hated signing his name because "I'm not getting paid for it. These b-----s sell my signature on the internet for hundreds of dollars. They're making a killing off my back."
He Was Knighted in 2000
Connery was nominated for knighthood in 1997 and 1998, but his coronation was rumored to be blocked due to him being a Scottish nationalist.
Finally, in 2000, Queen Elizabeth II knighted Connery for his services to film drama. He was 69.
"It’s one of the proudest days of my life," the actor said.
His Legacy Lives On
Connery retired from acting in 2006, although he came back for a voice acting role in the Scottish animated children's film, "Sir Billi," in 2012.
That same year, Connery made "Ever to Excel," a documentary about St. Andrews University in Scotland. Those were his final roles. While out of the public eye, Connery battled dementia during his final months.
Aside from his 94 credited roles in film and television, his charity, Scottish International Education Trust, gives financial aid to Scotsmen and Scotswomen who wish to pursue extra education.
He raised four children with his second wife, Micheline Roquebrune, and has one biological son, Daniel Connery.