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.
“The Man Who Would Be King, was THE KING,” wrote Connery’s longtime friend and colleague Michael Caine in a Tweet over the weekend. Caine was referring to the 1975 film, “The Man Who Would Be King,” which was based on the the Rudyard Kipling novella, and stars Connery and Caine as two rogue ex-soldiers looking for adventure.
Caine also described Connery as “A Great Star, Brilliant Actor and a wonderful friend.”
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.
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 London 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.
That single–breasted, two-piece wool suit tailored by Sinclair became Connery’s Bond signature, according to Bronwyn Cosgrave, who co-curated “Designing 007, Fifty Years of Bond Style,” a record-breaking show that debuted at London’s Barbican Centre in 2012 and later toured the world. The show examined the production design of the James Bond film series.
Cosgrave, who currently hosts the fashion podcast “A Different Tweed,” said the suit that Connery’s Bond made famous was already known as the “Conduit Cut,” because Sinclair’s premises were located on Conduit Street in Mayfair, which at the time was considered “less fusty” than nearby Savile Row.
Connery was dressed by Sinclair throughout his time portraying Bond in the 007 films made by Eon productions from “Dr. No,” through “Diamonds Are Forever.”
She said the suit’s slim-line trousers and single-breasted, hacking jacket-style coat was informed by the athletic physique of Sinclair’s clients, many of whom were former British calvary officers, including Young.
“Ultimately, the suit became a bestseller for Sinclair, just as everything Connery’s Bond touched turned to gold, like the Aston Martin DB5. The suit also became a touchstone — or reference point — for every tailor and costume designer who has dressed James Bond,” she added.
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 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 his Conduit 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 “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. The actor is also survived by his three stepchildren, Oliver, Micha, and Stephane, from Roquebrune’s previous marriages.