Remembered By: Fans
In the 1950s, Sean Connery was cast in numerous U.K. films and television programs. In the early '60s, he landed the lead role of James Bond in Dr. No, continuing the role in followups like Goldfinger and Thunderball while gaining massive popularity. He worked regularly in film thereafter, and in 1987 won an Academy Award in the category of supporting actor for The Untouchables. Connery later starred in the adventure films Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, before retiring from acting. Early Life Connery was born Thomas Sean Connery on August 25, 1930, in Fountainbridge, Scotland. The son of Joe, a truck driver, and Euphamia, a laundress, Connery had a modest upbringing in a neighborhood known as "the street of a thousand smells" for the stench of the local rubber mill and several breweries that filled the air. His home was a two-room flat where the infant slept in a bureau drawer because his parents couldn't afford a crib. "We were very poor," Connery has commented, "but I never knew how poor because that's how everyone was there." Joe brought home only a few shillings a week, and those were often spent on whiskey or gambling. Known during his youth as "Tommy," Connery grew up on the streets along with the Fountainbridge youth, playing tag or soccer. The local gangs dubbed him "Big Tam" because of his size and his ability to pummel most of his playmates. He attended Tollcross elementary school and amazed his teachers with a lightning-quick mathematical aptitude. From the day he could read, he devoured every comic book he could get his hands on and dreamed up his own imaginative tales of Martians and madmen. Even then, he had a fascination with film: "I would play hooky and go to Blue Halls, the local movie house, to watch the pictures," he recalled. When Connery was 8 years old, his parents had a second child: Neil. Young Tom delighted in the role of big brother and, as they grew up, the Connery boys were inseparable. They fished in nearby Union Canal (using their mother's stockings for line) and skipped school to fit in more amusing extracurricular activities—including running with "the wrong element." Young Drifter and Bodybuilder At the age of 13, Connery quit school to work full time at the local dairy. Three years later, he joined the Royal Navy. He received two tattoos on his arm, reading: "MUM AND DAD" and "SCOTLAND FOREVER." Unfortunately, the artwork lasted longer than his naval career. Though he signed up for a seven-year stint, he was released from service after three years due to stomach ulcers. Back home, Connery took assorted jobs shoveling coal, laying bricks, polishing coffins and posing as a model at the Edinburgh Art School. For months, he skimped and saved shillings to become a member of the Dunedin Weightlifting Club. "It was not so much to be fit but to look good for the girls," he once admitted. The local ladies were impressed—but so were his fellow gym mates, who nominated him for the Mr. Universe contest. In 1953, Connery traveled the nine hours to London, where the competitions were held. He boldly introduced himself to the contest judges as "Mr. Scotland," pointedly showcasing his 6' 2" frame. He was chosen third in the tall men's division and given a medal—but that wasn't all. A local casting director in attendance liked the hammy Scottish kid and asked him to join the chorus of a new production, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific, playing on Drury Lane in London's theater district. "I didn't have a voice, couldn't dance," Connery admitted. "But I could look good standing there." Start of Acting Career One rehearsal was all it took: "I decided then and there to make acting my career." He chose the stage name Sean Connery because Sean, besides being his middle name, reminded him of his favorite movie hero, Shane, as played by Alan Ladd. "It seemed to go more with my image than Tom or Tommy," he recalled. "Sean Connery" was thus listed as a chorus member in the South Pacific program. Over the next few years, Connery was cast in numerous films and television programs, including a much-acclaimed BBC staging of Requiem for a Heavyweight. But his lack of education worried him, and he thus began reading the classics, including Proust, Tolstoy and Joyce. The book-learning, however, did not soften his street instincts. While filming Another Time, Another Place (1958) with Lana Turner, Connery was involved in a brawl on the set with Turner's boyfriend Johnny Stompanato. (The Hollywood tabloids reported that Connery and Turner were having an affair.) Big Break as James Bond Connery liked the reputation of being a rugged ladies' man. But that changed in August 1957 when, while filming a TV show for Britain's ATV Playhouse, he met a beautiful blond Australian actress named Diane Cilento. She was married at the time, but Connery's attraction to her was undeniable. At first Cilento felt nothing for her cast mate except friendship: "He seemed like a man with a tremendous chip on his shoulder," she remarked. In 1959, just as Connery's career was taking off, Cilento contracted tuberculosis, and the actor realized how devastated he would be if he lost her. He turned down a big break in the Charlton Heston film El Cid to be close to her while she recovered. The decision didn't hurt his career; in fact, Twentieth-Century Fox studios came calling with a contract, and Connery made several films in Hollywood. When the contract was up, he had another stroke of luck. Producers Harry Saltzman and Albert "Cubby" Broccoli cast him as the lead in a spy movie based on one of a series of Ian Fleming novels. Bond—James Bond—was born. The 1962 film Dr. No showcased the spy contending with the arch-villain title character and his quest to control American launched rockets. Two sequels were released immediately: From Russia With Love (1963) and the international blockbuster Goldfinger (1964). Thunderball (1965) fared even better at the box office, and You Only Live Twice (1967) followed. Sly, sexy and confident with questionable scruples, Connery as Bond was the embodiment of the British secret agent to many (even if he did have to wear a toupee to cover his prematurely balding head). "We all knew this guy had something," Saltzman would recall. "We signed him without a screen test. We all agreed, he was 007." Connery had a notable non-Bond role in Alfred Hitchcock's psychological thriller Marnie (1964), along with other projects like The Hill (1965), A Fine Madness (1966), Shalako (1968) and The Molly Maguires (1970). He declared his last role as Bond in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever, with the part taken over by Roger Moore in 1973's Live and Let Die.