Sean Connery, beloved James Bond actor, dies aged 90

Scottish actor immortalised 007 in seven films, including Dr No and Goldfinger.

Connery won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1987 for his role in The Untouchables [File: Reuters]

Veteran Hollywood actor Sean Connery has passed away at the age of 90.

“His wife Micheline and his two sons Jason and Stephane have confirmed that he died peacefully in his sleep surrounded by family,” family spokesperson Nancy Seltzer said on Saturday.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was “heartbroken to learn this morning of the passing of Sir Sean Connery. Our nation today mourns one of her best loved sons”.

“Sean was a global legend but, first and foremost, he was a patriotic and proud Scot.”

Connery was raised in near poverty in the slums of Edinburgh and worked as a coffin polisher, milkman and lifeguard before his bodybuilding hobby helped launch an acting career that made him one of the world’s biggest stars.

Connery will be remembered first as British agent 007, the character created by novelist Ian Fleming and immortalised by Connery in films starting with Dr No in 1962.

As Bond, his debonair manner and wry humour in foiling flamboyant villains and cavorting with beautiful women belied a darker, violent edge, and he crafted a depth of character that set the standard for those who followed him in the role.

He would introduce himself in the movies with the signature line, “Bond – James Bond”. But Connery was unhappy being defined by the role and once said he “hated … James Bond”.

Connery played a series of noteworthy roles besides Bond and won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a tough Chicago police officer in the 1987 film The Untouchables.

Richard Fitzwilliams, a British cultural commentator, told Al Jazeera Connery “had a remarkable career” adding that he probably was “the nearest the Scottish have to [a] 21st-century national hero”.

Connery was also an ardent supporter of Scotland’s independence and had the words “Scotland Forever” tattooed on his arm while serving in the Royal Navy.

When he was knighted at the age of 69 by Queen Elizabeth in 2000 at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, he wore full Scottish dress including the green-and-black plaid kilt of his mother’s MacLeod clan.

Scottish actor Sean Connery on location in Amsterdam in 1971 for James Bond film Diamonds are Forever [File: Jack Kay/Getty Images]

Some noteworthy non-Bond films included director Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964), The Wind and the Lion (1975) with Candice Bergen, director John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King (1975) with Michael Caine, director Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), and the Cold War tale The Hunt for Red October (1990).

Fans of alternative cinema will always remember him starring as the “Brutal Exterminator” Zed in John Boorman’s mind-bending fantasy epic Zardoz (1974), where a heavily moustachioed Connery spent much of the movie running around in a skimpy red loin-cloth, thigh-high leather boots and a ponytail.

Connery retired from movies after disputes with the director of his final outing, the forgettable The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in 2003.

The Bond franchise was still going strong more than five decades after Connery first starred in it. The lavishly produced movies, packed with high-tech gadgetry and spectacular effects, broke box office records and grossed hundreds of millions of dollars.

After the smashing success of Dr No, more Bond movies followed for Connery in quick succession: From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), and You Only Live Twice (1967).

Connery then grew concerned about being typecast and decided to break away. Australian actor George Lazenby succeeded him as Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969.

But without Connery, it lacked what the public wanted and he was lured back in 1971 for Diamonds Are Forever with temptations that included a slice of the profits, which he said would go to a Scottish educational trust. He insisted it would be his last time as Bond.

Twelve years later, at the age of 53, Connery was back as 007 in Never Say Never Again (1983), an independent production that enraged his old mentor, producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli.

Sean Connery and co-star Honor Blackman promote the film Goldfinger, 1964 [File: Express/Getty Images]

Connery was a very different type from Fleming’s Bond character with his impeccable social background, preferring beer to Bond’s vodka martini cocktails that were “shaken not stirred”.

Born Thomas Connery on August 25, 1930, he was the elder of two sons of a long-distance truck driver and a mother who worked as a cleaner.

He dropped out of school at age 13 and worked in a variety of menial jobs. At 16, two years after World War Two ended, Connery was drafted into the Royal Navy and served three years.

Connery married actress Diane Cilento in 1962. Before divorcing 11 years later, they had a son, Jason, who became an actor.

He married French artist Micheline Roquebrune, whom he met playing golf, in 1975.

“People thought they could relate to him … he came up the hard way and he could play rough, tough roles brilliantly,” Fitzwilliams told Al Jazeera.

“He would be regarded as a figure who was very much a product of a very tough upbringing in a very difficult era, but there’s no doubt one of the most recognisable presences in film history has now passed on.”

Connery arrives for the Edinburgh International Film Festival opening night showing of the animated movie The Illusionist [File: David Moir/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies