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Sean Connery - Biography

Sean Connery

Personal details

Name: Sean Connery
Born: 25 August 1930 (Age: 83)
Where: Edinburgh, Scotland
Height: 6' 2"
Awards: Won 1 Oscar, 2 BAFTAs, 3 Golden Globes

All about this star

Biography:

It's amazing how age has failed to wither Sean Connery. Not only has he been a major star for over 40 years, but he's somehow held onto the status of action-hero and sex symbol, even into his seventies. No actor of comparable age and fame - Eastwood, Redford, Newman - commands such pay-packets, or is held in such esteem by Hollywood producers. This alone would mark Connery out as something special. Yet when we consider that he rose from the poorest of backgrounds to the Beatle-style mania surrounding James Bond, then fought a long and successful battle to escape 007 typecasting and be taken seriously as a character actor, we must accept that his is one of the most extraordinary tales in cinema history.

He was born Thomas Connery in Fountainbridge, in the south-west of Edinburgh, on the 25th of August, 1930. Though the city's inhabitants are famed for their soft, cultured tones and Brit-Scot traditions, Connery, whose great-grandfather had been an Irish Catholic tinker from Wexford, was from the other side of the tracks, Fountainbridge being an industrial area of squeezed tenements, soot-blackened chimneys and the McEwan's Brewery. His father, Joe Connery, the son of a Glasgow bookie's runner, had come here in the twenties, seeking work in that bleak time of pay cuts and redundancies, and finding it at the North British Rubber Works at '2 a week.

It was a tough, tough time. Joe and his young wife Euphemia Maclean (known as Effie) lived in a 2-room, top-floor flat, with one bedroom, a kitchen/living room and an outside toilet. When Thomas was born he slept in the bottom drawer of the wardrobe, and would only get a proper (sofa) bed when his brother Neil arrived 8 years later. Outside the air was thick with fumes from the brewery, the rubber factory and the confectioners. In fact, the reek was so pungent that outsiders had been known to faint clean away.

The Connerys, though, were made of sterner stuff, particularly young Thomas, who thrived in this dirty, crowded place. As a kid he was impulsive, and always ambitious, with a real flair for sports, especially football. On the pitch he was the Roy Keane of Fountainbridge, savage and ultra-competitive. Even more intimidating, he quickly grew to be huge, earning the nickname Big Tam. But he was bright too, in a streetwise way. Mental arithmetic was no problem for a kid with a family history of bookmaking, and comic books led him to be a keen reader. Attending Bruntsfield Primary School, he was often frustrated at being held back by the slow progress of kids less bright than himself (a trait he would carry into his cinema career). Naturally, this would lead to trouble.

Anyway, Tam preferred to be playing soccer or fishing in the Grand Union Canal, using his mum's old nylon stockings.

. When Neil was born in 1938, the family were under real financial pressure. And it says everything about Tam's ambition and industry, his sense of independence and responsibility and his amazing bravado that, at age 9 and with no prompting, he got a job at Kennedy's Dairy Stables, before the school day began working on a delivery dray. It wasn't simply toil - he loved horses. Soon, he'd also be working in the evenings as a butcher's assistant. Even before WW2 he was taking home '3 a week, all of which he gave to his mum, who saved what she could for him.

As the war kicked off, for a time the local schools were requisitioned by the authorities, with the kids being tutored in the houses of the seriously wealthy. The situation didn't last for long, but it left a lasting impression on Tam, who realised that, though the rich liked to have their milk delivered, they weren't so keen on having the deliverers in their homes. The boy would now equate money with power, and his dreams of escape and freedom would be coupled with a hard-nosed business sense that would later make him one of cinema's toughest negotiators. Indeed, were it not for other people's lack of vision, it might have made him a bona fide Goldwyn-style mogul.

During the war, Joe Connery would work at Rolls-Royce in Glasgow, returning home at weekends. Sean, meanwhile, graduated from Bruntsfield at 11 and began his two compulsory years of secondary education. Toffs would go to Boroughmuir to learn languages and economics, preparing them for the professions. Tam and his rough herbert buddies could look forward only to semi-skilled industrial labour, and were thus sent to Darroch to learn science, metalwork and the like. Throughout, he'd continue to work at his milk round, and deliver newspapers, too.

The war gave a big lift to business in Fountainbridge and at last there was money in people's pockets. The bars were buzzing and the streets filled with chancers and tricksters. Tam revelled in the boisterous activity. His physique was now well-developed and, though usually a reasonable guy, he'd bash anyone who messed with him. He was a strange sort, affable and physical, but also sensitive, even melodramatic. Perhaps due to his beloved comic books, he had a heightened sense of adventure and was a natural risk-taker. Once, daring some vertiginous slope, he rode a sledge into a tree, badly cracking his head, and spending 5 days in hospital and 10 more in convalescence. Needless to say he was back on his sled at the earliest opportunity. And there was always football. Once he purposely failed a grammar school entrance exam because he knew they played rugby instead.

Throughout the forties, holidays would be spent at his mum's parents' place, a country cottage just north of Kirkcaldy, across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh.
For young Tam, not only was this a much-needed break from work but the solitude allowed his imagination to run riot. There was a different kind of life here - pigs, chickens and wide open spaces. There was granddad Neil Maclean, too, a big, strong, whiskey-loving bear of a man with a real lust for life. His exuberance would leave a profound mark on his grand-son. Another influence would be the cinema, then in boom-time. Though Tam was not as rabid a fan as his dad, he still spent many an hour before the flickering screen in Fountainbridge's Blue Halls, known to the locals as "the gaff". Adventures were Tam's thing, the seat-edge sci-fi of Flash Gordon and, particularly, the romance and machismo of westerns.

. At 14, Tam left school and began to deliver milk full-time, quickly rising to run his own cart. The extra money would come in helpful as Joe would break his wrist and nose in an industrial accident, and Effie would have to go out charring. The family would usually eat just porridge and potato stew, taking their baths at the public pool. Even so, once Tam had managed to squirrel away '75 he was keen to possess some material symbol of his efforts. His dream of a motorbike summarily quashed by his father, instead he spent '56 on an upright piano.

Still his greatest wish was for escape, to see the world and take life by the throat. Yet his first real attempt was not successful. Signing up for 7 years in the Royal Navy (plus another 5 in the Volunteer Service), he trained near Lochinver, then was moved down to Portsmouth where he'd serve in a gunnery school, in an anti-aircraft crew, then be assigned as Able Seaman to HMS Formidable. This wasn't really seeing the world. In fact, though he enjoyed his stint in the navy's boxing team, it was a pretty poor show all round. So it was painful but pleasing when, after two years, at age 19, he was diagnosed with peptic ulcers and discharged with a disability pension of 6s 8d a week. He was glad to be out, though in times of stress the ulcers would plague him for the rest of his life.

Back in Fountainbridge, life seemed all the more dull. He was a big hit in the local dancehalls, using his money to score glamorous girlfriends, but it wasn't enough. To build his escape fund, he toiled in the steel mills and on the roads, delivered coal and worked as an odd-job man. Eventually, getting a grant from the British Legion who, in the wake of the war were keen to aid the young disabled, he took a course in French polishing, in the summer of 1951 being taken on at a cabinet works. Here he worked on sideboards, wardrobes, even coffins, and this might have been his career had his curiosity and frugality not combined to push him in a new direction. When John Hogg, an experienced cabinet maker, mentioned there was extra money to be made that Christmas by helping out backstage at the Kings Theatre, Tam showed an interest. So Hogg took him down there and procured him a job working on the sets and costumes.
He loved it - there was a freedom of lifestyle and expression here that he'd not experienced before. And there was money.

. Meanwhile he was still excelling on the football pitch. There were even rumours that Celtic were interested - the perfect side for a proud Scot with an Irish Catholic background. But Tam now had other things on his mind. To further impress the ladies, he took up body-building, training three nights a week at the Dunedin Amateur Weightlifting Club under the former Mr Scotland Jimmy Laurie. His improved physique would wow the girls when, in spring of 1952, he left his job to become lifeguard at the Portobello Pool. To make extra cash, he also posed in a thong for students at the Edinburgh College of Art, making another tidy sum per hour. Monetarily at least, life was looking good.

Now matters began to pick up pace. In late 1952 a touring production of The Glorious Years, starring Anna Neagle, was to play the Empire for 5 weeks. Tam got in as a spear carrier, once more revelling in stage life. There was a new extra-glamorous girlfriend in the pop singer Maxine Daniels, daughter of Kenny Lynch. And at last, having swapped his pension for a lump sum of '90, there was a motorbike, which he'd drive down to Manchester at weekends to pose for arty photo mags. During the week he'd work in the print room at the Edinburgh Evening News, and occasionally served as a dancehall bouncer.

After three years training, he was certainly big enough for the latter occupation. And his buff body would now, in a roundabout way, lead him to the big-time he craved. Along with Jimmy Laurie, he went down to London to compete in the Mr Universe competition at the Scala (Arnold wasn't the first, then). Disappointingly, he came only third in the Junior class but, as luck would have it, one of his rivals mentioned some auditions being held for South Pacific at the Theatre Royal. Tam went down there, bluffed about his experience, and scored a job touring the country at '12 a week.

Though he was initially cast just as one of the musclemen in the routine for There's Nothing Like A Dame, Tam, as ever, applied himself rigorously to self-improvement. Boarding with actor Robert Henderson, he was encouraged to read and began to fill his head with Ibsen, Joyce, Shaw, Proust and Tolstoy. He was seldom seen without a book in his hand and a portable tape recorder he'd use to practise speeches. Soon he was understudying several of the acting roles and was working under a new name - Sean.

And yet it still might have gone differently. While playing for the show's football team, Sean was spotted by Matt Busby's scouts and offered a trial with Manchester United (how close Roy Keane came to following in his footsteps!). But Connery, by now convinced by Henderson that he could make it as a movie star, kept on his chosen course, rising through the ranks to the role of Lt Buzz Adams (originally played in the West End by Larry Hagman), starring alongside Henderson and Millicent Martin.

But it wasn't all good. Half way through the show's two-year run, Carol Sopel joined as the love interest (she'd perform Happy Talk) and Connery fell for her big-time. Sadly, her Jewish parents would not permit a marriage and it ended with Sean badly bruised. Soon, though, he'd take up with Julie Hamilton, a photographer and step-daughter of politician Michael Foot. She'd support and encourage him as he made his initial breakthroughs.

With the tour over he took a flat off London's Kings Road, took elocution lessons and looked desperately for work. Nothing doing. Finally Henderson gave him a break by hiring him as a court usher in a production of A Witness For The Prosecution he was directing at the Q Theatre in Richmond. Madly keen to make an impression, Connery swept onto the stage in a big black cloak - a cloak that was taken from him before the second performance. He'd stay on at the Q for Point Of Departure and A Witch In Time, there was nothing else going on.

1956 proved a better year. In Oxford he won parts in The Bacchae and Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer Prize-winning Anna Christie. He'd also score several minor TV roles that led to him being taken on by an agent early in 1957. Now things would begin to move. First he would make his screen debut playing Alfie Bass's stooge in the gangland thriller No Road Back. Then would come the big one, Requiem For A Heavyweight. Written by Rod Serling, this had been a big live TV hit in the US and the BBC hoped to replicate its success in the UK. Then, 10 days before it was due to run, star Jack Palance pulled out. Desperate auditions took place to find a new Mountain McClintock, the boxer who risks blindness to help his manager pay off his debts. Connery stepped up but no one was keen to risk him in a live performance, he was too rough. But the producer's wife, set to play the love interest, saw something in the young man, a kind of "animal power" and suggested that he'd be a big hit with the female audience. Connery was in, with Warren Mitchell playing his trainer. The show was a hit and the reviews glowing. It also marked Connery's first meeting with his great friend Michael Caine.

Now the studios were after him, but, ever the canny one, Connery took his time. He appeared alongside Sid James in Hell Drivers, directed by Cy Endfield (soon to direct Zulu, Caine's breakthrough), and then Time Lock, where a kid is trapped in a bank vault (this was produced by the Thomas/Rogers team that would soon embark on the Carry On series). Before these were released, in late 1957, Sean would sign a long term deal with 20th Century Fox, worth '120 a week.

It was a good deal, but it brought no work. Connery's accent was a problem, as was his powerful physique. He nearly won the lead opposite Ingrid Bergman in The Inn Of The Sixth Happiness but instead had to make do with a small part as a sailor involved in the smuggling of political prisoners in Terence Young's Action Of The Tiger. This was a poor film, but it would stand him in better stead than many of his great movies, as a guilty Young felt he owed Connery a favour. He'd pay it back in spades.

Unable to offer him anything, Fox now loaned Connery out for Another Time, Another Place, which brought him his first taste of real Hollywood glamour. This was a vehicle for the fast-fading sex goddess Lana Turner, who here played a newspaperwoman seduced by Sean's war correspondent in London during the Blitz. During the shoot, Turner's then-boyfriend, the gangster-type Johnny Stompanato, arrived on the set and pulled a gun on Connery, demanding he leave Turner alone (the pair were reportedly dating). Connery decked him and Turner had him deported. A year later, in one of Hollywood's most infamous trials, Turner's young daughter would admit to stabbing Stompanato to death. Many felt it was a cover-up to save Turner from the electric chair.

Sadly, the movie was another failure, and Connery returned to TV for a production of Anna Christie. Here the lead was taken by film star Diane Cilento, known as the "high IQ sex kitten", a cosmopolitan woman and a product of RADA, married with a child but on the verge of splitting from her husband. Connery suggested extra rehearsals and she agreed, becoming something of a mentor to him. The pair would enrol together at Yat Malgrem's Movement School, with Cilento pushing him to read Stanislavsky, Flaubert and the classics. He was growing fast.

1958 saw Connery at last win a major lead with Disney's Darby O'Gill And The Little People. This took him to Hollywood where his initially enjoyable time became increasingly fraught. Stompanato's ex boss, Mickey Cohen, it seemed, did not buy the murder story and was after revenge. Connery would move out of Hollywood for the final stages of production and take off home as soon as he could, turning down contracts with the TV series Maverick and Wyatt Earp and hoping instead for a movie hit with Darby. It didn't come. Though the film brought him a debut record in Pretty Irish Girl, the reviews were rough and the film a relative stiff.

Now rising ahead of such new Brit stars as Caine, Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay, Connery won a major part in Tarzan's Greatest Adventure. Unfortunately, it was his last role for a couple of years as Cilento went down with TB and Sean decided to put his movie career on hold to be close to her. Turning down the lead in El Cid, he returned to Edinburgh to perform The Seagull with Sybill Thorndike, did The Crucible on TV with Susannah York, then Naked with Cilento onstage at Oxford. 1960 saw him back in Oxford for another go at The Bacchae and Anna Christie, then he played Harry Hotspur opposite Robert Hardy in Henry IV.

His stage career was burgeoning but his eye always on the big prize. Turning down a chance to play a lead in Joan Littlewood's Macbeth, set to tour Russia, he instead returned to the screen in The Frightened City, billed as the "toughest crime move ever made", and the Brit comedy On The Fiddle. With nothing else on the horizon, he played in Macbeth on TV, and Anna Karenina, acting as Vronsky to Claire Bloom's titular heroine. He also caused a sensation by appearing in a loincloth in Anouilh's Judith, a naughty forerunner to The Blue Room and The Graduate.

Despite the furore, Judith was not a hit. But it did bring Connery back to the attention of Terence Young. Young was at the time in discussions with two producers hoping to bring Ian Fleming's hit James Bond novels to the screen. Rex Harrison was one possibility to play 007, as were David Niven and Cary Grant. None were interested. Auditions were held, Sean (who'd just had a small role in The Longest Day) being seen on the strength of good reviews for Anna Karenina. As with Requiem For A Heavyweight, it took a woman to see the obvious, producer Albert Broccoli's wife noting Connery's charisma. He was offered the role and accepted. Test scenes were shot and sent to United Artists who, reacting in much the same way as Decca did to The Beatles around the same time, sent back a telegram saying "See if you can do better". Forty years later, people would STILL be trying to do better.

In November, 1961, Connery signed up as James Bond in a deal that would hold him for six years. For his first outing, Dr No, he would receive an upfront fee of '5000. His friends were amazed - they'd always seen him as more of a Beatnik type. But Terence Young saw something else and, repaying his earlier debt, gave Connery a crash course in cultured behaviour. Filming would begin in January, 1962, with Ursula Andress co-starring as Honey Rider (Julie Christie and many others having failed Broccoli's infamous "tit test"). In real-life romance, Connery, on several occasions jilted by Cilento, would be connected with actresses Sue Lloyd and Shelley Winters, as well as model Joyce Webber. Cilento, though, would always return. Now in the throes of divorce, by the autumn she was pregnant with Sean's child. After the premiere of Dr No, Connery would propose and the couple would marry on Gibraltar.
Son Jason (later TV's Robin Hood) would arrive 6 weeks later to join Sean's step-daughter Gigi.

. Dr No, wherein Bond foils a nutty scientist ruining rocket launches, was a massive hit in Europe. And, though United Artists were dubious, it opened to great reviews in the US six months later, in May, 1963. By then, though, a second Bond, From Russia With Love, was already in production with a bigger budget. Here the evil SPECTRE organisation was introduced, aiming to top Bond and mess up the Brits and the Russkies with a stolen decoder. Again it was a major European success and also broke America. With JFK's assassination sending Cold War panic into overdrive, the release of the film 5 months later could hardly have been better timed. Indeed, with the Beatles introducing a new liberalism, Bond's decadent approach to life's luxuries was absolutely contemporary, utterly cool.

But even though James Bond had lifted Connery to stardom, already he was aware of the dangers of typecasting. What he wanted was to be seen as a great movie actor, an all-rounder who could dominate Hollywood for decades. To break the mould he took Woman Of Straw, as a complete git persuading nurse Gina Lollobrigida to marry his rich, infirmed uncle Ralph Richardson so they can share the spoils. Rumours claimed Connery was difficult on-set, demanding script changes, but Sean blamed Lollobrigida's ego and waltzed off with his first $1 million pay-check.

Now retiring from the stage, Connery pushed for excellent screen roles and got one with Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie, playing a wealthy executive hoping to cure the kleptomaniac employee he loves. There were also plans to star in John Ford's Young Cassidy, a biopic of playwright Sean O'Casey. Unfortunately, scheduling would ruin this as Connery had to be back at Pinewood for another Bond. Indeed, it was quite a difficult time as Cilento, nominated for Tom Jones, had just been beaten to the Oscar by Margaret Rutherford.

As he had done with From Russia With Love, Connery did extra rehearsals with Cilento. The pair would try hard to find a project to film together - Moll Flanders and Call Me When The Cross Turns Over being just two - but scheduling would always make it impossible. This was mostly due to Connery's extraordinary new fame. When the third Bond instalment, Goldfinger, opened in London it was to scenes of mob hysteria. Really inventing the Bond formula of kooky villains and super-gadgets, it made its $2 million costs back five times over in just 14 weeks. Connery would be America's number one box office star, while in Japan Mr Kiss-Kiss-Bang-Bang was bigger than The Beatles.

Connery, of course, reacted by seeking deeper work with renowned film-makers. Next up was The Hill, directed by Sidney Lumet, famed for the bleak but inventive and moving The Pawnbroker. This saw Connery as Joe Roberts, a soldier sent to a detention camp in North Africa then forced to climb a hill over and over in full kit for striking an officer. It was a great role, with Connery tortured yet resilient as he's tested beyond endurance, and, despite the fact that he didn't wear the toupee he'd been sporting since Marnie, it won him the first great reviews of his career.

Now it was really looking good. Connery received another '150,000 for The Hill, with '200,000 plus a percentage for the next Bond flick, Thunderball. But at home it wasn't so bright. Cilento, who found marriage constricting in the first place, was not enjoying being known as Mrs Bond (she was, after all, a big star in her own right), and the pressure was on. When Raquel Welch chose to take Fantastic Voyage rather than Thunderball and was replaced by former Miss France Claudine Auger there were rumours of an affair with Connery, who'd just moved out of the family home. The bond with Cilento was strong, though, and the pair would reconcile quickly.

Thunderball, where SPECTRE steal some nuclear aircraft, was another monster, and Connery now tried to balance his married life and career. As Cilento was off to the US to film Hombre with Paul Newman, Connery decided to film A Fine Madness in New York, coincidentally with Newman's wife, Joanne Woodward. This was a real step away from his previous work as he starred as Samson Shillitoe, a lusty renegade poet tormented by an epic he can't bring himself to write and the pressures of the modern world. Treated by therapists who'd really rather cut his brain out, he comes to win over many who thought him insane. Now a cult classic, the film would show Connery approaching the kind of charismatic performance that, 30 years later, would be his absolute speciality.

Once more, it was back to Bond. The fifth instalment was intended to be On Her Majesty's Secret Service, with Brigitte Bardot as the main Bond squeeze, but there were set-building problems and the production was cancelled. Instead, You Only Live Twice, written by Roald Dahl, filled the void and Connery took off for Japan, along with his wife. By now they'd worked out a solution to their career problems, Cilento becoming an author and publishing her first novel, The Manipulator (sleeve design by Connery) in 1967. Connery too was hoping to step out of the limelight, hoping to produce an all-Scottish Macbeth as well as write poetry. Nevertheless, the press attention they received in Japan was near-unbearable.

With You Only Live Twice, wherein Donald Pleasance's Blofeld stole some spaceships and tried to set up a Cold War apocalypse, making another killing at the box office, Connery felt it really was time for a change. To do Bond again, he said, he'd need $2.8 million and a hefty percentage. He had other ideas, too, one being that along with the producers and using the leverage of Bond he could take over United Artists and take it back to the good old days of Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. The producers, though, were after ready cash and, as negotiations broke down, turned to George Lazenby.

Connery, meanwhile, began to turn his attention back to his beloved Scotland. Turning down The Charge Of The Light Brigade, he wrote and directed The Bowler And The Bunnet, a documentary on the problems of Clydeside. Then, though refusing to run for the Scottish National Party at the General election, he helped set up what would become the Scottish International Educational Trust, dedicated to raising funds for underprivileged kids.

Keen to leave Bond behind, he began to choose his projects very carefully. First came Shalako, amazingly his only western, where he played a scout leading a party of aristocrats through dangerous territory. Here he'd be accompanied both by Bardot and Honor Blackman, earlier Pussy Galore in Goldfinger. Though he took a whopping $1.2 million plus 30%, he did not enjoy the shoot, Bardot bringing along the kind of press menagerie he was trying to avoid.

After a two-year sabbatical from films, Connery was advised to do a Michael Caine and keep his profile high by taking as many roles as possible. He began with the rollicking adventure The Molly Maguires, directed by Hombre helmsman Martin Ritt. Here he was Kehoe, head of a secret society of Irish miners, leading attacks on their merciless employers, Richard Harris playing an infiltrator. From here he'd move on to The Red Tent, playing Roald Amundsen and trying to rescue Peter Finch when his transarctic expedition is a disaster. Both movies were worthy entertainment, but both would wind up in the Top 50 money losers of all time.

It was a tricky time. Connery now decided to direct his wife and Robert Hardy in I've Seen You Suck Lemons, where they'd play a brother and sister moving towards incest. Hardy would remember the rehearsals as lengthy, passionate affairs. He particularly recall being sent to "the think tank", a zinc-lined sentry box the Connerys kept in their study. The play would open in Oxford, tour for a month, but close soon after its arrival in London. Worse for Connery, Roman Polanski now announced his gritty production of Macbeth - he'd been beaten to it.

As said, a tricky time. Connery returned to the top of the box office charts by reteaming with Sidney Lumet for the superior heist thriller The Anderson Tapes. Yet Bond was always in the background and he was tempted back once more for Diamonds Are Forever, receiving not just $1.2 million plus a percentage, but also a United Artists guarantee of two more films of his choice. An amazing offer. As he didn't need the money he gave it all to the Scottish International Educational Trust.

Having failed to win the Peter Finch part in Sunday Bloody Sunday, and having finally split form Cilento, Connery threw himself into Diamonds with renewed vigour. Now, after the soppy feeling-fest of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the accent was on exaggeration and camp jokiness, with Bond thwarting gay hitmen and Blofeld's attempts to use lasers in space to ransom the world. The public loved it.

Off-screen his life continued to be turbulent. His divorce was announced, and his father died of cancer, hitting the production of Sean's next film, The Offence (once more with Lumet, this saw him a cop questioning a suspected rapist and gradually disintegrating at the horror of it all). Then, attending a golf tournament in Morocco, he met Micheline Roquebrune, a painter, golfer and multi-linguist, with a failed marriage and 3 kids. Both would win their tournaments and, over the summer of 1972, they would grow ever-closer.

As the relationship continued, Connery agreed to appear in John Boorman's Zardoz, stepping in when Burt Reynolds (the star of Boorman's Deliverance) pulled out with a hernia problem. This was a sci-fi epic concerned the Vortex, a protected area in a decimated world, where immortals live lives of perfection. Connery would play Zed, a renegade from the outside, who breaks into the Vortex and, promising such earthly delights as ageing and death, gets the likes of Charlotte Rampling to follow him. It was a fascinating effort, but a box office failure.

Now on a roll, Connery followed this with Ransom, where he played a security chief outwitting Ian McShane's terrorist gang. Then he took his place on the Orient Express, queuing up to stab the unfortunate Richard Widmark. Living mostly in Spain, he'd do his best to take roles that would be filmed in that country. First up was John Milius's The Wind And The Lion, a swashbuckling romance where he played a Berber leader who kidnaps Candice Bergen and demands ransom from America. Outside of this, he'd marry Micheline and also, in an unusual move, leave the world of investment. Since his early Bond success, Connery had played the markets with famous success, usually being referred to both as a film star and businessman. Now he revealed that he'd made far less than anyone, including himself, had imagined. He'd get out, and concentrate solely on his film career and the Trust.

With Roger Moore now proving a success as Bond, Connery could perhaps leave the role behind at last. His next role would certainly help.
Directed by John Huston, he joined buddy Michael Caine in Rudyard Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King. Interestingly, Huston had tried to film this 20 years before, with Gable and Bogart as the leads. Now Caine and Connery would take their places as the two lowly soldiers who seek their fortune in the Himalayas, Connery becoming king of a tribe there. It was a really rousing effort, boisterous fun though dark in places, and it was a smash, Connery's first post-Bond success. Keeping to period pieces, he moved on to Robin And Marian, playing Robin Hood in decline, engaging in late-life love with Audrey Hepburn (he'd earlier turned down her Wait Until Dark) and battling once more with the brutal Sheriff (Robert Shaw, with whom he'd enjoyed a spectacular scrap in From Russia With Love). His next effort would be the arty The Next Man where he played an Arab politician trying to work out a deal with Israel and feed the Third World. It stank, and it sank.

. Now, as if to cement his status as one of the world's leading stars (and clearly unmindful of his Longest Day experience), Sean took one of the major leads in Richard Attenborough's A Bridge Too Far, appearing as Major General Roy Urquhart, commander of the bridgehead at Arnhem during one of Britain's worst disasters of WW2. It was a reasonable success, but there was some tension when Connery, one of the first big stars to sign up, discovered that Robert Redford was taking a cool $2 million. His business sense and notion of his own worth could not tolerate this and he successfully fought for a 50% pay rise.

Though he was still undoubtedly big news, Connery now entered a professionally fraught period in his career. In general his movies were either weak or ignored. Meteor saw him as a scientist teaming with Russian boffin Natalie Wood to save the Earth from being pulverised. The First Great Train Robbery had him turning over a train carrying bullion intended for troops in the Crimean War. Then came Cuba, re-uniting him with Robin And Marian director Richard Lester. Here he was a British soldier hired by the Batista government to help save them from Castro's revolutionaries. Connery had wanted Diana Ross as his love interest, instead he got the too-young Brooke Adams. It didn't work.

Despite now having Michael Ovitz as his agent, it kept getting worse. Though Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits, wherein Connery played a Minotaur-battling Agamemnon, was superb, it was a box office dud. So was Outland, High Noon set in outer space and one of Connery's pet projects. Fred Zinnemann's Five Days Of Summer and Richard Brooks' The Man With The Deadly Lens fared no better. When Sean was then sued (unsuccessfully) by his former accountant who demanded a huge percentage take from Connery's last 13 films, it seemed his life was directly mirroring that of his Sixties musical counterparts, The Beatles. Huge stardom then financial acrimony in the artistic doldrums.

Where to go, what to do? Desperate to get back on track he turned to the guy who gave him it all in the first place - James Bond. Producer Kevin McClory had for years been trying to remake Thunderball, in 1975 approaching Connery with a Len Deighton script entitled Bond Of The Secret Service. Cubby Broccoli had fought hard against this and the struggle had gone on for years, till McClory finally sold his rights on. Now all necessary papers were in place, and Connery signed on for the cheekily titled Never Say Never Again, this time battling dodgy tycoons in league with SPECTRE as nukes are pointed at the good guys yet again.

It took money but wasn't a real success. Connery railed against the incompetence of the film-makers, claiming to have pretty much produced it along with the assistant director. Worse, his mother Effie suffered a stroke during filming (she'd die a couple of years later). Then Connery was unsuccessful when he attempted to sue Broccoli and his Eon company for $225 million in unreturned profits.

Now past 50, Sean needed to find other, better roles. One of them wasn't in Sword Of The Valiant, an Arthurian legend that was not well delivered. If he'd waited just a little longer for a mediaeval myth he could have had Ladyhawke, a film he'd naturally turn down.

But now things turned around yet again. First there was Highlander, a sword and sorcery epic shot in MTV style, where Connery played Ramirez, an immortal knight who teaches young Scot Christopher Lambert how to fight, lest he be attacked by the monstrous Kurgen. Though a box office flop it was a huge video hit, setting Connery back on the road to greater things. And greater things came his way immediately when he won a BAFTA for his performance as Brother William of Baskerville, solving monastery murders in a film adaptation of Umberto Eco's The Name Of The Rose. The critics loved it and Connery, who played Brother William as noble but tough and street-wise, had found a way of growing old gracefully onscreen.

Despite all his hits and his efforts at widening his oeuvre, Connery had never received the artistic respect he felt he deserved. This arrived now when he played Jimmy Malone, a street cop protecting Kevin Costner's Eliot Ness from De Niro's Al Capone in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables. When he took the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (the year after his mate Caine took it for Hannah And Her Sisters), he received two standing ovations. He'd also take a Golden Globe.

Once again the offers were flooding in, allowing Connery to turn down Baron Munchausen, High spirits, Air America and Sleeping With The Enemy. Instead he re-joined Sidney Lumet for Family Business, an unconvincing Mafia comedy where he just wasn't old enough to be Dustin Hoffman's dad. Then came The Presidio where he was an army cop helping the San Francisco police hunt the killer of a military policewoman. Again, it was half-arsed stuff.

But better news was ahead. Steven Spielberg was looking for a man to play Harrison Ford's dad in the third Indiana Jones flick and thought only James Bond was up to the job. Producer George Lucas was unsure but Spielberg was adamant and Connery, having had Tom Stoppard step in to beef up his part, signed on. It was a major hit (Connery being nominated for a Golden Globe), as was The Hunt For Red October where Connery played a Russian officer who defects in a nuclear sub (Klaus Maria Brandauer having dropped out).

It was now that Connery had a real fright. When nodules were found in his throat, he pulled out of Stoppard's Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead and underwent several minor laser operations. In the back of his mind was the fate of his Shalako co-star Jack Hawkins, who'd died of cancer, and also that of his own father. But thankfully the ops were successful and, after speech therapy with a doctor who'd treated Dolly Parton and Mickey Rorke, he was back.

Now Connery re-entered the world of spying with The Russia House as a publisher who gets involved in sending nuclear secrets to the West and engages in a love affair with Michelle Pfeiffer. Then came the execrable Highlander II where he reprised his role as Ramirez and was basically too big for one of the flimsiest movies ever made. This he followed with a brief appearance as a returning King Richard in Costner's Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. Then there was Medicine Man where he sought a cure for cancer in the dwindling rain forests. This would be the first production by his own Fountainbridge Films, a company he'd close 10 years later after disputes with his business partner.

After this, he'd enter another run of pretty ropey material. Rising Sun saw him and Wesley Snipes investigating a murder connected to Japanese businessmen. A Good Man In Africa saw him comically battling bureaucracy and corruption, while Just Cause had him as a law professor helping a young guy framed for murder by Laurence Fishburne. Then he'd play King Arthur, cuckolded by Richard Gere and Julia Ormond in the silly First Knight, and provide the dragon's voice in the occasionally impressive Dragonheart. It really wasn't looking good, particularly now Pierce Brosnan had picked up the Bond mantle and scored a smash with GoldenEye.

Connery needed an action smash of his own, and he got it through Jerry Bruckheimer and The Rock. Here he played a masterful old con who has to help Nicolas Cage break into Alcatraz and foil a terror group led by disgruntled soldier Ed Harris (who'd provided a memorable cameo as a crazy serial killer in Just Cause). Packed with smart one-liners, mind-boggling car chases and eye-popping explosions, it was a mighty hit. And Connery, at 65 once again an action star, was back on top.

Interestingly, given the TV series was like a continuation of the Bond idea back in the Sixties, Connery now moved on to the big screen version of The Avengers. He might have guessed the karma was bad when, while filming in London, someone dropped a brick off a bridge onto his windscreen. The movie was notoriously poor. He moved on to the lower profile Playing By Heart, a collection of love affairs co-starring Gena Rowlands, then hit the heights once more with Entrapment, playing a sexy master thief who gets investigator Catherine Zeta-Jones to join him in a mega-robbery in Malaysia's Twin Towers.

Following this with Finding Forrester, another hit where he played a reclusive author who helps a young black kid succeed at an Upper East Side prep school, Connery was now bankable once again. And he proved it with his next outing, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, an adventure based on an Alan Moore comic book wherein fictional heroes like Allan Quartermain (Connery), Dorian Gray, Dr Jekyll and The Invisible Man battle to save the world from an evil mastermind bent upon starting World War One years before its time. It was a rough shoot, with floods in Prague causing mayhem, and Connery had a major and very public spat with director Stephen Norrington, but the movie's performance was not bad.

Beyond this, there were other triumphs. Back in 1991, Connery was extremely proud to be made a Freeman of Edinburgh, that same year taking a much more active role in Scottish politics. Not only would he contribute to the Scottish National Party, he'd actually get onstage to argue for devolution, helping in no small part to bring about the formation of a Scottish parliament in 1999. Despite this revolutionary behaviour, he would be knighted by the Queen in 2000.

Having been knighted, won an Oscar and taken in over $1.5 billion at the box office, Big Tam Connery had every right to feel satisfied with his efforts. All the more so because his popularity with the public never seems to wane. He regularly charts alongside Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts in polls of people's favourite movie stars. And, even in his seventies, he does well in the Sexiest Star polls, too. Indeed, one magazine's readers had him as the Sexiest Man of the 20th Century, the male counterpart to Marilyn Monroe. Really, the man's a marvel.

Dominic Wills

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Gallery

  • NEW YORK - APRIL 05: Donald Trump (L) and Sir Sean Connery look on as models walk the runway at the 8th annual "Dressed To Kilt" Charity Fashion Show presented by Glenfiddich at M2 Ultra Lounge on April 5, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
    Glenfiddich Presents Dressed To Kilt - Fashion Show
    NEW YORK - APRIL 05: Donald Trump (L) and Sir Sean Connery look on as models walk the runway at the 8th annual "Dressed To Kilt" Charity Fashion Show presented by Glenfiddich at M2 Ultra Lounge on April 5, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 05:  Sir Sean Connery (2nd L) and Lady Micheline Connery (2nd R) and guests attend the 8th annual "Dressed To Kilt" Charity Fashion Show presented by Glenfiddich at M2 Ultra Lounge on April 5, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
    Glenfiddich Presents Dressed To Kilt - Arrivals
    NEW YORK - APRIL 05: Sir Sean Connery (2nd L) and Lady Micheline Connery (2nd R) and guests attend the 8th annual "Dressed To Kilt" Charity Fashion Show presented by Glenfiddich at M2 Ultra Lounge on April 5, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 05:  Sir Sean Connery (2nd L) and Lady Micheline Connery (2nd R) and guests attend the 8th annual "Dressed To Kilt" Charity Fashion Show presented by Glenfiddich at M2 Ultra Lounge on April 5, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
    Glenfiddich Presents Dressed To Kilt - Arrivals
    NEW YORK - APRIL 05: Sir Sean Connery (2nd L) and Lady Micheline Connery (2nd R) and guests attend the 8th annual "Dressed To Kilt" Charity Fashion Show presented by Glenfiddich at M2 Ultra Lounge on April 5, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 05: Sir Sean Connery and Micheline Connery attend the 8th annual "Dressed To Kilt" Charity Fashion Show presented by Glenfiddich at M2 Ultra Lounge on April 5, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
    Glenfiddich Presents Dressed To Kilt - Arrivals
    NEW YORK - APRIL 05: Sir Sean Connery and Micheline Connery attend the 8th annual "Dressed To Kilt" Charity Fashion Show presented by Glenfiddich at M2 Ultra Lounge on April 5, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 05:  Sir Sean Connery attends the 8th annual "Dressed To Kilt" Charity Fashion Show presented by Glenfiddich at M2 Ultra Lounge on April 5, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
    Glenfiddich Presents Dressed To Kilt - Arrivals
    NEW YORK - APRIL 05: Sir Sean Connery attends the 8th annual "Dressed To Kilt" Charity Fashion Show presented by Glenfiddich at M2 Ultra Lounge on April 5, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 05:  Sir Sean Connery attends the 8th annual "Dressed To Kilt" Charity Fashion Show presented by Glenfiddich at M2 Ultra Lounge on April 5, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
    Glenfiddich Presents Dressed To Kilt - Arrivals
    NEW YORK - APRIL 05: Sir Sean Connery attends the 8th annual "Dressed To Kilt" Charity Fashion Show presented by Glenfiddich at M2 Ultra Lounge on April 5, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 05:  Sir Sean Connery attends the 8th annual "Dressed To Kilt" Charity Fashion Show presented by Glenfiddich at M2 Ultra Lounge on April 5, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
    Glenfiddich Presents Dressed To Kilt - Arrivals
    NEW YORK - APRIL 05: Sir Sean Connery attends the 8th annual "Dressed To Kilt" Charity Fashion Show presented by Glenfiddich at M2 Ultra Lounge on April 5, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
  • NEW YORK - APRIL 05:  Sir Sean Connery attends the 8th annual "Dressed To Kilt" Charity Fashion Show presented by Glenfiddich at M2 Ultra Lounge on April 5, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
    Glenfiddich Presents Dressed To Kilt - Arrivals
    NEW YORK - APRIL 05: Sir Sean Connery attends the 8th annual "Dressed To Kilt" Charity Fashion Show presented by Glenfiddich at M2 Ultra Lounge on April 5, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
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