At the age of 90, actor Sir Sean Connery passed away in his sleep at his home in Nassau in the Bahamas. According to his son, Jason Connery, he had been “unwell for some time,” while his now-widow Micheline Roquebrune revealed on Sunday his late-in-life battle against dementia. According to her in a statement to the BBC, he died exactly how he wished to, peacefully and “without a fuss” overnight.
Connery’s most obvious place in pop culture is his legendary role as the fist ever on-screen James Bond, but his accomplishments stretch far beyond the seminal spy. As an international actor, Connery received three Golden Globes (including the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement), two BAFTA awards, and an Academy Award for his role as Jimmy Malone in The Untouchables. For his services to film drama he was knighted in the year 2000, and throughout his lifetime he was a staunch member of the Scottish National Party, consistently campaigning for and funding efforts towards Scottish Independence from the UK (which reportedly delayed his knighthood for three years). Simply put, Connery was at the top of the pack of the many mainstays of classic cinema.
Many attribute this status to Connery’s game-changing role in six James Bond films, among them some of the franchise’s most revered, like Goldfinger, From Russia With Love and Thunderball. And to be fair, those in this camp are in part very correct. Connery is how any Bond viewer, diehard and casual alike, visualizes the suave spy. He is the traditional and modern archetype of James Bond. Some cynics may point out that this is simply a result of being the first to inhabit the role on screen, but more savvy film buffs know that not any actor can pull off such a role while simultaneously laying the groundwork for an entire genre of blockbuster character. When one hears the eponymous name, some casually interested might bring the current Daniel Craig to mind, but for the most part it is Connery’s handsome face and piercing eyes that we conjure, no matter our age.
And not just for those smoldering looks. Connery constructed the template for not just Bond as a character, but the entire action movie and spy genre. If Ian Fleming built the house’s frame and foundation, Connery laid the bricks and tastefully arranged the furnishings. Every spy on screen we subconsciously compare to Connery’s Bond; how they talk, how they carry themselves, how they get the job done. Stories of espionage and covert operations surely existed beforehand (even on screen, like in Hitchcock’s groundbreaking The 39 Steps), but not until Dr. No did the term become so synonymous with thrills and over the top coolness. Connery’s swagger is forever associated with espionage and its slick attitude, and without him, we may never even have begun to attribute spies on the big screen with charm and glamour; just watch him in the Goldfinger trailer. For all we know we might have just seen them as banal government cogs like we do stereotypical accountants and DMV workers. Not any actor could have created such a movement.
Now of course we often think of the machismo- and often misogyny-infused attitude of classic James Bond as dated, and at times laughable. This is the exact reason Daniel Craig’s turn as the “blonde Bond” was so lauded for humanizing the character. But that only speaks more to Connery’s impact as the spy. It was touches specific to Connery that have stuck around; the attitude and suaveness of the man himself, and not the casual racism or lack of female agency of the early films as a whole.
Bond aside, what really makes Connery so iconic, so unimaginably ubiquitous within the film industry elite, is his familiarity with both the young and old. James Bond was really just the maypole role around which we attribute Connery’s outstanding cinema tenure. The truth is, Connery was one of the few English-speaking actors of his era to be so unanimously recognizable at any age, by any age. Apart from Bond, parents and the children they have no doubt cinematically educated will of course recognize him as the father of Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade, while action movie fans (like those of Bond) will always remember him for his starring roles in The Hunt for Red October and Michael Bay fan-favorite The Rock. He not only crafted the modern action archetype, but went on to hone and retool it later down the line in his career than would ever be expected. That is what made him such a fixture.
But what truly, for real this time, made Connery so recognizable and lovable was his presence and persona. His attitude and bravado, both on and offscreen, even (and sometimes even exacerbated in) of his later years have been parodied over and over (who remembers Darrell Hammond’s infamous Celebrity Jeopardy impression on SNL?). The instantly identifiable voice, with a cadence and tone that every comedian has in their repertoire, was the cherry on top of the sundae that was Sean Connery and his magnificent career, and we can only hope to ever see another actor with even half the influence on such a blockbuster segment of film.