Sean Connery has died at the age of 90, but before you start busting out your Connery impressions, it’s time to take a second and remember that this man was more than a movie caricature. Arguably, for at least three decades Sean Connery impressions have become slightly more famous than the man himself. Whether it’s the infamous SNL Darrell Hammond Celebrity Jeopardy! sketch, or Jonny Lee Miller’s version in Trainspotting, Connery’s distinctive way of enunciating the letter “s” has been pervasive as hell. And yet, it’s his immortal status as the world’s first cinematic James Bond actor that will define his legacy. As James Bond and Indiana Jones fans everywhere look back on the performances of Sean Connery, they’ll notice one thing: The man defined cool through restraint.
No matter who your personal favorite James Bond might be, it’s tough to deny action movies basically wouldn’t exist without Sean Connery. Born in Scotland in 1930, Connery was a bodybuilder before getting the role of James Bond in the 1963 film, Dr. No. James Bond novelist and creator, Ian Fleming, initially opposed the casting of Connery in the role, claiming he was too unrefined and working-class to inhabit the slightly more erudite notion of Bond in the books. But, it was exactly Connery’s everyman background that propelled the character of James Bond into an icon. We like to talk about how James Bond lives a glamourous (and sometimes, sexist) lifestyle, but what we forget to mention is that the way Connery played him made him relatable. Bond wasn’t the smartest guy in the room, but as embodied by Connery, he was the one guy who might be able to keep his cooler longer than anyone else.
Connery was not a household name when cast as a James Bond. The idea of a non-movie star carrying an entire film franchise is practically unheard of now. With the exception of George Lazenby, every Bond that followed Connery had an established career before they became 007. But Connery was the guy who set the template. “I had to start from scratch,” Connery said in 1965. Whether it was the dry – almost bored — way he ordered a drink or the utterly confident dad-joke-level puns, Connery’s Bond created a dialed-down action hero. James Bond was appealing because he was less cynical than a hardboiled Humphrey Bogart- type, and, infinitely more heroic. We can fault Connery’s Bond for his methods, but his goal was always to save the world. In this way, Connery’s Bond was the father of all the action stars that came after.
When Steven Spielberg decided to reveal Indiana Jones’ father in the 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, he fought with writer George Lucas over casting Connery in the role. Ultimately, Spielberg won out, because he knew the truth: Metaphorically speaking Sean Connery was the father of Indiana Jones, so making that idea literal made a lot of sense.
For parents who first encountered Connery in The Last Crusade, it’s fun to note that he was only 12 years older than Harrison Ford at the time, meaning, yes, Sean Connery is a much better actor than people give him credit. He was also, in many areas of his life, generous as hell. You may have heard Connery was offered insane amounts of money to return as James Bond for the 1971 film Diamonds are Forever, but what you probably didn’t know is that he donated his entire salary to the Scottish International Education Trust. In the oral history book, Nobody Does It Better, it’s also revealed that Connery always arrived early on set and got to know the crew and all the behind-the-scenes workers on every single Bond movie. This made him beloved not just by moviegoers, but by the hard-working “little guy” tirelessness working in less-than-glamorous jobs on the movie sets.
“He’s [Bond] a man that makes his own rules,” Connery told journalist Sheldon Lane in 1965 in the book For Bond Lovers Only. “And that’s fine as long as you’re not plagued with doubts. But if you are — as most of us are— you’re sunk.”
Sean Connery created a controlled, low-key hero, and in doing so, defined the concept of cool for generations of people everywhere. He stirred confidence in many of us we never knew we had, and he taught us how to never be shaken by what life throws your way. “I’d rather be known as a great actor than a great lover,” Connery once said. “But the status quo isn’t bad. Not bad at all.”
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