He was catapulted to fame as the first-ever James Bond, but away from the role as 007 Sir Sean Connery enjoyed a glamorous and varied Hollywood career spanning 50 years which secured him prestigious awards including an Oscar and two Baftas.

After his first major appearance in 1957 British gangster film No Road Back, the former Edinburgh milkman became a Hollywood star as the first James Bond in 1962 film Dr No.

Connery played Bond in seven films –Dr No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), and Never Say Never Again (1983).

Famous for his dry one-liners and action-packed scenes, he set the scene for the womanising protagonist for decades to come.

His top Bond moments include the first “The name’s Bond, James Bond” line during a poker scene in Dr No, the Goldfinger scene where he is captured and threatened with a laser cutter after his Aston Martin crashes into a concrete wall, and the Orient Express brawl in From Russia With Love.

The actor took a break from Bond after You Only Live Twice, which fulfilled his original contract, and George Lazenby stepped in to star in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969.

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However, a large cheque – which he used to set up the Scottish International Education Trust – persuaded him to return as 007 in Diamonds Are Forever in 1971 before handing over the reins to Roger Moore.

He did return to 007 one last time, in 1993 at the age of 52, in the unofficial Bond film Never Say Never Again, which was pitted in cinemas against Roger Moore’s Octopussy. 

His charisma in the role made fans forget the creaking body and dodgy toupee, although Connery did appear to acknowledge the slightly ludicrous nature of a man in his 50s pretending to, single handedly, take out armies of evil henchmen.

In August 2020, he was voted the best-ever Bond, seeing off competition from stars including Daniel Craig, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan in the poll for RadioTimes.com.

Most of his subsequent successes were as part of ensemble casts, in films such as The Man Who Would Be King, Murder On The Orient Express and A Bridge Too Far.
In the 1980s, a slipping career was revived with Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987), with his role as a tough gangbusting Irish policeman – albeit with his native Scottish accent – who mentors Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness, winning him an Academy Award for best supporting actor.

In 1988, he won his first British Academy Film Awards (Bafta) for his role as a Franciscan friar in European mystery drama The Name Of The Rose, and a decade later was recognised as one of the silver screen greats by a Bafta Fellowship Award for lifetime achievement.

Connery also starred as the father of the leading role in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade in 1989, and received a Bafta nomination for best supporting actor.

The 1990s brought performances in The Hunt For Red October (1990), Dragonheart (1996) and Entrapment, where he played the villain as an art thief in the 1999 love story/thriller with Catherine Zeta-Jones, which Connery also produced.

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In an industry renowned for its sycophancy and desperation to impress, Connery revealed himself to be the opposite, which made him stand out.

Indeed, when he arrived for his Bond interview at Cubby Broccoli’s office in Mayfair, director Terence Young had suggested the relatively unknown Scot wear a smart suit, in order to convince as a “dashing and elegant Old Etonian”.

Connery wore scruffy slacks and a lumber jacket. Young also impressed on Connery not to demand too much money. Broccoli later told how he sat amazed as Connery began pounding the desk with his fist as he made his financial demands and laid down his vision of how the part should be played.

And when the producers asked him if he would be willing to do a screen test along with the other actors they were considering, Connery beat them down as coldly as Bond beat a confession out of Tatiana Romanova in 1963’s From Russia With Love.
One of the major strengths of Connery was he knew his acting limitations. 

He believed he knew the parts he could play best. It wasn’t that he couldn’t act; he received good reviews for his Shakespeare work on television and theatre appearances in the West End.

On the road to Bond, Connery had appeared in a range of TV and films, such as playing a convincing punch-drunk boxer in Requiem For A Heavyweight. He loved the naturalistic style and was a fan of Brando.

But he believed he could sense danger in a script. He turned down the role of Gandalf in Lord Of The Rings because he had no idea what to do with the character and “didn’t understand the script”.

He also turned down the lead role in The Thomas Crown Affair, with the part going to Steve McQueen.

The late Ian Holm recalled a conversation he had about Connery with director Terry Gilliam, with whom the Scot had worked with on Time Bandits, Connery having played a glorious King Agamemnon.

Gilliam offered of the Scot: “He’s very, very good. But he knows exactly what he can and can’t do. 

“He’ll say how he should be shot getting on a horse, which side of his face the camera should be on when he’s walking, and so on. 

“He knows what he’s got and he knows how it should be shown. He was always right, of course. But he wouldn’t try things.”

So the man who played James Bond seven times over a 21-year period, the dangerous spy capable of killing in order to save the world, was a little risk averse? 

Certainly, in an acting sense.

He knew he was never going to become a Tony Curtis, or even a Jack Lemmon. 
He knew he would be best playing tough, uncompromising characters such as his brilliant performance of a demoted Sergeant Major with a chip on his shoulder in 1965 minor classic, The Hill. (Connery’s first wife Diane Cilento remarked of her husband, whom she didn’t take a shine too at first: “He seemed like a man with a tremendous chip on his shoulder.”)

But despite the awareness of his abilities he did win many awards, culminating in 2006, when he received the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and he confirmed his retirement from acting.