The Captivating Life And Career Of Sean Connery

Best known for his work on the first seven James Bond films, Sean Connery grew from a disadvantaged youth in Edinburgh to become one of the biggest Hollywood stars of all time. However, he’s more than just James Bond, winning countless awards and recognition for roles outside of the British spy. He’s lived quite the life and in the process has changed Hollywood forever. Take a deeper look into the life of Sean Connery and the story of a young boy delivering milk who became one of the biggest celebrities of his time.

You won’t believe the reason he was discharged from the military.

Sean Is His Middle Name

Picture of Sean Connery as a little boy

Although most people only know him as Sean Connery, he was actually born Thomas Sean Connery on August 25, 1930. As a young boy, he went by Tommy, which eventually evolved into “Big Tam.”

However, he transitioned to using his middle name long before he was ever an actor. Apparently, he had a friend named Seamus, so his friends would purposefully call him Sean whenever Seamus was around to get a rise out of him. In the end, the name stuck!

His First Job Was As A Milkman

Close up of Sean Connery in Goldfinger
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Still just a young boy, Connery worked as a milk deliveryman in his hometown of Edinburgh, Scotland. Through his job, Connery became incredibly familiar with the city, delivering milk to local neighborhoods.

He expressed his knowledge of the city when he claimed, “When I took a taxi during a recent Edinburgh Film Festival, the driver was amazed that I could put a name to every street we passed. ‘How come?’ he asked. ‘As a boy, I used to deliver milk round here,’ I said. ‘So what do you do now?’ That was rather harder to answer.” Surely, it was refreshing his cab driver didn’t know who he was.

He Came From Humble Beginnings

Connery with his parents

Although it took Connery years to realize his family’s financial situation growing up, apparently, his family was incredibly poor. However, regardless of how poor his parents were, he never understood how serious it was.

This is because everyone he grew up with was poor as well and he didn’t pay attention to things like that as a child. Supposedly, his parents couldn’t even afford to buy him a crib as a baby so he slept in a dresser drawer. Talk about a rags-to-riches story!

He Was A Navy Man

Connery with a chef

When Connery came of age, he decided to join the Royal Navy as a way to serve his country and provide him opportunities in the future. During his time in the Navy, he acquired two tattoos. One said “Scotland Forever,” and the other just “Mum and Dad.”

Unfortunately, he was discharged from service after it was discovered that he had a duodenal ulcer. However, his ailment wasn’t random, his family had suffered from the same disorder for generations.

Do you know his first real film role?

A Jack of All Trades

Connery smoking a cigarette
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After leaving the military, Sean Connery performed a series of odd jobs just to keep his head above water. He worked as a lorry driver, a lifeguard at the Portobello swimming baths, laborer, and a coffin polisher among other things.

Yet, one of the strangest jobs he did was work as a nude model for the Edinburgh College of art where he was paid 15 shillings an hour. One of the artists who painted Connery on several occasions described him as, “very straight, slightly shy, too, too beautiful for words, a virtual Adonis.”

He Was Almost A Professional European Football Player

Connery laying on a bed
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After a brief interest in bodybuilding, Connery turned to football, a game he played since he was a boy. He ended up playing on semi-professional teams and was scouted by Matt Busby, the manager of Manchester United. Busby was impressed with Connery’s build and his skills at the sport and offered him 25 pounds a week on the spot.

Although Connery was attempted to accept the offer, he was thinking about his future. He recalled, “I realized that a top-class footballer could be over the hill by the age of 30, and I was already 23. I decided to become an actor and it turned out to be one of my more intelligent moves.”

Getting Into Acting

Picture of Sean Connery and Michael Caine
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In 1951, Connery was working backstage at the King’s Theater where he became interested in acting. He heard about auditions for the musical South Pacific and scored the role of a chorus boy. Slowly, he worked his way up in the production and the next year had one of the main roles.

During the production of South Pacific, Connery met iconic actor Michael Caine and the two became lifelong friends. It was also during that time Connery landed a part as an extra in the film Lilac’s in the Spring, his first film role.

His First Real Film Role

Connery in Requiem for a Heavyweight
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Actor Robert Henderson got Connery his first film role in 1957 in No Road Back. He played a minor gangster who had a speech impediment. That same year, he earned his first leading role as Mountain McLintlock on the BBC television series Requiem for a Heavyweight.

In the following years, Connery continued to appear in various television series and films, slowly building his reputation as an actor. Little did he know that the most significant role of his career was right around the corner.

A Run-In With The Mob

Close up of Connery on the set of You Only Live Twice
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In 1958, Connery was filming for a major role in Another Time, Another Place with actress Lana Turner. At one point, Turner’s overbearing boyfriend, Johnny Stampino, came to Los Angeles and accused Turner and Connery of having an affair. Stampino rushed onto the film set and pointed a gun at Connery, only to have Connery quickly disarm him and put him on his back.

After Stampino was banned from the set and sent home on a plane, Connery learned that he was involved with crime boss Mickey Cohen. He was forced to lay low after he began receiving death threats from Cohen’s henchmen.

He Was Hesitant About Playing James Bond

Sean Connery holding a gun as James Bond
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In 1962, Connery was offered the role to play British secret agent James Bond. However, he was hesitant about accepting the part because he was unsure about making a series. On the other hand, he realized that if the series was a success, it would more than likely skyrocket his career.

He starred as Bond in the first five movies: Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice. Then, when he thought his bond days were over, he reprised the role for Diamonds are Forever and Never Say Never Again. All seven films were successful and Connery’s version of Bond was named the third-greatest hero in cinema history by the American Film Institute.

See how author Ian Fleming ate his own words.

The Original Author Didn’t Want Him As Bond At First

James Bond smoking a cigarette
United Artists

Ian Fleming, the original author of the James Bond novels, was uncertain that Connery would be right for the role. He stated, “He’s not what I envisioned of James Bond looks […] I’m looking for Commander Bond and not an overgrown stunt-man.” He also added that Connery looked “unrefined.”

Supposedly, Connery owes a lot to Dana Broccoli, producer Albert Broccoli’s wife, who convinced everyone that he was the right man for the job. After watching Dr. No, Ian Fleming retracted his statements about Connery and was so impressed that he wrote Connery’s past into James Bond’s character.

Danger On The Set Of Thunderball

Connery as James Bond underwater
United Artists

While filming for Thunderball, Connery found himself face-to-face with a live shark when filming the scene in Emilio Largo’s pool. Connery was hesitant about the scene after reading the script and had a Plexiglas partition built in the pool between him and the sharks.

Unfortunately, the fixture was not entirely stable and one of the sharks managed to get through and was coming right for Connery. The James Bond actor was then forced to swim and get out of the pool as fast as possible.

He Said He Wanted To Kill James Band

Kill James Bond
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It didn’t take long for Connery to get tired with the Bond character, or the whole world referring to him as James Bond. He went so far as to say, “I [am] fed up to here with the whole Bond bit […] and “I have always hated that damned James Bond. I’d like to kill him.”

His good friend Michael Cain also explained, “If you were his friend in these early days you didn’t raise the subject of Bond. He was, and is, a much better actor than just playing James Bond, but he became synonymous with Bond. He’d be walking down the street and people would say, ‘Look, there’s James Bond.’ That was particularly upsetting to him.”

You won’t believe what he once said to Playboy.

Filming For Never Say Never Again Was A Catastrophe

Never Say Never Again
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Released in 1983, although Never Say Never Again did well at the box office, it fell on some incredibly hard times during production. There was animosity between the producer and director, there were numerous financial issues, and the Fleming estate trustees even tried to stop the film.

On top of all that, the stunt choreographer Steven Segal broke Connery’s wrist during a rehearsal. Connery had such a bad experience with the film that he refused to act in another movie for two years!

Connery’s Love Life

Connery's on the red carpet with his wife
Ian Jacobs/Getty Images

Of course, Sean Connery had his fair share of girlfriends and flings throughout his life, all of who fell head over heels for Connery. Yet, surprisingly, he has only had two wives. His first wife was Diane Cilento, whom he was married to from 1962 to 1973.

Together they had a son, actor Jason Connery. However, Cilento claimed that Connery was physically and mentally abusive, bring about the end of their marriage. Since 1975, Connery has been married to the Morrocan-French painter Micheline Roquebrune.

He Made A Controversial Statement About Hitting Women

Photo of Connery at a premier
Jason Merritt/FilmMagic

Back in 1965, Connery showed his dark side in an interview with Playboy when he opened up about hitting women. In the interview, he was quoted saying,”[I don’t] think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman–although I don’t recommend doing it in the same way that you’d hit a man. An openhanded slap is justified–if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning.”

Of course, he received a lot of backlash for his statement, although he tried to cover his tracks claiming that he had been misquoted.

Can you guess the $400 million movie deal he turned down?

An Unannounced Retirement

Connery on a red carpet
Ernesto Ruscio/FilmMagic

Back in 2003, Connery starred in his 93rd and final film titled The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The film was an absolute flop and may have been linked to his unannounced retirement. He began denying all roles after that such as reprising his character in Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull since 2003. It wasn’t until he received his Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 that he confirmed his retirement to the public.

Since then, he has done voice acting here and there with no intention of coming out of retirement. Cain stated that “[Connery] didn’t want to play small parts about old men and they weren’t offering him any young parts in romantic leads.”

He Turned Down The Role Of Gandalf In The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy

Close-up of Connery
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In interviews, Connery has stated that he was offered to play the wizard Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but turned it down because he “didn’t understand the script.” According to CNN, he was offered upwards of 15% of the worldwide box office revenue just to take the role.

If he had agreed to play the part, he would have made over $400 million from the three movies. This was just two years before he made his final film.

He Was Knighted By Queen Elizabeth II

Connery being knighted by Queen Elizabeth

On July 5, 2000, Connery was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II a the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. He was nominated for knighthood in 1997 but was denied by Donald Dewar in 1998 due to his political views.

Connery was 69 at the time and proclaimed that “It’s one of the proudest days of my life.” Connery and the queen exchanged a few words, but apparently, all the queen asked was how often Connery returned to his hometown.

He Was Accused Of Tax Fraud

Connery at the Casino Entertainment Awards
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After Connery had sold his villa in Spain in 1999, he and his wife were investigated for tax evasion, accused of defrauding the Spanish treasury of £5.5 million. Connery was eventually cleared by Spanish officials, although his wife and 16 others were charged.

Not long after, there was a rumor that Connery was in “tax exile” after moving out of the country. So, in 2003, he released documents proving that he had paid £3.7 million in UK taxes between 1997 to 1998 and 2002 to 2003.